image of ice cub rapper

Come on and check yo'self before you wreck yo'self 'Cause shotgun shells are bad for your health.

Ice Cube - Check yo'self

Maybe you don’t need to worry about shotgun shells but you know what else is bad for your (business) health? Spending time and money designing and building products, features and services that no one wants.

When we have an idea for something new – whether it’s a brand-new product or a way of upgrading or enhancing an existing one – it’s easy to fall into the trap of jumping right in and making that idea a reality without stopping to check or validate it in the real world. 

Maybe you genuinely believe there’s a need for it, that it has real market fit, but you’re in danger of falling into the assumption trap. Just because you think something doesn’t make it so.

Sometimes you get lucky. It turns out that the market was just dying for your brilliant idea (the best thing since sliced yoghurt) and your assumption was either correct (lucky!) or it didn’t matter. 

However, more often than not, without solid validation and putting in the ground work at the start of the development process, you could be on course to ‘wreck yo self’ not too far down the line.

So, how to avoid this self-sabotaged state of affairs? 

If validation is the key (it is) how do you check your idea and avoid the shotgun of broken dreams?


Let’s be clear, ‘VALIDATION’ is…

validation

/valɪˈdeɪʃ(ə)n/

Noun: the action of checking or proving the validity or accuracy of something.

Validation – checking that what you think is true is true – is a critical stage of any product development, whether making developing something from scratch or introducing new or upgraded features to an existing product or service. 

The motivation for me was them telling me what I could not be.

Jay-Z

In development terms, you’re checking that what you’re building or about to build is really going to satisfy the needs and address the problems of the target users. 

This is not a new idea. Eric Ries introduced the concept of ‘validated learned’ in his lean startup methodology – basically referring to the testing of each product iteration with users in order to keep that product closely in line with user needs and wants. 

Ries’ concept was in turn based on Steve Blank’s idea of ‘customer validation’, that the basic principles and assumptions underlying your product should be tested with users, and early.

 

The key here is basing the validation of your idea on actual data; not opinions, not wishes, not fantasies, but hard quantifiable, evidence-based information relating to the market, users, business performance, etc.

And that kind of information is rarely available without stepping out of the creative design bubble.


No validation = Greater risk

I’ll tell you one thing you can’t do: you can’t put your shoes on, then your socks on.

Flava Flav

So, why validate? Because, put simply, it’s a risk not to. And an easily avoidable risk, at that. 

 

Here’s what you’re risking:

 

  • Bloated development time – Every cul-de-sac and blind alley your project goes down is time potentially wasted. 

Sure, every wrong turn is also a learning experience that can be leveraged to the benefit of your final product but… what if you could get that learning before you begin? Validation helps you get on the right track before you start.

 

  • Busted budget – Time costs money and so do wrong turns. Building something that’s not wanted can be expensive.

 

  • Discounted ROI – The longer you spend on development, the more your product or new feature needs to make back before your returns are in the credit column.

 

  • Stuck in a ‘design bubble’ – One (hopefully subconscious) driver for not validating is that you don’t risk the disappointment of finding out your great idea is not so great. 

 

Instead, you can keep on tinkering and improving; you’re having fun but great design only really happens when you engage with the outside world.

Ultimately, the biggest risk is that your product is a complete waste of resources and effort. And if you’re a startup (i.e. pretty much totally focused on a single product) validation can be the difference between success and going bust.

So, if validation is a good thing, how do we do it?


Practical ways to ‘check yo self’

We ain’t trying to fail in this game. We trying to succeed.

Biggie Smalls

The fundamental goal of validation is to check the underlying assumptions of your idea/product/feature. 

Seek the answers to the following questions:

  • Who is it for?
  • What problem does it solve?
  • What user needs does it meet?
  • How does it solve the problem and address those needs?
  • What benefits does it offer? Put another way, what’s the value proposition that will attract people to use it?

To answer these questions, you need to be aware of the need to validate throughout the development process.


