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Special Episode From the 2020 Summit
This is a special podcast episode, sharing an important discussion from The Everyday Innovator 2020 Summit. The Summit brought together 24 experts who spoke on topics for product managers and product VPs. Many of the topics are truly timeless and this is the second time I’ve shared one publically. Our guest is Ash Maurya. He has been a favorite repeat guest on the podcast and also spoke at our Summit in the Product VP track on the topic of continuous innovation.
As this was a Summit presentation, the format of the show notes below are a bit different.
BIO: Ash Maurya is the author of two bestselling books, Running Lean and Scaling Lean, and is the creator of the highly popular one-page business modeling tool, “Lean Canvas.” Ash is praised for offering some of the best and most practical advice for entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs all over the world. Driven by the search for better and faster ways for building successful products, Ash has developed a systematic methodology for raising the odds of success built upon Lean Startup, Customer Development, and Bootstrapping techniques. Ash is also a leading business blogger and his posts and advice have been featured in Inc. Magazine, Forbes, and Fortune. He regularly hosts sold-out workshops around the world and serves as a mentor to several accelerators including TechStars, MaRS, Capital Factory, and guest lecturers at several universities including MIT, Harvard, and UT Austin. Ash serves on the advisory board of a number of startups and has consulted to new and established companies.
INSIGHT: Love the problem, not your solution.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[1:19] What is continuous innovation and why do organizations need it?
In the past, innovation happened apart from the core business. Now, the world is moving a lot faster and going to the end-user is more critical than ever. It’s increasingly important to think of innovation not as something that happens in a lab, but as something that happens continuously all the time.
[3:37] What can you tell us about each of your six rules for continuous innovation?
Speed of Learning is the New Unfair Advantage: Companies that can out-learn their competition win. When you learn faster than your competition, you can continuously build a product that customers want and prevent others from taking customers away from you. Speed is relative; not all industries have to innovate at the same rate.
The Business Model is the Product: We tend to focus on the product, but we need to consider the business model. The invention of a product is only a small part of innovation. The solution—how it gets to market and how it’s used by customers—is key. The Lean Canvas is a tool for mapping out the business model.
Tackle Your Riskiest Assumptions First: Start with your riskiest ideas. We want to prioritize efforts on the right problems and not waste resources on the wrong things.
Be Customer/Problem Centric: Start with a deep understanding of your customers and their needs and wants. Identifying their desired outcomes and obstacles helps you find problems worth solving. The solution becomes clear from there.
Innovation is Evidence-Based: When we’re moving fast, it’s tempting to throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks, but it’s much more effective to move ahead based on evidence. Evidence-based decision making is critical because it’s too risky to go down the wrong rabbit hole.
Traction is the Goal: Traction is a measure of creating monetization and value or potential in the business model. Traction, not revenue or profit, is the leading indicator of innovation.
[15:01] What can we do to learn faster how our customers are interacting with our product?
Running a product without a metrics dashboard is like getting in a car without being able to see where you’re going. There are many online tools that can help with your metrics dashboard. Metrics should generate useful data and be directly related to the ultimate traction, rather than incentivizing employees to create less traction just to meet the metric.
[19:26] How can the Lean Canvas help us collaborate?
The Lean Canvas allows you to clearly and concisely communicate your idea to others so you can get buy-in. It helps you deconstruct an idea, share it with others, and look at it from different perspectives. To use the Lean Canvas with teams, have each person create their own version of the Canvas. Then come back together and share ideas.
[22:43] What’s an example of tackling the riskiest assumptions first?
If you’re opening a restaurant, the riskiest assumption is that people will buy your food. First, just test that one assumption, perhaps by opening a food truck and experimenting with different menus, locations, and prices. Build something to test your riskiest assumption and start quickly experimenting. Don’t get distracted by the final solution.
[25:44] What are your favorite tools for finding out the desired outcomes of customers?
I like interviews. We have a scripted interview method that’s very directed; we talk about specifics but don’t ask customers about their problems. Interviews can help uncover desired outcomes and any inertia preventing those outcomes. We target people who are trying to get a job done. The goal is to understand the existing state of solutions. My book Running Lean includes an interview script that you can use as a guide.
[29:35] What is the process for an evidence-based approach?
Throwing out a bunch of solutions without understanding the problem is not effective. When a solution doesn’t stick, customers don’t tell you why; they disappear because you’ve given them something they don’t want. You can keep changing your product little-by-little, but this just creates a build-trap. Instead, before building, make sure there’s enough evidence of a customer pull. Then, design an experiment. Show a demo to a few customers and get their feedback.
[32:58] What is an example of a traction metric?
Figure out what the value-creating behavior is and how you can make that usage metric go up. For a photo-sharing app, we measured how many first-time parents were using it to share pictures of their babies. Airbnb tracks transactions of nights booked.
[39:20] Bonus Question: How can product VPs help their organizations avoid obstacles to continuous innovation and gain traction?
Like any shift, the shift to continuous innovation is rocky. There may be tension in the company and unlearning of skills. You must rigorously test because continuous innovation is evidence-driven. You have to get outside the building and talk to customers. Everyone may seem on-board, but old habits kick in. To create transformation, you must find cross-functional teams within the company that already have above-average motivation for continuous innovation. Choose a project that will draw attention to undeniable results, such as bringing in a new revenue stream or entering a new market. Actions are louder than words, and results are louder than actions. People will notice results, and that can trigger the adoption of continuous innovation.
Thank you for being a Product Master and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.