The “Lean” Way To Measure Product-Market Fit

Developers embrace “lean” development, but entrepreneur Ash Maurya says they need to get back to the movement’s roots in manufacturing to understand how it can apply to user research. The reward? A near-psychic understanding of product-market fit.

The “Lean” Way To Measure Product-Market Fit

Where did we get the idea for lean development, anyway? Entrepreneur Ash Maurya starts this post with a history lesson, but it picks up fast, developing into compelling advice about how “lean” thinking can help developers past the incipient product stages. Via Maurya’s blog:


Lean emerged out of the manufacturing world with a rallying cry for “waste reduction” in the production process… Then Lean Startup came along and pointed out that efficient production is NOT enough UNLESS it also delivers customer value and emphasized learning OVER production towards that end.

We’ll get to the post-MVP stage in a moment; first, Maurya says, it’s necessary to understand why true lean thinking usually means a “no code” rule at the outset.

… [Y]ou are better served by limiting or completely forgoing production (through an MVP or concierge MVP, for example) to first test value creation. You have to first find a problem worth solving before committing resources to build and scale a solution.

Developing a product this way isn’t hard: Think in a linear fashion, and only develop what’s necessary to prove the concept enough to justify the next stage of development. So it follows that the same logic is useful for getting user feedback and iterating–as unnatural as it might seem.

Most learning during the Problem/Solution Fit stage comes through customer interviews. Because this kind of learning is typically qualitative (versus quantitative), it’s often regarded as learning that is “too soft” or “intangible”. This makes entrepreneurs nervous and skeptical.

Crucially, a systems engineering approach can help developers limit the scope of this interview/research process. How much is enough? The answer is less nebulous than you might think.

The goal of the Problem/Solution Fit stage isn’t learning for learning’s sake. The output isn’t a 100-page customer research report but rather a repeatable system for acquiring and activating “just enough” customers for Stage 2.

Get good enough at the feedback process, Maurya says, and you’ll be able to tell whether a customer will buy after asking them only three preliminary questions. Read on to learn how.

Backtrack: To learn more about how to price your software product, read back: Pricing Your Software Product: What You Need To Know.

[Image: Flickr user musicisentropy]

About the author

I've written about innovation, design, and technology for Fast Company since 2007. I was the co-founding editor of FastCoLabs.