If you’ve worked with startups before like me, whether on a startup itself or consulting for new startups this situation will sound familiar to you: Customer (Fred Flintstone) comes up to you with an idea for the next big thing. Sweet! Let’s get things going, get some engineers in the house and start hacking away with a two sheet word document and a few doodles as a spec sheet. Sounds familiar eh? Well, you’re doing it wrong.

You see, Mr. Flintstone is more of a marketing guy, he’s built businesses before or he has the means to get some seed funding to get his product started, exciting times! What Mr. Flintstone doesn’t know is that the engineers he hired will spend lots and lots of time working on a product that has not been designed, tested and with no user experience. How can this be? Well this is where you as a Product Manager or User Experience Designer come in. It is your job to take Mr. Flintstone’s idea and turn it into a winning product even before the first line of actual code is laid down.

Marty Cagan states in his book ‘Inspired: How To Create Products Customers Love’:

“A good product requires a good user experience. And a good user experience requires the close collaboration of product management and user design”

Couldn’t agree more. He also says:

“It doesn’t matter how great your engineering organization is if the product manager doesn’t give the engineers something valuable, usable and feasible to build.”

Yup, this is what I’m talking about here, discover your product, build a user experience and equally important test your product early, don’t wait for a beta product to ask if the product is usable or valuable.

So how does this product discovery thing work? I’ll just make a list, everyone loves lists:

  1. Talk to Mr. Flintstone, a lot. He has the idea, you need to help him discover what the valuable product will be, remember: an idea is not a product.
  2. Wireframe or prototype it. Whatever floats your boat, don’t jump to design, don’t code it. Build the user experience, it will be invaluable for Mr. Flintstone, you and your possible users to see what the experience is going to be like. You and Mr. Flintstone will be surprised that at what you find out. I like high fidelity prototypes, I’ll write more about them in another post.
  3. Test, fix and repeat. Get some people outside your mom/dad/girlfriend/wife usability test group and see how the use the thing. Ask questions, get answers, fix what you know is wrong, in short: make it not only easy to use but valuable.

Once you’ve done this, you’re in pretty good shape. Mr. Flintstone will very happy and confident on the product he will be building and will not attempt a suicide approach at changing product specs daily.

Engineering will love you and will want to have your little babies for giving them such a great set of wireframes or prototypes for them to work with.

In summary, you’re the pro. Help Mr. Flinststone out with his product, find what problem he’s trying to resolve, build a prototype, test and iterate, winning products will come your way (and Mr. Flintstone might invite you to a beer or two).

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