Scaling customer development: crowdsourcing the research – Elaine Chen

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Elaine Chen

From The Huffington Post

In the seminal book “The Four Steps to the Epiphany”, Steve Blank introduces the concept of “customer development” – get out of the building and interview customers. While this is not a new concept – product people with user-centered design training have always done this – this is a huge development in startup-land, where technology used to run amuck.

Challenges with sample size

There is one small problem with customer development. It relies on qualitative research techniques like detailed interviews and observation, which are time consuming and costly.  Additionally, these techniques involve deep interactions with a few individuals, and you always run the risk of talking to the wrong people about the wrong problems.

How do you know whether you can trust your results? One way is to increase sample size – but given each interaction can take a couple of hours all-in, trying to get to 100 conversations quickly becomes daunting.

Later on in the product’s life cycle, prototypes will need to be tested.  Again, qualitative research techniques like usability benchmarks and observation are the best way to start.  Right away we run into the same sample size problem.

A two-step approach: In-person, then remote

There is a way forward that will start you off with the qualitative insights you need, and end up with a big enough pool of data to make it credible. Start with in-person sessions, then scale it up with remote sessions.

Read the full post at The Huffington Post.

Elaine Chen is a startup veteran, product strategy and innovation consultant, and author who has brought numerous hardware and software products to market.

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