What seems to be the Problem, Solution?

Like so many others, you’re ready to start practicing Lean Startup and Customer Development. You’re about to start working on a new product or feature, so the timing is perfect. You sit down with a Lean Canvas and start filling it in. However, if you are like most of us, you will quickly come across the following obstacle:

You have already gone ahead and designed a Solution in detail. You’re also quite sure that it is good. Why go through all that work if you already know what to build?

The quick answer is that you may have built a Solution, but not a Business Model. You have to take one step back: Is there actually a Problem out there that my Solution is the answer to? Is the Problem important enough for Customers to pay for having it solved?

You can and should do Problem Interviews with potential customers even though you have a specific Solution in mind. First of all, it might inform you and enable you to make your Solution better. Having figured out the most pressing Problems will help you build a better Unique Value Proposition and thus improve the chance for success in the marketplace. Finally, if you figure out that your envisioned Solution does not solve any important Problem, you will have saved a lot of money.

Reverse-engineering a Problem from a Solution is quite possible. You have to get out there and do Problem Interviews, but you have to follow a few simple rules to succeed:

1) Don’t go out looking for confirmation. If that’s what you do, you will find it. Keep an open mind and do what you can to keep your hypothesis falsifiable and your interview scripts unbiased. The input you get will be very valuable when you decide to go ahead and build your product.

2) Listen to the customer, but don’t ask for advice. It’s very easy to show your Customer a demo of your Solution and ask him what he thinks. Pure politeness will require him to be positive about whatever you put in front of him. Find ways to test your hypothesis without leading the Customer to a given conclusion.

3) Get out of your own circles quickly. Interviewing friends and family is a nice way to get started and to iron out issues with your interview script. But they are not unbiased enough to build your conclusions on, and they are not likely to represent your Customer Segments well. If they have ideas for more people to interview, though, you will quickly be heading out of your closest circles.

4) Don’t give up too fast. Problem interviews can be discouraging when your Problems don’t resonate with the first Customers interviewed. However, your problem doesn’t have to be must-have for everyone. When you dig deeper you might be able to find a Customer Segment that feels your Problem more than others, and who really has the need for your Solution. They will serve as your Early Adopters and help you build your product.

That’s it. Put your Solution aside for the time being, and start testing to see if you have a Problem worth solving.

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