Some ways to do that – that Pack can definitely recommend from practical experience – include:

Talk to your idea’s intended audience

There’s no one better to tell you if you’re on the right track.

How to do that? A tailor-made survey of your target audience can give you quantitative data on your users’ needs and motivations. A facilitated focus group with user representatives and stakeholders could help you dig down into the issues, providing valuable qualitative data.

If that all sounds too heavy for the stage you’re at, try reaching out online for some quick feedback to give you a signpost (LinkedIn groups, your own business network, or online community, etc.)

Look to competitors 

Market/competitor analysis – Take a look at who’s doing something similar (if anybody).

What are the similarities and differences between their product and yours? How is their product being received? What’s the feedback? What do you need to do to ensure you’re offering something unique (and better)?

Use the right tool for the job 

Use proven product development tools – For example, the business model canvas is a structured way to define the needs and goals for your product or idea.

Working through the template gives you insight into the product’s wider context.

Choose a framework

Use a proven framework– For example, we’re big fans of Design Sprints, a structured (and fast – less than a week!) way to make progress on your product development with validation built in.

Don’t wait till it’s perfect to test

Test early to uncover imperfections – Once you have something developed, don’t wait until it’s perfect to test it, that will probably be too late.

It’s far better to test individual features with a simplified prototype or create a minimum viable product to get an early version out to users for feedback.

Research traps

One word of caution: avoid the ‘research trap’. Yes, this article is all about the research (hard to validate without it) but too much of a good thing is just another way of slowing down or even sabotaging your project.

Think of your project as a tripod, balanced between ideation, validation and creation: they’re all equally important and to spend too much time and effort on one and not the others will tip your project over – just enough research is enough.

And remember…

And remember, all of the above is aimed at gathering specific, detailed information; i.e. data not just opinion. People saying “That sounds dope!” will give you a warm glow but won’t help you design a product/feature that they’ll actually buy. 

Dig deeper… why is it ‘dope’?


The ‘check yo'self’ philosophy

You don't know how much artists go through to make it look so easy. It's all in the practice.

Lauryn Hill

Tools and techniques are great, but as any craftsman will tell you, it’s not just what you’re using, it’s how you’re using it. 

Validating your creative concepts and product ideas is about more than a series of activities or exercises to tick off the project action plan – you need to build validation into your culture and your ways of working.

What does that look like? 

Well, a team or business strong on validation…

1…avoids echo chambers within the organisation by encouraging cross-team and cross-functional collaboration.

 

2…sees assumptions as red flags; plans and product development are always based on data and tangible insights.

 

3…aims for success but doesn’t beat itself (or its people) up over failure; in almost every case, it’s better to validate fast and discover an idea is likely to fail than going ahead and only finding out at the launch that no one wants it! 

 

4…actively encourages diversity and inclusion; validation is helped (or arguably, even inevitable) by having a diversity of skills and experience at the table, including the insights that can come from cognitive diversity.


Walk this way

When you feel you fail sometimes it hurts, For a meaning in life is why you search, Take the bus or the train, drive to school or the church, because it's like that, and that's the way it is.

Run DMC - It's like that

At Pack, we believe the best route to success is to make sure you’re designing products and services people actually want. 

Sounds obvious maybe, but so many organisations get carried away with their ideas, remain trapped inside their own assumptions, or are just too scared to talk to their market in case they hear something negative. 

Returning to Steve Blank’s idea of ‘customer validation’, he cut to the heart of it with the following three observations:

  • Most entrepreneurs start a company with a hypothesis, not facts.
  • A hypothesis cannot be tested in the building. 
  • Get out of the building!

In other words, if you want the world to love your idea as much as you do, you need to get the world’s input otherwise you could be wasting time, money and effort on a project doomed to fail… instead of investing your time, money and effort in future success.

And if you do validate, and it turns out your great idea doesn’t fit the market right now? 

Well, that may be hard to hear but it’s good to know.

Onto the next episode…

I move onward, the only direction, Can't be scared to fail in the search of perfection.

Jay-Z - Onto the next one