Having the customers best interest in mind does not happen by accident. Too often a company’s goals are confused for the user’s. The rift between what the customer wants and what the business wants is so wide it can lead to business’s doing the exact opposite of what their biggest fans find useful. When a company forgets its users, it’s purpose must be replaced. This never leads to success.
There are two times that performing a design validation study can help keep your products in line with the ones who use them. This is at the beginning of a project and at the end. Both times the question is ‘Did you design the right product?’
At the beginning of the project a design validation study should be done to make sure that the world wants what you are trying to create. Is there anyone anywhere offering anything like what you do? This might be more properly called a market evaluation, as you don’t have a product of your own to validate. You can compare your proposed product specification to the current market place. The temptation might be to focus on innovation – doing something that no one has ever done before. But if we looked at how we arrived at our greatest ideas you will see that most ideas are not new. People wanted to arrive at a location faster, so they learned how to ride a horse. We wanted to be able to take more things with us when we went places, so we learned how to make wagons. We wanted a faster wagon, so we made a horseless carriage. The idea was the same, the method was what changed. Too many times modern innovation efforts are wasted on new ideas with the same old methods. Doing something new the old way won’t necessarily get you the same results as doing something old a new way.
If someone else is doing something like what you want to improve, evaluate how they are doing it. Does your way make things better? You can prove this by measuring time, skill-level required to perform an action, or cost. Although greater efforts can yield even more insight, sometimes simply looking at what is already available can help you pivot. This initial study will help you create the specifications and requirements that will help you know when your first version is done. At the end of the beginning the goal is to have a good idea of what the right product is.
At the end of a project a design validation study should be performed to prove that you made what you said you would. Sometimes this is called a design verification study. The verification process is there to determine if you met the goals you set in your product specification. Did this product fill the need you had hoped it would? Your study is there to discover if you made the product right.
If you did not make the product right it will be obvious. The product wont work. A polished product is not the same as a working product. In many lean methodologies your product will still be very unpolished – that is okay. Your only concern is does the product work? Does it do what we set out to have it do? This should be a very easy question to answer. If your product works, and fills a real user need you will have the opportunity to polish it. If your product does not work or does not fill a real user need no amount of polish will make it up.
If you did make the product right there are two possibilities. Your product could be well received and something that your users love.
Congratulations – you have found what your user’s true goals are. If you can align your business goals with these in a profitable way you may have many more opportunities to improve on your product.
If however, you made the product right but it is not well received the question should then be asked, “Did we make the right product?”