Photo by The Lean Startup Conference/Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin)
Photo by The Lean Startup Conference/Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin)

Product teams are natural perfectionists. No matter where you work, you want everything that you build to be perfect in meeting the needs of your users and outsmarting competitors in your market.

The problem with perfection is that it slows us down and increases our chances of risk. At enterprise companies, it can take years and millions of dollars for a new venture to see the light of day. At startups, one faulty assumption could force founders to close their doors for good.

Lean Startup practitioners will tell you to circumvent this process and the resulting uncertainty by building a minimum viable product (MVP), which Eric Ries defines as a bare-bones product that yields the most learnings at the lowest investment levels.

With bare-bones, however, comes ambiguous territory. Product leaders don’t want to sell their customers short or create lackluster user experiences. Today’s buyers have high standards for where they’re investing their attention, emotional energy, and money. If your product falls flat, you’ll risk damaging your brand’s reputation.

So how do you outsmart perfection without building a product that’s cruddy? Take a lesson from the following 3 product development leaders.

1 – Test as soon as you can communicate an idea

Tip nominated by: Lauren Gilchrist, product manager at Pivotal Labs

When bringing a new product to market, it’s important to launch with the minimal feature set that’s required for generating feedback. This concept, for the majority of people reading this blog post, makes sense. The challenging piece is how to condense a big list of ideas into something that people can actually use.

Gilchrist encourages her fellow product leaders to test an idea as soon as they can form sentences about it. Practically speaking, this process involves qualitative research through customer development, experimentation through A/B testing, and usability research by asking people to test a version of your product.

By testing sooner, you’ll learn critical lessons for preventing future UX and product positioning blunders.

2 – Create an audience before you start building your product

Tip nominated by: Laura Klein, principal at UsersKnow

Some of today’s most successful companies like Moz, Mint.com, 37signals, HubSpot, Groupon, and Mattermark didn’t start with a product. They started with a blog, which they grew into a full-fledged audience.

What audience-building enables is two-fold conversation and discovery. Through dedicated content creation, you’ll build a community in which you can conduct product development and test potential product/market positioning. Most importantly, you’ll start to build a relationship with early customers—giving you some leeway to launch an imperfect product for validated learning, if necessary.

Often, businesses will position content as a marketing tool. Don’t let this view constrict you—content is a product development and learning opportunity too.

3 – Get comfortable with tradeoffs

Tip nominated by: Kathryn Kuhn, transformation consultant at Rally Software

Product leaders in big companies who need to test new ideas quickly are often stuck with slow release cycles and rigid team processes. It can be challenging to overcome these legacy systems and workflows.

That’s where tradeoffs enter the picture.

During her time at HP, Kuhn sped up the production cycle for a complex, cross-functional technical team. She was able to build a new product to market in a matter of months by focusing on what she describes as ‘second best.’ While her solution wasn’t perfect, it was an important first step to move her team’s project forward.

Final thoughts

The art of balancing quality with speed is always challenging. No matter how many products you launch, you’ll likely always have fears lingering in the back of your mind.

Practice, test, and let yourself make mistakes. It gets easier.

At the 2015 Lean Startup Conference you will get more actionable tips to outsmart your perfectionism and create results and more profits for your company. You still have one week to get the ‘Spring Sale’ rate on your tickets before June 30.  Click here for all the details and to register now.

This post was written by Ritika Puri, resident storyteller at The Lean Startup Conference.

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