Validate your assumptions in little time with little budget

Becoming a learning or more agile organization takes time. It requires mindset shifts, team design, and leadership buy-in. Any team trying to get new products and services off the ground inside of an existing organization shouldn’t have to wait until everything is perfectly in place to start learning and becoming more agile.

There is a ton of theory circulating that tells teams to go out into the world to test and validate assumptions with real users/customers as soon as possible instead of following the traditional project management waterfall chart. The reason for this is because you won’t know if you are making something useful until you talk to potential users. This approach can be simplified into this process: Make, Share, Test + Learn, Iterate.

Making stuff is easy; getting the courage to share your work or ideas while they are still works in progress, testing with real potential customers and learning from their feedback can seem like a huge undertaking: What happens if you damage the company brand? What are the legal implications of sharing an incomplete product? or What happens if the competition sees what we are doing?

In this post, I am share some that can get you started and get your assumptions validated with real customers as soon as possible, with little resources and time, before you start to heavily invest.

Simple Surveys

This might seem obvious, but surveys are a way to answer a few questions to test your assumptions and get validation quickly. Surveys don’t have to be extensive like a market research survey, they can be done quickly with just a few questions around a particular hypothesis you might hold.

A team had this idea that people would buy produce directly from farmers in their local region to cut out the upcharge from local groceries and support farmers and reduce food waste. They had a few assumptions that they wanted to validate before they started investing in developing a solution. Are people happy with the produce in their local markets? Are they be willing to buy imperfect produce for a reduced cost? Will they be willing to consume produce from local farmers, (knowing the selection will be seasonal and not always regular/consistent)?

So the team created a simple 3-question survey using Typeform. They spent a small amount of money using targeted Facebook ads to try to gather responses from local customer segments. They ran the ad for a week and gathered around 100 responses (more than they were expecting!) and learned a lot about users quickly.

Hint: If you are worried about revealing the company brand, create a fake company persona. It doesn’t have to be real, since you don’t have an actual product or service yet, it just has to be creative to generate responses.

Casual Conversation

Get out and find talk to potential customers. Get familiar with your customer segments, and determine the best way to get face time. Whether you are thinking of developing a new technology, service, or physical product, consider who the “enthusiasts” will be in the customer sergments. Enthusiasts are those who are excited about the topic, they are likely to have tried solving the problem you are investigating and will be interested in providing feedback.

Once you are in the space, meet people, and ask questions to test your assumptions. Again, you don’t have to give away that you are trying to validate your hypotheses or that you are developing a new product. If you are in a space with like minded people, just make conversation.

Photo by Fancycrave

My rule of thumb for in-person conversations is: 80% listening and 20% talking. Like the survey, you will likely have some questions in mind. Use them as prompts, but don’t make it feel like an interview. In a casual conversation you may only have a few minutes to validate one or two of your assumptions. Offer a few prompts, but let your counterpart dominate the conversation and listen.

Better than surveys, conversations allow you to dig into a users pain points or frustrations more specifically. If you find something especially intriguing, dig into it further and let your counterpart do the talking.

Hint: For direct to consumer, local MeetUp events are a place to meet ennthusiates, for a more professional crowd, consider communities of interest like conferences and speaking events, and for a B2B approach consider identifying an early adopter approach — one or two users/customers inside of your target organizations that you know and trust who may be willing to give and gather feedback in exchange for early “sneak peeks” or free access to your product before it is shared with the general public.

Somewhat Structured 1:1 Interviews

In addition to short casual conversations, consider more in depth 1:1 interviews. Interviews are a great place to allow a to go into depth about the pain points and frustrations they are experiencing. I hesitate to call these “structured” interviews because the intent isn’t to answer all the questions that you could possibly think of, rather allow the to give you a glimpse into their journey, pain points, and any creative solutions they may have to share that you can improve on.

Photo by Kiana Bosman

Here’s an example of prompts to get the conversation going. Try using 1–2 for each category. I’ll use an example of an interview to improve beachgoers experiences in Chicago:

  • Build rapport: Tell me about yourself. What excites you about the beach?What motivates you to come to the beach? How long have you been coming to the beach? Explain to me what your experience is like when are at the beach?
  • Understand the User Journey: As best as you can, explain your day at the beach from the time you leave your house to the time you get home. What things do you do first? How do you travel to the beach? Where do you go? How do you find a location to enjoy? What things do you do when you get there? Can you show me anything about how you make decisions about your day (weather apps, transit apps, news, etc)?
  • Learn Pain Points: What parts of your expriences at the beach frustrate you? What gets in your way of having the perfect beach day? What do you do to overcome these blockers?
  • Gather Improvement Insights: If you had a magic wand, what would you change about your experience at the beach? If you could invest $1M today to improve your exprience what would you improve and why?

Adapt these questions to make the most out of your conversations, but be conscious to not impose your solution onto the interviewee.

Hint: 1:1 interviews can be time consuming. Limit the number of interviews during each phase of your work. It’s likely that you wont gain any new “breakthrough” insights after a handful of people. If you can, consider a small incentive to interview social influencers or people with a lot of experience as part of your interview pool.

User Workshops

If you have a few excited enthusiasts, in addition to 1:1 conversations you can also conduct a group workshop. Keep the workshop less than 90 minutes. Have one person play the role of the facilitator and one person play the role of scribe. Lastly, limit your workshop to 5–7 people for every facilitator-scribe duo so that you can capture the most out of your conversations.

An example of user journey sketch. Asking users to sketch their experience doesn’t have to be pretty, just honest. From Stanford d.school

A simple workshop is group exercise of the questions used during an 1:1 interview. This isn’t meant to be a traditional marketing focus group, its intended to really dig into the users existing experiences. Some of the supplies you will need include: sharpies, post its, wall space, whiteboard/poster board.

  • Build rapport (20 Mins): In a circle, allow each person to introduce themself. Prompt the group with one-two questions. Allow each person to speak in turn, without interruption. Try to avoid cross talk. Keep pace of time. People love to talk about what excites them!
  • Understand the User Journey (20 Mins): Give each person a space around the room either on a white board or poster board to draw their user journey (see example above). Set a timer to 7 minutes (no longer than 10) and let them work. When time is up, let each person explain what they drew and what their exprience is like. At this stage, try to only ask questions for clarification to better understand their journey.
  • Learn Pain Points (20 Mins): Open the conversation for discussion. Prompt the group to explain their frustrations and pain points about their user journey. Note common themes and pain points, dig into interesting topics that you may not have considered in your original hypotheses.
  • Gather Improvement Insights (20 Mins): Feel free to be creative here. Up and until the now the group has probably shared hints of potential solutions throughout the session, now go into more depth. Set a timer for 3 minutes and ask the group to write down all their creative solutions on post-its. Let them group their solutions on a wall. If you have assumptions or features to share join the group in adding post-its of your ideas to the wall. Open the floor for discussion.

Hint: The job of the scribe isn’t just to take notes, but make sense of the conversation, notice themes, and connect insights from other tests. It really is an important job, with larger groups, consider an additional scribe if necessary.



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