The truth is that it doesn’t matter how much companies research, how well they plan, how much money they spend, or how smart their employees are: the odds that they’ll avoid big mistakes are worse than a flip of a coin. In part, we improve our odds by embracing the idea that building products is a systematic, repeatable process. There are tools that you can use, regardless of your company’s size, maturity, or industry, to help increase your chances of success.
Customer development is one of those tools. By practicing customer development as a parallel process in conjunction with product development, you can greatly maximize your learning and reduce your risks. What’s the difference? Just the starting point. You don’t need to start with the Build phase—in fact, doing so is often an expensive way to experiment. Customer development is an important part of the Think phase. It allows you to explore and iterate during the cheapest phase of development— before any code is written or mockups are created. Customer development gives you the necessary information to build the best possible first guess, which you will then validate. Yes, that’s right: you’ll almost certainly end up writing less code! This is a consistent benefit I’ve heard from development teams.
The ability to make their minimum viable product (MVP) even smaller. By talking to customers, you’ll frequently find that customers really want only two of the five features you think you need (and they may want one more you hadn’t thought of).