Agility versus Product-Market Fit

Category: Startups
Tags: Agile
Published on: January 8, 2023

As I’ve been sending some proposals to startups lately, let’s chat a moment about Agility and product-market fit, or PSE-market fit as I like to call it (products, services, experiences).

Agility is about improving Engineering teams so that they are more efficient and get valuable software out sooner and in cycles. “Valuable” is defined by customers. What the startup founders think is valuable might not be valuable to the end user. Your idea to help people save, help surfers coordinate going surfing, invent a new Marketing tool, or keep people safe might not match who target users are, what they need, and what they are likely to use.

If you build it, they might not come. You can market and advertise the heck out of it, but users might not stay.

You can be Agile and still build something few or no people want. You can be Agile and still have your product or company fail. The focus should be less on “how Agile are we” and “what evidence guides our product and service decisions.”

This is where generative research helps. What do we know about our target audiences? We know we can make a cool thing, but does anybody need this thing? We know we can find people to try it, but will anybody want to stay? Will anybody want to pay?


Don’t We Want to be a Lean Startup?

Many startups skip research thinking that they should just run with their first idea and see how that goes. This is despite statistics saying that startups and attempts at innovation fail 80-96% of the time (depending upon which article you read).

Popular techniques fail at a staggering rate, yet so many companies demand that their teams follow these approaches. Startup founders understand the importance of learning what customers need, if their products are going in the right direction, and how to achieve PSE-market fit. But they appear to want to do that in slow, risky, and wasteful cycles of guessing.

They understand the importance of learning, but assume that comes later. We should start with learning. Start with unanswered questions. Catalog assumptions and then use generative qualitative research to replace them with knowledge. We’ve become used to thinking “that’s too slow,” without noticing how slow we are when we come up with PSE ideas, design them, have Engineering build them, test, merge, release, and then wait for feedback. We wait for A/B test results, analytics, and metrics around adoption and retention. We know we need to fix or improve things, but do we know what to change? Or are we guessing?

Lean is about identifying and cutting risk and waste. A truly lean startup would use processes that help them understand target audiences more deeply and ensure earlier and better product-market fit. A lean startup would be evidence-based at all steps, and would seek the evidence that best guides strategies and action.

Take a fresh look at your processes and look at where the slowness and waste really are. Slowness and waste aren’t in learning. They’re not in getting to know target audiences so you can more efficiently create something they’ll want to be loyal to. The slowness and waste are in cycles of building guesses, waiting for feedback, sometimes not having actionable feedback, and guessing what to change next to try to improve it.