Lean Customer Development Is Key to Sustainable Innovation


When Amazon launched the Kindle Fire tablets, consumers loved the product, leading to the idea of launching a phone. Unfortunately, this new product didn’t resonate completely with the customers as the company leaders would have expected. This is no isolated case, and a good number of startups, as well as established businesses, fail once they launch products that do not augur well with the customers.

Don’t get the idea wrong, 63% of customers love it when companies they are loyal to launch new products into the market, according to Bizjournals.com. The issue lies in the fact that most of these companies focus solely on product development instead of approaching the situation from the customer’s perspective. If Amazon would have launched their phone with their intended user in mind, there is no telling the amounts of profits that the product would have generated for them over the years.

Here is why you need to focus on lean customer development as a sustainable innovation puzzle piece:

Lean Customer Development vs. Product Development

While product development deals with what you want the customer to buy, customer development answers the important question – will they buy the product? Product development deals with the process followed in the development of a product with the hope that the customer will eventually buy it. A company can use various development techniques including waterfall, scrum or agile, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that the customer will buy the product.

Perhaps the greatest risk of launching an innovation is finding out that you don’t have a ready market. However, customer development is not meant to replace product development, but to work side by side with it. For a company that focuses on the needs of the customer and uses kanban principles to incorporate these needs during the development phase, it becomes easier to launch the product.

It Starts With Your Internal Staff’s Mindset

A common misconception is that customer development needs you to shelve all the information you have gathered from your market over time. The truth is that the customer’s mindset changes with time which might make common hypotheses that you have obsolete. As such, customer development is a tool for challenging the market hypotheses that you have built up over the years.

It helps to find holes in what you think is right and correct it before launching a product that is poised for failure. Since your internal staff might be skeptical about changing their mindset, the trick is to make them see this idea from a different light. They need to appreciate that it is a boost for your competencies rather than a replacement of the already set product development path.

The Process of Customer Development

Customer development allows you to poke holes into you hypotheses instead of building your products on an idea that customers are unwilling to invest in. You will need to:

  • Formulate common hypotheses
  • Approach customers for a review
  • Ask questions and assess the answers
  • Identify the changes to make
  • Repeat

Finding out whether your ideas match with the mindset of the customer is the core principle of customer development. The aim should be to refine your ideas to the intricate level for higher chances of success.

You Are Doing This for Your Business

While customer development and user research intertwine, they differ in a number of ways. The latter is meant to please the customer. The aim is to ensure that the customer feels appreciated through making product tweaks that they might want, which makes it optional.

On the other hand, customer development has the interests of your business at heart. It is aimed at launching a business model that can be sustainable enough. As such, it should be a non-negotiable part of your business.


A simple innovation can have a diversity of development options, all which can either augur well with the market or be complete failures. Customer development ensures that you garner your efforts and resources towards success. Consider incorporating it into your product management strategy to embrace continuous improvement when launching innovations.


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