Book Review: The Lean Product Playbook by Dan Olsen

Think of all the items you’ve used lately. Do you love each and every one of them? Are there any that you particularly loathe? Few people really love all the products they use. I don’t understand why it’s so hard to make decent products.

Dan Olsen, in his 2015 book, The Lean Product Playbook, describes his best practices for creating products that consistently receive positive feedback from their users. Olsen, a lean strategy expert, presents a detailed plan for improving customer experience and product efficiency, covering topics such as agile development, product metrics, analytics, and split testing.

You may be wondering if you should read the book. This book review will tell you what important lessons you can learn from this book so you can decide if it is worth your time.

At the end of this book review, I’ll also tell you the best way to get rich by reading and writing

Without further ado, let’s get started.

Lesson 1: Identify Target Customers

The first step in the Lean Product Process is to define your ideal customers. This is the basis of the product-market fit pyramid. Different customers have very different requirements. Different people have different priorities when it comes to meeting the same needs.

Figure out who you want to sell to by identifying what characteristics they have in common with others in your target market. These characteristics may be based on the person’s needs or wants or on their behavior or personality.

After you have identified your customers, you should figure out what needs your product might meet, or at least make some hypotheses about them. Before you attempt to design a solution, it is important to fully understand the problem area.

What a customer “needs” is something they care about or desire. A customer’s needs can be either obvious or hidden. Customer needs are synonymous with customer value. Customers do not always know what they want or need until they see it. Customers have complex needs. There is always more hidden beneath the surface of a need.

A sure sign that a product team is jumping right into the solution is when they start listing product features rather than customer benefits.

To identify benefits from the customer’s perspective, each benefit must be preceded by a verb, such as “help,” “reduce,” “control,” “maximize,” etc. Benefit creates value for the customer. Specifically, it increases the desirable and decreases the undesirable. Your benefits must be clearly stated so that you can evaluate the effectiveness of your product.

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Lesson 2: Set the Value Proposition

The next step is to define your product’s value proposition after identifying the customer needs you may be able to meet. Select one of the many needs and state that you will meet that need. Be careful, you may end up trying to solve more problems than you can solve.

Remember the importance of staying focused. The key to a product that sells well is to focus on meeting multiple, interrelated needs. Also, beware of setting overly ambitious product goals.

There will always be some degree of guesswork because you lack comprehensive data on each need. You will never know exactly what the goal is, but as you move in the right direction, that knowledge will gradually become more complete.

It’s a common misconception that if you only say “yes” to one thing, you’ll be able to focus better. Also, you need to be sure that you are not doing anything. You need to divide your product’s features into “must-haves,” “performance benefits,” and “excitement factors.”

Since the “must haves” are usually used by all products in a given category, the core of your value proposition should consist of your product’s superior performance and any special features that will surprise and delight your customers.

Lesson 3: Decide on Your MVP Feature Set and Create a UX

First, you need to determine the value proposition of your product. Then you can decide what features to include in your Minimum Viable Product. It’s not a good idea to put all your eggs in one basket and release a brand new product with the full value proposition first.

Instead, you can go with a minimum set of features to see if you’re on the right track. After brainstorming with your team, keep a record of all ideas and sort them by the benefits they offer. A list of potential features should be reviewed and sorted for each benefit.

After determining which features are most important to your customers, you can start thinking about how much time and money will be required to develop them.

The next step is to put your Minimum Viable Product (MVP) features to the test, which requires developing a customer-friendly user interface.

While it’s true that your MVP should be slimmed down compared to your full vision, you still need to deliver something that fulfills your promise to customers and exceeds their expectations.

To ensure that the product you’ve designed sells, you can conduct the quantitative marketing tests described in this section. With their help, potential customers can be optimized and eventually converted.

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Lesson 4: Create a User Experience Prototype

You have finally settled on the features you want to implement in your Minimum Viable Product. Next, focus on the user experience of the product to really showcase its features and benefits. Remember, you can only find a suitable productfor the market if you provide a satisfying experience for your target audience.

An excellent product is one that can be used with minimal training. You will be able to easily figure out what you need and make the necessary changes. It is possible that using your product will be entertaining.

