SyncDev Cuts Risk and Increases Return
Synchronous customer and product development, by any name, is a lean way to develop new products and markets, especially when coupled with agile software development. SyncDev, ‘Customer Development’, a term popularized by Steve Blank in Four Steps to the Epiphany, and ‘Lean’, a term popularized by Eric Ries in his book The Lean Startup are all part of a ‘better-way’ process revolution.
Sell, Design, Build Is Proven
Scrappy entrepreneurs and OEMs have long ‘sold’ first and built second. But aircraft manufacturers like Boeing, Airbus, and Bombardier adopted it in the late 1900s. That’s because each new airplane requires them to bet the company. Boeing has been synced since the 1960s. Essentially, all but one of their rivals failed while Boeing has never had a flop. (See White Paper)
Problems with Existing Methods
Most companies follow a stage-gate or agile development process. Procedures prescribe what team members do and when: Define the product and business model. Assess the business case. Prepare a business plan. Get funded. Proceed.
Often, of course, companies specify interaction with the outside customer world to address these issues. Primarily, they conduct market research, determine product requirements, and make a business case. Nonetheless, most companies’ processes to do this are riddled with problems, the biggest of which is wasting months or quarters arguing about how to do the following, and then, finally, doing it:
- Market analysis objectives and methods are half backed and perfunctory
- People who do it lack skills lack investigative techniques and skills
- They meet with the wrong customers and the wrong people
- They don’t test specific product and business model hypotheses
- They don’t discuss the terms of doing business or conduct trial closes
- Meetings are hit and run. There are no next steps or relationship building
- Success metrics are fuzzy. Bad news doesn’t surface. Happy ears prevail
- At the office, if the news is bad, managers shoot the messenger
- Survival rules: messengers learn to mitigate their speech or bury bad news
- False-positive conclusions perpetuate the original plan
- Market contact stops: development, go-to-market, and scaling become the sole focus. Amelia Earhart’s navigator has given up trying to use his sextant
For consumer products, teams most often turn to focus groups. The problems here are many, as well. A session takes a couple of hours. The moderator must use 30 minutes in small bites. But that leaves just 15 minutes per ‘respondent’ to respond. Invariably one or two people dominate the meeting and pollute the pristine thoughts of others. The format makes it impossible to assess consumers’ purchase intent without group think – which is not how consumers buy products.
If a team realizes there are problems like these and tries to fix them, they may exacerbate the problem. Instead of doing real work they’ll debate the pros and cons of process. They’ll try to improve it. Heated debase will ensue which results in a quagmire until the boss yells, “Get back to work!”
A Walk-The-Talk Solution
Thirty years of SyncDev experience at 250 companies in 20-or-more market segments have taught us what works and what doesn’t. The net of our experience is codified in three major features.
Customer Engagement Model
The SyncDev Customer Engagement Model specifies which prospective customers to meet, who to meet with, when, and what protocols to follow to avoid false positives and false negatives. Segmenting the market, determining good qualifying questions, and customizing a standard customer engagement model are day-one deliverables.
This one-day task alone often takes companies several months to do. Then, when it’s ‘done’, it’s rarely really done. Because we have been so deeply immersed for so long in so many companies, we know a straight path through this thicket of challenges.
Tools are provided on-line that facilitate project planing, execution, analysis, and the reporting of issues and progress to the business unit GM and his or her peers and managers. Tools include team member assignments, setting a 90-day schedule, segmenting the market, customizing the engagement template, getting meetings with the right customer personnel, using the SyncDev Voice-of-the-Customer Database to take notes, assimilating data, and reporting bottom-line findings to management.
The killer feature of SyncDev is your side-by-side coach. Doing SyncDev is like a team sport. There are so many different issues that pop up and so many alternative paths to take that nothing but a coach can catch and fix them. Nonetheless, companies that adopt SyncDev as a standard process can develop and certify an internal SyncDev coach for their company.
SyncDev Benefits – Lower Risk and Higher Return
A cross-functional team that builds a sales funnel of lighthouse or brand-name customers as they develop a product:
- Cuts risk by triggering pivots early when they’re easy to implement
- Increases return because customers are ready to buy when you release
- Discover the highest return-on-risk segments, customers, and product (MVP)
- Facilitate development funding and recruiting by virtue of having customers
- May shift the burden of proof from the team to the funding skeptic
- Shapes a team with disparate backgrounds into a cohort who’s quick to pivot
- Precipitates team insights because they live for so long in the customers’ shoes
- May decide to ‘fail fast’ in lieu of failing slowly
- Nailing the product and business model early which reduces scaling risk
The Company We Keep
It’s said that a person becomes the average of the five people they spend the most time with. The same can be said of a company, i.e., SyncDev, Inc. The following books, authors, and venture investors have influenced us most in becoming who we are.
Investment Group of Santa Barbara
IGSB is a venture capital firm who invests only their money. They invented Market Validation, the first version of SyncDev. Partners Reece Duca, Tim Bliss, and Bill Rauth more than anyone else gave us a vision, methodology, use of intellect, and precision.
Steve Blank, Author
Four Steps to the Epiphany
The Startup Owner’s Manual
Steve unabashedly says that SyncDev, Inc. preceded him to the market and coined the terms MVPTM or Minimum Viable ProductTM but that he beat SyncDev at marketing. Both statements are accurate.
Other Formative Authors, Books, and Resources
The following books are a portfolio of useful ideas in the form of principles, procedures, and helpful tips to sync product and customer development: