If someone starts a discussion on product management, your initial thought might be of project planning, feature roadmaps, business data and all sorts of tools and techniques that revolve around a highly successful, existing product in market.

The reality is, that the best and most challenging work for any product manager and their team lies during product discovery and go-to-market planning. At MindTheProduct 2012, London’s inaugural conference for product teams, Marty Cagan, founder of the Silicon Valley Product Group, cut to the heart of successful product discovery…

“Start with a vision, continue with passion, be driven by knowledge”

As with everything in life, you get out what you put in. So it’s no surprise that Cagan’s top rule is to begin with vision and passion. We’re talking the sort of vision that extends beyond short term results — the kind that takes at least two or three years to get going. But passion and vision without applied wisdom will get you nowhere fast. Make a conscious effort to nail this and you’ll avoid what Cagan says is probably the single biggest reason for failed product.

“People think they can learn what to build from our customers, but of course, you can’t, in technology especially. Number one, because customers don’t know what’s possible because technology moves so fast. Our job is to know what’s possible. Customers don’t — they think they do but they don’t. They define the world based on what they already understand we can do. Number two, and this is more profound, because it applies to all of us: none of us know what we want until after we see it.

“The whole idea of defining a big thing that we’re going to build and launch is a problem. That’s not to say we don’t talk to our customers; just the opposite. The way we overcome this is by talking to a lot of customers. Most teams I work with are talking to more customers in a week than some do in a year. But unlike the marketing mind-set where you ask the customers questions, we’re testing on them; we’re seeing if our ideas actually work.”

Testing ideas is important. Ideas, after all, are ten a penny. But in product discovery, as with any creative endeavour, run with the first ideas that strike you as a solution to a problem and you’ll run into problems of your own before too long.

The ‘build and launch’ approach to product discovery costs too much in time, money and lost opportunity. But too often product teams find themselves entrenched in this approach, purely because they can’t test their ideas quickly and cheaply.

Read the full article at Mind the Product