It could bring peace of mind and make life easier in many ways. Flow, the mental state of being completely absorbed and engaged in an activity, can be achieved through well-designed products.

You can stand out from the competition with a great user experience. The features and benefits of your product must be attractive to your target market. Think about the extent to which your user experience helps or hinders in delivering the promised benefits.

While a poor user experience can hinder the process of delivering benefits and discourage the user from using the product to its full potential, an exceptional user experience can provide delight and ease of use.

Make sure your UX does not tax the user’s brain too much and is easy to use. Avoid too many choices or too much information. Focus on what needs to be done.

Appearance is an important factor in the enjoyment of a product. You need to make sure the product stands out from the competition. Customers form an image of a product based on its appearance before they even use it.

Lesson 5: Test Your MVP With Users

Users should try your Minimum Viable Product after you design the user experience. The product blindness that prevents you from looking for problems that customers face can be easily overcome by user testing.

This will either confirm or disprove your model and assumptions. Because of product blindness, initial user testing will unearth a wealth of information and insights about your product. After reading this article, you’ll gain a better understanding of user testing and be more motivated to use it.

To get useful feedback in qualitative testing, you must first present the final design or deliverables of the product (mockups, prototypes, or wireframes) to your customers.

User interviews are unnecessary for quantitative testing. They rely heavily on data analysis. Ideally, testing should be done with a single customer at a time. That way, you can have a meaningful exchange with each customer.

Despite the widespread capabilities of remote testing, nothing beats the convenience of in-person testing. It enhances data collection and user interaction by picking up on subtle but meaningful cues like emotions conveyed through facial expressions and sighs.

It goes without saying that you need to ensure that the people you test with are representative of your ideal customer. If you don’t, their feedback will throw you off track and cause you to change course.

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Lesson 6: The Hypothesize-Design-Test-Learn Cycle

After completing the series of tests and evaluating the product-market fit, use the lessons learned to refine your Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and hypotheses to test again. You’re iteratively testing your product and its market to better and better tailor it to consumer needs.

Remember, presenting a design or product to customers in the solution space and getting their feedback helps you test and improve your problem space thinking.

The faster you can learn, the sooner you can improve product-market fit and deliver greater value to your customers. However, training is only the first step. First you learn, then you speculate, then you design and test, and finally you learn some more.

It’s important to put your product through a series of tests after you’ve completed the design. At this point, you should have a better idea of how well your product or service meets the needs of potential customers.

If it doesn’t, it’s best to repeat the cycle of learning, hypothesizing, designing, and testing until you get results you’re happy with. An actual product or design prototype can be used for user testing.

Getting feedback on artifacts before you start coding can help reduce risk, save time, and increase productivity. Your confidence will increase as a result, even before you invest money in programming.

After incorporating customer feedback, you can start developing the final version of the product. The knowledge gained from the lean product development process will serve you well in formulating the character of your product.

About The Author

Dan Olsen is a consultant and entrepreneur. He is an ardent advocate of lean startup principles. He works closely with CEOs, management teams, designers, developers, and product managers. Previously, he led the Quicken team at Intuit and was head of product management at Friendster.

The Lean Product Playbook Quotes

“When they launched Quicken, there were already 46 personal finance products in the market. However, after conducting customer research, the cofounders concluded that none of the existing products had achieved product-market fit.”


“The Lean Product Process helps you articulate the assumptions and hypotheses in your head (which you can revise later as you iterate).”


“Before jumping to the first step of the Lean Product Process, I discuss in the next chapter the important concept of problem space versus solution space.”


“When you build a product, you have chosen a specific implementation.”


“After spending $1 million of his own money, the company’s president, Paul Fisher, invented the Space Pen in 1965: a wonderful piece of technology that works great in zero gravity.”


“At the time, more Americans were still preparing their taxes by hand using IRS forms than all tax software combined.”


“You often hear strong product teams distinguishing between the ‘what’ versus the ‘how.”


“In contrast, ‘outside-in’ product development starts with an understanding of the customer’s problem space. By talking with customers to understand their needs, as well as what they like and don’t like about existing solutions, outside-in product teams can form a robust problem-space definition before starting product design.”

View our larger collection of the best The Lean Product Playbook quotes.

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