A review of
Validating Product Ideas Through Lean User Research
by Tomer Sharon
About this book
A good reference for Methods/How-To
Primary audience: Researchers, designers, and technical roles with less than 1 year experience with the topic
Writing style: Matter-of-fact with equal parts text and images
Publisher Rosenfeld Media, 2016, 320 pages, 9 chapters
There’s been a promising increase in the number of non-designers adopting design thinking methods in recent years. Tomer Sharon aids and encourages this phenomenon with his most recent publication, Validating Product Ideas Through Lean User Research. The book redefines user research for startups and reframes traditional research techniques for a non-traditional audience of product managers and startup founders.
Sharon initially shares how he shaped the content of the book by interviewing over 200 product managers and startup founders. This is a great example of research in practice and its effects on the writing are noticeable. Based on his audience’s focus on implementation, Sharon approaches his topic practically and purposely leaves out much of the rationale behind his recommendations. He breaks the research process down into nine chapters titled as research questions within four sections:
Understanding the need
- What do people need?
- Who are the users?
- How do people currently solve the problem?
- What is the user’s workflow?
Figuring out the want
Do people want the product?
Evaluating the design
- Can people use the product?
- Which design generates better results?
- How do people find stuff?
Finding research participants
How to find participants for research?
In each chapter, Sharon rigorously explores how to answer the question. He explains why each question is important and when in the product development process it should be asked. He then goes on to discuss the best research method to use, why that method works, what other questions that method could help answer, and what other methods could help answer this question. This setup is important because many business and product managers who believe in the value of research don’t necessarily understand what it involves or how early in the product development process it should occur.
Sharon walks the reader through the methods he recommends step-by-step. He starts by explaining how to define a research plan, find and recruit participants, and prepare a research guide. He then demonstrates how to collect, analyze, and synthesize data into actionable results. He foresees and avoids common challenges for beginners by recommending exact participant numbers for different methods. He also shares precise methods of analysis with sample spreadsheets and graphics. As Sharon himself states, “This is a ‘doing’ book, not a ‘reading’ book.”
Sharon believes one of the biggest bottlenecks to doing research in the field is recruiting participants. For this reason, he dedicates an entire chapter to helping readers find people to participate at the lowest cost with the least amount of time and effort. In this chapter, he includes creative and modern recruiting techniques, including optimized Google ads, Facebook groups and pages, and Twitter hashtags. This is illustrative of the level of detail, creativity, and contemporary application that is represented throughout the book and on the companion website and YouTube channel.
Interestingly, Sharon also includes a chapter on evaluating whether or not people want a product. He himself notes that this chapter is unique because it will help with marketing a product, not designing it. This is another great example of how content is targeted to the needs of his primary audience. The chapter starts with a personal anecdote about a product Sharon purchased recently on a whim. While the product was beautifully designed with an intuitive on-boarding process, he ended up throwing it away because he never understood its purpose or had a real need for it. I found personal anecdotes and hypothetical scenarios like this to be the highlights of the book.
Validating Product Ideas Through Lean User Research covers a wide breadth of research tools and methodologies in extreme detail, all the the way from ethnography to A/B testing. Different readers will benefit most from different chapters, depending on what they find most interesting or have the least experience and knowledge in already. Though not the primary audience of this book, designers and researchers will likely find themselves learning something new (or a new spin on something old) from this robust how-to guide. I know I did.
When Should You Ask the Question?
All. The. Time. Assuming you and your team have fallen in love with a problem to solve, constantly asking (and answering) the, “How do people currently solve a problem?” is critical for achieving Product/ Market Fit. Otherwise, after it’s too late, you’ll find that your audi- ence is already satisfied with a different way of solving the same problem and that your company, startup, or product has become redundant. To be more specific, here are some great times to ask the question (Figure 3.3):
When you strategize: Exploring how people solve a problem today helps you come up with a great idea tomorrow, since the best predictor of future behavior is current behavior. Even if you have a product idea, figuring out the problem it solves might lead you to improve it significantly.
When you execute: Keeping your eyes open even during the development of your product idea can help validate it, fine-tune it, or pivot to a better strategy, if needed. Or perhaps even invali- date it if you find the idea is no longer relevant.
When you assess: Putting your product aside for a moment and bringing fresh eyes to the field to observe how people behave without your product can help prioritize features on your roadmap.
When is a good time to ask “How do people currently solve a problem?” The big circles represent the best times, while the smaller ones indicate other times recommended for asking the question.