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Your development is Agile, but are you solving the right problem?

Note: This article is based on Doug Church's mini case study from the semiconductor industry about problem-solving as the starting point.

Is someone in your organization telling you that Agile means good-bye to separate stages of customer research? Do they say, "We'll just ask customers as we go"?

Don't get me wrong, Agile has a lot to love. But as with all movements, sometimes the partisan enthusiasm runs amok. One sign of frothing is that kind of "let's just start building and we'll change as we go" mentality. My friend and colleague Doug Church summarizes the issue succinctly in a mini case study from the semiconductor industry:

In today’s world, companies are required to develop products at a rapid rate, leading to the adoption of new processes (e.g. Agile) that accelerate the cycle beyond the capabilities of the traditional waterfall process.  While these processes can incorporate customer feedback, they are typically oriented around obtaining feedback on features and functionality that have already been developed.  This is good for refining concepts in a more iterative manner, but it still leaves the fundamental question of: What problems are the product and its features solving?

Among product managers (the background I come from) we know that understanding the problem is indeed the fundamental question. And it's a question that must be answered by spending time with your potential customer base, the people who ostensibly have the problems that you might be able to solve. Doug's case study gives an overview of some of the techniques we use in our Innovation practice to elicit good data: contextual inquiry, online journaling, community exercises, and quantitative methods.

Doug Church is co-head of Phase 5's innovation practice. He can be reached at 613 241 7555 x101 or dougc@phase-5.com.


Written by Steve Hansen

Steve Hansen, MBA, is the President of Phase 5 US and the leader of the firm's Data Analytics practice. With almost 2 decades of experience in client-side marketing strategy, market research, and product management, Steve brings a client’s mindset and drive for actionable results to each project. He has extensive experience in capturing the view “from the outside” with a special focus on product and service innovation. Steve is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.