Agile Development isn’t a new idea. Project Managers in the software development world have been throwing around the term for years. It describes the process of quickly creating a product and getting it to market with all the proper features. There was a proper course and as long as everything stayed under the deadline, things work great! At the time this was revolutionary but it doesn’t particularly apply to startups. Or at least, not in the same way.
Eric Ries revolutionized how startups are created with lean philosophy and people learned how to create businesses quickly, much in the same way that software was created quickly. Entrepreneurs learned a hard lesson by understanding they probably don’t have a clue what the customer needs at first. An entrepreneur needs to be agile as well as flexible.
This is a step in the right direction but it’s not the whole story. An entrepreneur can make pivot after pivot after learning what the customer doesn’t want and still have a product that nobody wants. There’s where the customer development program Steve Blank teaches is especially useful. It applies the same thoughts about lean entrepreneurship and brings them to your customer base. Essentially, you as an entrepreneur have an idea. You create your minimal viable product and take it to the public. The public tells you what’s wrong with it and you move forward with the improvements. Blank makes a point that the entire process must be flexible and changeable. Almost everything in the planning stages are done on sticky notes so new ideas can be put up as easily as bad ideas can be taken down.
The main problem with most customer development is it’s focused around the product. Instead the whole undertaking ought to focus on the customer, far and beyond what’s wrong with the MVP they are critiquing. The customer ought to be what your business model focuses on. Just as Ash Maurya argues in his article, Your Product is Not Your Product, http://www.ashmaurya.com/2011/06/your-product-is-not-the-product/, the business model is the product you are offering to the customer, not your product. Now that we have established all of that, why does it have to only apply to startups? This model sounds like an ideal process for any business to use for new products and services. Too many businesses have forgotten their purpose is to serve customers. By following Blank’s philosophy on flexible planning and customer development, perhaps more business will be geared toward serving customers instead of the bottom line.