4 Steps toward Simplifying Enterprise-Level Products with Lean Product Management

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” claims the marketing brochure for the Apple II.

This philosophy and Steve Jobs’ quest for elegant, simple solutions drove much of Apple’s success. As quoted in the Harvard Business Review, Jobs articulated the issues that face many product development teams, saying that “you get into the problem, and you see it’s really complicated. And you come up with all these convoluted solutions….That’s where most people stop.”

Although Apple designed products for consumers, it is just as important for enterprise-level products to share that approach.

One of the best ways to find solutions that consumers really need is through lean product management and development.

Staying lean creates simple, useful products.

At the beginning of every product development cycle, or when you are creating new software, it is absolutely critical to define and then create a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). MVPs use customer feedback to ensure that product teams increase efficiency and reduce waste, while developing simplified solutions that customers really need.  

When designing an MVP, it is not what you do, but what you decide not to do that is critical.  Teams should only devote time to features that are needed to deliver the product to market. As simple as this sounds, it is one of the hardest things for a Product Owner, and his or her software team, to do.

Anything else will only waste time, money, and market position.   

Here are 4 steps will help managers and their teams stay on target:

1. Focus on validating customer problems first and foremost, rather than pursuing preconceived features, solutions, or ideas.

Solutions come from problems, so it’s critical that teams focus on customers’ core needs, rather than building feature sets based on unvalidated ideas.

After all, features that don’t solve actual problems aren’t really solutions.

One of the biggest benefits of the MVP methodology is the reduction of irrelevant features. When you base your feature set on customer feedback and user testing, there’s a smaller risk of wasting time and resources.

Also, and just as importantly, “problem-focusing” decreases development time and ensures that each iteration of the product will be released as quickly as possible. Non-critical features can always be added later.

2. Ensure that product development teams are aligned with customer needs via a continuous customer feedback loop.

To effectively validate and test, it’s vital that every product development team maintains a constant connection with the user base.

The customer feedback loop should be established at the outset of every development cycle and continue indefinitely past product launch. Create a stage-based user research strategy that will allow you to incorporate feedback, testing, and experimental data at every point during a product’s life cycle.

Build - Measure - Learn
3. Follow the build-measure-learn MVP methodology to ensure that feedback and learning are constantly validated through experimental data.

Lean product managers should base their approach to MVP creation on a build-measure-learn cycle.

That is:

  • First, teams should build or modify an MVP prototype (Proof of concept and/or Wire-frame) based on previously learned information
  • Second, immediately validate your prototype using the appropriate Lean test methods with real users in order to gain the most amount of learning from your customers
  • Third, learn from this data and apply it to the next product iteration
  • Kill, Eat, Repeat.

By following these lean management principles, product managers and their teams can accelerate the product development cycle, decrease wasteful spending, ensure that products fit the market, and solves customers’ actual problems.

4. Validate and Promote Love

An MVP typically prioritizes functionality, but it’s essential to measure one other aspect during the development cycle.

All products, including enterprise-level products, should devote time and energy to crafting a great user experience that moves the product from a Minimal “Viable” Product to a Minimum “Loveable” Product . People who enjoy using products have a much different relationship to those products – and the brands that created them – than those who use a product because they must.  This is where a product gets elevated from a “need” to use it to a “want”.

To create a product that your users will love, you need to validate it through the entire product lifecycle – before, during AND after your product or new feature is launched.  Repeated user experience testing is the key.  These tests, which can be quite simple, will move you from a product that your customer needs to one that they enjoying using.  This is the nirvana of product development that often gives birth to simple, elegant solutions that customers love.

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