Product Management from MVP to Product-Market Fit

Context: joining a start-up that has launched its MVP but not yet reached Product-Market Fit.

Your Job to be Done: get to Product-Market Fit.


  • What's on fire? Is it really on fire, or is there bogus urgency, and/or incoherence? If there's just 1, it might be worth putting out anyway, then having a retrospective that questions the whole context.
  • What's the current 5-10-year mission/vision?
  • What are the user AARRR stats being tracked?

You need to document the current strategic context thinking, and prioritize discovery/validation on the riskiest parts.

Sketch a Lean Canvas with internal folks if there isn't one already

  • unlike when creating one in-advance for yourself, I find it best to do in order: Problem; Solution (features); UVP; user/market - this leads to market segment/ideal customer conversation.
  • if it seems like 1 segment makes up 80%+ of the customers, confirm that by checking whether the Problem, Solution, and UVP fit roughly everyone in that segment. If so, then move on to the rest of the canvas.
    • if there are multiple segments, then: sketch-list the key segments; then estimate the % of customers falling into each; then define/compare the Problem, Solution, and UVP for each of the top segments (hopefully 3-5 get to 80% of customers). This might lead to changing the list/definitions of segments. Cycle back through, then make complete canvas for each of the top segments. And start suggesting that serving more than 1 may spread your resources too thin.
  • is each customer's segment identified in the company database? If not, is it possible for anyone to map customers to segments based on their data? (Probably not, but worth checking.)
  • every box in the canvas is a hypothesis (Thinking in Bets): what evidence is there for each? Which boxes are riskiest?

Start talking to customers: active, churned, failed, etc. - open-ended Customer Discovery.

  • How quickly/confidently can you assign a given customer to a segment? Recognize that this process may lead you to change segment definitions. So start identifying patterns of needs, contexts, vocabulary, etc. for each user - eventually you'll want each pattern as a column in a spreadsheet, with each customer as a row with x for the patterns that apply
  • Is the Problem your startup is targeting the Biggest problem for that person? If not, is it still a compelling problem to solve (and what are the problems that are bigger)? What context creates the problems? Are they spending money/time to solve it now, how?
  • ask the Sean Ellis very-disappointed question of the current customers. What current feature/attribute is most valuable? What's the most important missing feature, or other shortcoming?
  • ask the churned/failed users what they chose instead and why, and how that's working for them

Summarize/discuss your results - if you have multiple segments you'll want a comparison table. The goal is to pick a primary/key segment to focus your efforts on.

  • is your biggest segment also your most-satisfied? Is this segment addressable? If so, is that segment-TAM big enough to spend 2 years growing into? If so, is there any reason not to make this your key segment?
  • revise your Lean Canvas for this key segment/persona
    • does everyone agree on the UVP/positioning?
    • does everyone agree on which boxes are the biggest risks/uncertainties?
      • who "owns" the biggest risks, Product/dev or someone else? Is there an agile way to check those risks?
  • can you define the A-ha moment that results in a customer becoming thrilled? Can you define a North Star metric?

Start an Opportunity Solution Tree for your key segment

  • get all the (non-tiny) ideas people (inside and out) have mentioned included - it's ok to start with some in a "No Problem" Opportunity branch...
  • Did the customer interviews lead you to have an opinion over which Problems/Opportunities are most significant? Do you believe those are the bottlenecks to getting to PMF? Make the tree reflect that.
  • Have meetings to discuss/update the tree.
    • which Problems are most important to solve?
      • You might not want to decide this until you pick a North Star metric - otherwise, be more clear that you're kinda guessing.
      • You should definitely do some Pirate Metrics analysis before making these rankings...
    • generate more ideas attacking only the top 2 Problems
    • rank those ideas
  • user StoryMapping to build happy-path first, even if you don't release it yet
  • this is the best detailed walk-through I've ever seen of this process: (2020-08-04) Rahul Vohra Shares Superhumans Product Market Fit Framework
  • hot-take: any task/feature that doesn't move you toward product-market fit is Low Priority (other than items that are legally required). If Low Priority items are taking more than 20% of your dev team's time, you need to prioritize better (or you're over-staffed).

Side bits to add in

  • Start a writing culture (Org Writing Practices): is there a team-wiki-like doc-space integrated with the issue-tracker (aka confluence for jira)? Get it licensed, get permissions spread, start writing there.
  • What analytics tools are available, if any? What user-action-data is being collected?
  • Understand the tech stack, sprint process/cycle, QA process, deploy process, etc. If there's a complex architecture, ask if there's documentation/diagrams. Start attending dev meetings (stand-up, etc.)
  • Ask everyone you meet with: What's the biggest business risk? What's your biggest pet peeve re the biz?

See also other Agile Product Development recommendations.

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