Applying the “learn ➔ make ➔ test” process across every stage of product development can help product managers to lead teams effectively and create truly successful products. Product managers often carry the responsibility to define their product team’s activities across the entire development lifecycle. Efficiency is critical given the speed at which technology advances every day.

At each stage, product managers want to choose the most valuable activities that allow the team to learn as much as they can about their users’ current needs within the context of the business’s objectives, then make a solution candidate that aims to meet users’ needs, and finally test their solutions with experiments to gauge their fitness for purpose. Most importantly, this learn ➔ make ➔ test process is iterative: it is repeated over and over again until the outcome is as optimal as it can feasibly be for your current stage of product development.

What’s involved with each step?

The following basic activities are involved in the learn ➔ make ➔ test process:

  1. Learn: The very first step is to learn as much as you can about your users and their needs. This learning can be achieved through research activities such as user interviews or surveys, or even focus groups if there are major marketing or acceptance questions. Additionally, product managers must deeply comprehend their company’s business objectives and the specific results that need to be achieved for success in their domain. Learning also encompasses such matters as understanding feasibility constraints, and identifying risk factors at play in the business, the market, and the world at large.
  2. Make: The next step is to make a solution candidate that meets the needs of your users. I like to use this phrase of “solution candidate” to clarify that often, we’re making decisions based on our hypotheses, so we always want to keep an open mind whether our envisioned solution is the “right” one. Additionally, the fidelity of what we make is highly dependent on our level of confidence in the correctness of the solution being created. Start sketchy when you have a weak or unproven hypothesis, and let the process show the way forward. Typical artifacts from the “make” phase with higher confidence levels might be interactive prototypes, a minimum viable product (MVP), or the next release of an established product.
  3. Test: The last step (which must always iterate back around to learning from the test!) is to test the solution candidate with users and potentially key stakeholders to get feedback. Such testing might be done through usability tests, feedback surveys, and guided interviews. Note that a test is also underway when you launch products to market — the ultimate measurements being the acquisition, adoption, engagement, and retention metrics relevant to the business objectives at hand. Employing tools such as A/B tests and framing releases as Beta phases can also help team agility and manage risk.

Iterate within each stage of development

Diving in more deeply, I tend to consider the product development lifecycle as unfolding across the stages of discovery, design, and development. (Note, however, that the lines between these stages are often blurry, and I don’t mean to imply that the lifecycle is operating waterfall-style.)

Within each of these stages, the learn ➔ make ➔ test steps need to be applied in thoughtful ways, involving the right activities. The following diagrams illustrate that each stage involves a different entry point for the iterative learn ➔ make ➔ test process. Additionally, in each stage you are going to be learning different things, making various kinds of artifacts, and conducting the most appropriate tests.    

Like a fractal pattern, the learn ➔ make ➔ test loop applies to the specific processes of each person who helps to make products, as well. Design is fundamentally an iterative method involving discovering customer needs and constraints, making conceptual and tangible models, then seeing how well those models serve the identified needs. Furthermore, the learn make test is a common approach within software engineering; developers are often in a position of adopting frameworks and learning new best practices, coding up deliverables, running various quality assurance tests, and then learning more – making it all work better – and testing it all over again.   

When would this process apply?

Happily, this learn ➔ make ➔ test process can be applied to any existing product development methodology. It is especially well-suited for products that are new or that are being developed for a new market. When following this process, product managers can be more clear and confident in where they allocate effort during each stage of product development, whether navigating the fuzzy front end of a ground-breaking new product or releasing the Nth iteration of an established platform. 

The learn ➔ make ➔ test process is an extraordinarily powerful approach for product management. By following this iterative cycle in successive passes that deepen the whole team’s understanding of users’ needs and help them to more efficiently design and build truly great solutions, product managers can ensure that they are always delivering value that advances their business’s goals. High-level benefits of using the learn ➔ make ➔ test process for product management include:

  • Creating deeply meaningful new products and features that meet the needs of your users.
  • Avoid wasting time and money on solutions that are not going to make the business more successful.
  • Helping you improve your products over time using a repeatable, enjoyable process.

If you are a product manager or product team member looking for some proven methods to tame the chaos, I encourage you to try applying the learn ➔ make ➔ test product management process to your efforts. And if you so desire, Devise would be happy to coach you and guide your team to help you create successful products that your users love. Get in touch here!