What Are You Trying to Prove?

I was sitting down with my 2 and a half year old son watching Sesame Street. I wasn’t expecting to experience a product management insight but it was right there in the words of the day – “Journal” and “Hypothesis”.

Now I did think at the time that these were some pretty advanced words for a show that is brought to you by the letter F and the number 14 but the show kicked off by describing the scientific method so I was hooked. It described the process of discovery by observing what was going on in the world, then recording it for later reference in a “Journal” (note the word of the day).

When product managers run a focus group, interview the market or view what the marketplace is doing around them the the outcomes should be carefully documented for later review in the equivalent of a Product Managers Journal. Unfortunately this often results in undirected research where it is unclear if an outcome or an insight is ever achieved. I have seen this effect referred to as analysis paralysis, where there is lots of research but no result or decision.

The catalyst that makes the difference is the second word that Sesame Street described – “Hypothesis”. Right or wrong the hypothesis is a statement that, through research, needs to be supported or disproved. The important insight that the description provided to the Sesame Street audience provided was that it is OK for the hypothesis to be wrong. In fact it is when it is proven to be wrong that the deepest insights can be attained.

A clear starting Hypothesis also provides direction to any research activity. It is not research for researches sake. It forces the research activity to deliberately seek to provide documented data that supports the starting idea. This way the researcher will know when they have a result and will build confidence in the idea if the data supports it.

When I am speaking with product management teams during our training sessions, market research is one of the areas that most participants feel is lacking in their activities yet we build products and services based on untested assumptions about what the needs of the market are.

The amazing thing for me was that my son is now scribbling in his Journal and telling me about his Hypotheses. (Note: Proud Dad) If he can grasp the concept then why can’t most Product Managers.

So before you start developing your next product addition, write down your assumptions, state your hypotheses and then ask the market to see what you can learn. You may get a surprise that will trigger an innovation you never expected.

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