Some folks object, “Well, what’s left for product managers to do?” Customer development does not replace product vision. Talking to your customers does not mean asking them what they want and writing it all down. Product management requires a disciplined approach to gathering information from a variety of sources, deciding which pieces to act upon, and figuring out how to prioritize them.
Customer development simply adds two components: a commitment to stating and challenging your hypotheses and a commitment to learning deeply about your customers’ problems and needs. Customer development does not provide all the answers. Although it can replace many of your assumptions with actual information, it still requires a disciplined product manager to decide which pieces of information to act upon, how to prioritize them, and how to take what you’ve learned and turn it into a feature, product, or company. Your company may be conducting user research already. That doesn’t mean you’re practicing customer development.
Customer development does borrow from many of the techniques that have served user researchers well for decades. But the context, the practitioners, and the timing are very different. User researchers often describe their work as “advocating for the user.” It is, unfortunately, still viewed in many companies as optional, something you should do because it delights customers.