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I'm quite new to the world of lean product management so excuse me if my questions sound too obvious or dull.

So far I'm learning that Customer Development starts with an assumption about the market or customer needs, also maybe and hypothesis for how to satisfy it. Then the PM needs to start an iterative process with potential customers to understand if the product assumption is valid, if would fit, how to better adapt it, etc.

But what happens if you don't have any prior market hypothesis and your intention is to solely comprehend market business problems and needs and then see if there are common patterns that might be addressed?

Is it OK to just reach out to market players and conduct small, open interviews about their business problems or experiences with no previous assumption?

What recommendations would you share in order to give structure to these interviews, if any?

The objective would be to identify needs that might be addressed, to make a series of assumptions, and continue with the Customer Development process to eventually create a product.

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  • Is it OK to just reach out to market players and conduct small, open interviews about their business problems or experiences [...]? Yes, you could, but what are you going to talk about exactly? You need to somehow frame the discussion, or probe for something, which means making some assumptions. If you don't want to make assumptions, you still need to frame the discussion somehow. I assume you have a product or service already? Or doing business in some field? Then you might ask things like "What could we offer more than what we are doing now, to further help you in your business?" – Bogdan Jan 4 at 17:04
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TL;DR

You can look at data and use inductive reasoning to formulate a hypothesis, or use deductive reasoning to define your product goals. Note that you must have a hypothesis or goal to test and measure; otherwise, you're performing the equivalent of asking random sea turtles which shoes to make for the world's fastest Olympic runner. Even then, you're eliding a whole bunch of implicit assumptions about what market you're in (shoes or athleticwear, apparently) and who has valuable insight into that market (presumably ocean-going Cheloniidae). You can certainly sally forth and do that with minimal forethought, but it's not really a good use of anyone's time (including the turtles') and is unlikely to yield useful or measurable results.

Capture Assumptions, Form Hypothesis, Validate...Rinse, Lather, Repeat

You Need a Hypothesis

For effective research of any kind, you always have assumptions (consciously or not), and generally need to formulate a hypothesis to be tested. Even if all you're doing is conducting a survey or interviewing people, you still need to have some idea of what you're trying to validate (or invalidate, if you're investigating the null hypothesis). Otherwise, your research will lack direction and rigor, and floundering around aimlessly is unlikely to provide meaningful results.

Develop an MVP

The level of research and rigor required will vary greatly. One popular lean approach is to formulate a hypothesis to be tested using a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). The MVP should be designed to test your hypothesis by creating validated learning about the marketplace, potential customers, or fitness for purpose.

The Process Never Stops

An MVP or other testable hypothesis is the start of your product journey, not the end. You will have to continuously seek feedback and refine the product throughout its entire lifecycle. Markets change, business needs change, and technology changes, which is why you're not still using a Windows 3.1 desktop. Even in non-agile organizations, effective product management requires an iterative or incremental approach to product design and market analysis, so get comfortable with the continuous generation (or at least refinement) of hypotheses.

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    Brilliant. Clarifies the unspoken assumption and wraps it up in a framework to be productive. I might add that there is a precursor stage to forming a hypothesis; open research. This doesn't contradict what you said, but in order to form a hypothesis you're going to need to read & collect data to understand what services are currently provided. Otherwise you wind up like the 90% of kickstarters who all claim to be the "First to provide...." – Mark C. Wallace Jan 4 at 17:54
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    @MarkC.Wallace Agreed. My point was that research still needs to be directed, usually by an initial assumption or question. Wikipedia defines the relevant activities as: "1. Define a question, 2. Gather information and resources (observe), 3. Form an explanatory hypothesis." Based on my own experience with prod mgmt, I don't think there's a bright line between defining a question & forming a testable hypothesis, but they're certainly distinct steps in the scientific process. I appreciate you calling that out! – Todd A. Jacobs Jan 5 at 16:53
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    Within DHS market research process, there is a stage prior to "Define a question" - it consists of doing open market research without a question, without an agenda. Just familiarizing yourself with the terrain. Alas, I don't think I can share the internal procedures documents. – Mark C. Wallace Jan 5 at 17:06
  • Hello. Thanks for your help. I would like to learn more about this previous stage you call 'open research' or 'open market research'. How could I learn more about this? What body of knowledge or concepts, apart from basic statistics, etc, should I be searching for? Thanks. – Aleix Jan 14 at 16:27

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