Over the course of the last few weeks, I’ve come across some great “rules” and “methodologies” for customer development and understanding your customers.

The Five Whys

The Five Whys, which has its origins in the Toyota Production System, believes that the root of every problem (including technical problems) is actually a human problem. As demonstrated by Eric Reis on the HBR Blog, here is The Five Whys applied to a startup:

  1. A new release broke a key feature for customers. Why? Because a particular server failed.
  2. Why did the server fail? Because an obscure subsystem was used in the wrong way.
  3. Why was it used in the wrong way? The engineer who used it didn’t know how to use it properly.
  4. Why didn’t he know? Because he was never trained.
  5. Why wasn’t he trained? Because his manager doesn’t believe in training new engineers, because they are “too busy.”

The Three-Minute Rule

This rule can and should be used to better understand your customers. The Three-Minute Rule should be used to better understand the broader context around how your customers are using your product (and what other features may make sense, given their typical use cases). If you’re a CEO or a Product Manager, chances are you are living and breathing the product. Typically, surveys and focus groups can tell you a lot about your customers, but sometimes other approaches can be much more valuable. Enter, the Three-Minute Rule: call up a customer and ask them what they are generally doing three minutes immediately before using your product and three minutes immediately after using your product. Having them run through this scenario allows you to better understand their challenges and complexities; you may learn new sales techniques, develop new insights for potential product features or identify a cross-selling opportunity with another product/service that your company already offers. Anthony Tjan offers some additional insights on this at HBR.

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