Agile · MVP · Problems · Product management · Prototypes · VOC

The challenge of finding product-market fit

Yet again for this week’s blog post I want to share some ideas from April’s online Everyday Innovators Summit that I found particularly striking. In this case the thoughts came from a session Dan Olsen, author of The Lean Product Playbook, presented on finding product-market fit. If you’re involved in product development or listen to many podcasts on product management you’ve likely heard about this vital concept from many different people. Part of what I found most intriguing was the graphic Dan used to show the common disconnect between the product and the market; I’ve included that graphic below as well as in the main image attached to this post.

Prod-Market fit pyramid

The image Dan used to discuss finding product-market fit was the pyramid shown here, with a gap representing the need to connect market knowledge to product development. I found several things particularly striking from this image and Dan’s discussion; these four problems can all be avoided by focusing on finding product-market fit:

  1. An idea in search of a market. When product managers, company executives, or development teams come up with features and functionality to add based on their own assumptions, it can be easy to build a product that is untethered from the market it ought to serve. As the image would suggest, you can’t start building a pyramid at the top; instead all ideas must be grounded in real market feedback that allows product teams to deeply understand the customers they want to serve.
  2. Great idea but the needs are already thoroughly met. Even with deep understanding of the needs and hopes of your target customers, you still need to know how those potential clients are currently getting those needs met. It’s crucial to find not just a target customer or customer segment but also to clearly identify pain points or aspirations that current solutions don’t adequately satisfy.
  3. Value proposition that doesn’t provide recognized value. If the solution you offer the market doesn’t actually address the unmet needs of potential clients – or doesn’t do it in a way that resonates with those potential clients – then your product idea won’t feel like a fit for the market. Instead the key to finding this “fit” is to show through your value proposition that you understand your customers and empathize with their pains or aspirations.
  4. A final problem Dan articulated that must be overcome occurs when your product doesn’t deliver on the promises you’ve made. The feature set and user experience your product brings to the market doesn’t have to be perfect at the start but you have to provide the value you promised users and show a path toward improvement.

Dan’s suggested solution involves iterating on your MVP (minimum viable product) with customers as the best path to finding solid product-market fit. This involves building the pyramid from the ground up and leads – when it’s down well – to a solid product and satisfied customers. Avoiding the four problems identified above doesn’t guarantee product success of course because in truth it’s not that simple.


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