Creating new stuff is hard. Really hard. Creating complex products like computer hardware is a colossal task. And, in the case of the Microsoft Surface tablet, going to market is about a $900MM proposition.
What a shame. Had they spent just seconds asking the right questions of potential users they could have saved all of that money. There’s a simple method for validating products that is so powerful, and yet so overlooked, it’s like a face-palm smack to the forehead. The Surface disaster could have easily been averted with some simple market validation.
There’s a key issue here: The fundamental nature of business has changed. It used to be acceptable to launch products into a market and then spend a ton of cash promoting them. That used to work but today’s markets – technology particularly – are the polar opposite of that.
There are so many alternatives for nearly every need, product creators MUST recognize that the user is in control. What does that mean? Flat out, there is not enough money on earth to push a crappy product into a market anymore. The Microsoft of yore was able to use its might, its bundling power and its massive Ballmer-driven sales machine to keep the customer right on the edge of painful cash extraction.
Now the smart companies are busting their proverbial asses to serve the user. Apple, Samsung, Google, eBay, Amazon. Even Yahoo. All have gotten in touch with user demand in ways that allow them to retain participation in the evolving user-driven market dynamics.
So, what is the process? You can think of it in terms of the 8-Second Rule. In its simplest form: Concept-> build-> validate-> interpret-> repeat. As fast as you can. The goal here is to observe respondents and revise the concept in sequential stages.Validation takes place in a series of 1:1 conversations, where you share stimulus like a drawing, prototype app or mocked up device to about 10 users each cycle. You start on the first cycle with an open question and, as stages progress, you show more and more evolved designs, measuring how close you’re getting to the magical 8 seconds.
What are the 8 seconds? This is the head-slap part. It’s simple: When you present the product to ten prospective users, do they know what it is in the first four seconds and do they love it within the next four seconds of seeing it?
Seconds 1-4 – What is it? The first stage is developing your prototype to the point where 9/10 people can tell you, without faltering, what they think your product is or does. Complex products that don’t immediately connect with the user have very little chance of breaking through the mental noise and clutter of the market. If your customer doesn’t know what your product does, or does uniquely, do not proceed any further until they can. Keep prototyping and testing until 9/10 test subjects not only know what it does, but can explain it consistently. Only then should you proceed to the next part of the 8 seconds.
Seconds 5-8 – Do they love it? Now that users are consistently able to understand your product’s key value proposition, you embark on the next half of the 8-Second test: Do they love it? Again, we’re in the world of observation here. When people engage with your product, and they know what it does, how do they feel about it? If 9/10 of your respondents are not jumping out of their skin to have it, keep refining. There is a chance that users never will really get fired up about your product. Drop your ego and kill it. Right then and there. Well done, you’ve averted a disaster.
Ideally the design process I’ve outlined should be at the core of any and all new product development projects. It can be run in weekly cycles, fits very well with any form of Agile Development and it can be the ultimate measuring stick to ensure you’re making progress while you run Lean. At the very least, it should be the validation check before launch commitments are made and marketing budgets are spent.
And the same approach should have been applied to the Surface. Have you ever picked one up? Are ads about happy dancers and detachable covers really strong enough to draw it into the market? If you did pick it up, did you love it?
Do you think Surface passes the 8-Second Rule? Right, me neither.
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