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The Customer-Driven Playbook by Jessica Rich, Travis Lowdermilk

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“Over the next 10 weeks, we want you to come up with product ideas that can attract new customers and triple our revenue.”

Susan, a UX lead for PartyTime Apps, felt her mouth fall open and heard the team shift uncomfortably in their chairs.

Susan and her team worked on an immensely popular mobile party-planning app called PartyOrganizr.

The app was at the top of the charts in all the mobile app stores, and the company had enjoyed several years of success. Yet leadership was looking for ways to capitalize on their success and generate new revenue.

They didn’t have a lot of time, so Susan believed the team needed to be Lean. She was going to have the team talk to as many customers as they could, iterate quickly, and—above all else—“fail fast.” She scheduled daily calls with customers and the team quickly fell into a cadence of meeting with customers, asking a myriad of questions, and taking copious notes.

The team had a lot of ideas about how they could generate new revenue, and they found that talking with customers was a great way to get direct feedback. Jerry, an engineer on the team, even started building a prototype for one of his ideas and began showing it to customers. It appeared that the team was on their way.

Then progress came to a complete halt. The team began arguing over what they were hearing from customers. Mary, a product manager, believed they weren’t asking the right questions or talking to the right types of customers. Even though it would be costly to build, Jerry was convinced that customers liked his prototype. Richie, the team’s software tester, became hyperfocused on fixing bugs that customers happened to mention on the calls. The team was divided and heading in separate directions.

After the 10 weeks was complete, the team was left with a half-baked prototype that leadership deemed a “solution in search of a problem.” Even worse, after all the time they had spent with customers, the team had more questions than answers.

Does this sound familiar?

All too often, we find ourselves in this reality. While many Lean approaches and customer development strategies produced over the past decade have been transformational in how we think about building products, many teams find it difficult to put those principles into meaningful action.

That’s why we’ve come up with The Customer-Driven Playbook. It’s a complete end-to-end guide that will help you and your team move from understanding the customer to identifying their problems to conceptualizing new ideas—and ultimately to creating fantastic products.

Bottom line: this book will help you and your team put Lean theory into action.

Every element of this book has been used in the real world. This methodology has been proven successful in an organization of over 8,000 people that spans multiple countries.

Who Can Use the Customer-Driven Playbook?

Most of our experience in building this methodology has been in the software industry, so our book has been written primarily with software and technology products in mind. However, you can use our framework successfully when creating any product or service.

More specifically, this book is for program, product, project, or service managers; UX, visual, and interaction designers; UX researchers; team leads; engineers; testers; managers; and directors.

In short, if you have a desire to make great products, this book is for you.

How Is This Different from Other User-Centered Methodologies?

The customer-driven approach puts customers at the center. You may be asking, “How is that different from being user-centered?”

We believe a user and a customer have some subtle, yet profound, differences.

We call the people who use our products customers because it acknowledges the fact that they’re choosing our products. When a customer chooses our product, it’s an incredible gift and it’s our responsibility to continually reward them for putting their trust in us.

Sam Walton was a multibillionaire who founded the colossal retail chains Walmart and Sam’s Club. He once said:1

There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company, from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.

Walton knew that his customers had the power to dictate whether his business succeeded or failed. When you transform your thinking from users (people who are currently using your product) to customers (people who are choosing your product), it shows respect and appreciation for the people who are deciding to use your products.

The Customer-Driven Playbook approach goes beyond usability and usefulness. It considers the customer’s motivation, goals, and desires, and starts to identify the problems and limitations that prevent them from achieving what they want to do.

Everyone is a customer—either a current customer, a potential customer, or a “churned” customer (someone who has recently abandoned your product). At any point, the customer may choose to join you or leave you. So, you must continually ask yourself:

  • Who are my customers?

  • What motivates them?

  • What frustrates them or limits them from achieving their goals?

  • What do they find valuable and useful?

And ultimately:

  • How can I move customers from trying my products to needing them to loving them?

How This Book Is Organized

The foundation of this book, and our whole approach, is the Hypothesis Progression Framework (HPF). It has four stages: Customer, Problem, Concept, and Feature (see Figure P-1).

Figure P-1. The Hypothesis Progression Framework

The HPF is the foundation that we’ll use to successfully guide you through customer and product development.

The HPF is completely flexible. We’ve designed it so that it can work at whatever stage of development you’re in. We’ve seen our framework scale to define new product categories, and we’ve seen it successfully revitalize existing products that have been available to customers for decades.

Additionally, we’ve organized the book to cover our Customer-Driven Cadence (see Figure P-2). These are three phases that you’ll employ within each stage of the HPF (Formulating, Experimenting, and Sensemaking). This cadence has a familiar “build, measure, learn” (or “learn, build, measure”) pattern that is found in many Lean approaches. You’ll find that we repeat this pattern in all our playbooks.

Figure P-2. The Customer-Driven Cadence

Here’s what we’ll cover in each chapter:

Chapter 1: The Hypothesis Progression Framework and the Customer-Driven Cadence

You’ll learn about our foundational framework as well as our Customer-Driven Cadence. The framework and cadence will serve as an end-to-end guide to help you through customer and product development.

Chapter 2: Formulating

You’ll learn how to collect your assumptions and formulate them into hypotheses that can be tested. You’ll also learn how to formulate a Discussion Guide, a set of questions that you can ask your customers to validate or invalidate your hypotheses.

Chapter 3: Experimenting

You’ll learn how to not only talk to customers, but find them as well. We’ll also discuss the advantages and disadvantages of various research methods.

Chapter 4: Sensemaking

While it’s important to engage with customers and gather their feedback, the process is less impactful if you can’t make sense out of the data you’re collecting. In this chapter, you’ll learn how to derive patterns and meaning in your data, and most importantly, share your findings throughout your organization.

Chapters 5, 6, 7, and 8 (Customer, Problem, Concept, and Feature)

Through these chapters, we’ll dive into each stage of the HPF. You’ll learn the purpose of the stage and see examples of how hypotheses and structure can help the team. In the sidebars “PartyTime Apps Revisited,” you’ll get to follow along with our fictional-but-rooted-in-reality team, PartyTime Apps. You’ll see how they use our methods to tackle the challenge presented earlier, achieving a much more successful outcome.

Chapter 9: Using the Playbooks

This chapter gives a brief overview of how to use the playbooks covered in Part II.

Chapters 10, 11, 12, and 13

We have a variety of design thinking activities and customer and product research methods that will help you track the progression of your assumptions, hypotheses, early ideas, concepts, and product features. Each stage of the Hypothesis Progression Framework has its own playbook and is placed in its own chapter so you can quickly find and reuse it.


We have a lot of things we want to share. However, we’re passionate about creating a book that’s light, approachable, and engaging. We believe this book will be your companion guide to our approach. Our hope is that you’ll find it continually useful and you’ll return to it often as you begin to implement our framework and activities.

We’ve created a website (customerdrivenplaybook.com) that you can use alongside our book. This website will continue to grow, and it’ll be the landing space for more in-depth activities, methodologies, cheat sheets, and approaches.

This book has everything you need to be successful. As you mature in your understanding, we encourage you to continually visit the website to learn new ways to leverage our framework.

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