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4 Lean Startup Mistakes That Can Sabotage Your Product

| August 6, 2015
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In our recent webinar, Dan Olsen, author of The Lean Product Playbook, walked us through his Lean Product process and how to build great products efficiently. He also shared some of the mistakes companies make along the way when they’re trying to adopt Lean practices.

Here are four traps startups run into—and Dan’s advice for avoiding them.

1. Jumping to solutions

One of the key takeaways was the difference between problem space and solution space.

When you’re working in the problem space, you’re learning about user needs, goals, likes and dislikes. You aren’t designing a product yet. You’re just learning how people think and feel about a problem.

Solution space involves actively designing or building a product to address the problem. It includes wireframes, prototypes, and the actual working product you build.

Too many companies dive right into the solution space without spending enough time exploring the problem space to find out what users actually need.

“By not jumping into solution space, and by being really clear in the problem space, you can identify better, higher-ROI solutions.”

2. Low quality MVPs

When most people think of a Minimum Viable Product, they think of something that barely works enough to get feedback and start iterating. They focus on including the right features, and they don’t worry about reliability, usability, or delight yet.

Dan argues that it’s better to build an MVP with fewer, but more complete, features. That way, you’ll be able to get more useful feedback on the actual user experience of the product. Then, you can add more features as you go.

“You need to make whatever MVP you’re building reliable enough, usable enough, and delightful enough, that there’s going to be something there that people can react to and will like.”

3. Theoretical questions

It’s important to spend time talking to your target market when you’re exploring the problem space. Ask users what tools they’re currently using to address the problem, and what they like and don’t like about them. But for useful feedback on your solution, you need to give customers some sort of prototype to react to, rather than just asking them if they would like such a thing.

“Customers aren’t good at having theoretical discussions about value propositions and customer benefits. What they are good at is reacting to the solution space.”

4. Low-value features

It’s easy to want to build all of the cool features your team has dreamed up. Each one makes your product unique and exciting. But often, your customers only end up using a fraction of them. To build a better product faster, you need to eliminate everything people aren’t going to use.

“The problem is that most people don’t realize what’s low-value until after they launch.”

Getting customer feedback on early prototypes can help you weed out the features that users don’t find valuable—and avoid wasting time developing them.

For more Lean Product tips, check out Dan’s webinar and book The Lean Product Playbook.