Blog Product ManagementWhat Is Lean Product Management and How To Use It?

What Is Lean Product Management and How To Use It?

Many startups and their products will miss the mark. To build a successful product, you need a deep understanding of your customers’ needs and a willingness to iterate. Today, we'll explore the core principles of lean product management and provide a step-by-step guide to executing it successfully.

Product Management
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Lean product management complete guide.

Remember that scene in "Field of Dreams" where Kevin Costner builds a baseball field and ghosts magically appear to play? The infamous "if you build it, they will come” is a great pep talk.

But in product development, that kind of thinking only gets you so far.

Great products aren't always successful. To build a successful product, you need a deep understanding of your customers’ needs and a willingness to iterate. And lean product management is a proven approach to get there.

Today, we'll explore the core principles of lean product management and explain the exact steps you should follow to execute it successfully. 👇


What is lean product management?

Lean product management is a product development approach based on Eric Ries' lean startup method. The goal is to create products that deliver maximum value to customers with minimal waste by incorporating customer feedback at every stage of the development lifecycle.

Lean product management has many components. To make it easier to understand, we’ve boiled it down to four.

Key components of lean product management 

  1. Eliminate waste: Lean product management emphasizes eliminating inefficiencies throughout the development process. This could involve things like reducing unnecessary features, streamlining workflows, and minimizing rework.
  2. Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop: This is a core principle of lean startups. Products are built with a minimum viable product (MVP) to get early user feedback. This feedback is then used to learn, iterate, and improve the product until it achieves a good product-market fit.
  3. Focus on continuous improvement (Kaizen): Lean product management is an ongoing process. Products are constantly evaluated and refined based on customer feedback and market data.
  4. Adopt a customer-centric mindset: This principle reminds you to prioritize what truly matters to your customers. Understand their needs and problems and build products that solve them effectively.

Lean product management in practice: Dropbox

Dropbox is a great example of the lean PM approach.

Dropbox didn't start with a complex product launch. Instead, they took a unique approach—a simple demo video showcasing the MVP. This MVP showcased Dropbox's core functionality:

  • Effortless file storage
  • Multi-device syncing
  • Collaborative sharing
You can still find the video on YouTube.

It’s about as basic as you can get, but the response to the video was phenomenal. It sparked user interest and generated a wave of valuable feedback. This immediate validation allowed Dropbox to understand user needs and pain points before investing heavily in development.

Fueled by the initial buzz, Dropbox created a beta waitlist. This waitlist grew explosively, surging from 5,000 to 75,000 users—a clear indication of the strong market demand. The beta testers became a gold mine of insights. Their feedback was used to refine the product further, ensuring a polished and user-friendly experience at the final launch.

Even after the launch, Dropbox didn’t stop listening to its users. They used product feedback software like "votebox" to gather user feature requests, ensuring that their product continued to evolve and adapt to user needs.


Why should you care about lean product management?

1. Build what users want

75% of startups fail because they build products nobody wants. It’s not shocking when you think about it—traditional development often relies on guesswork, resulting in features that fall flat. 

Lean PM flips the script. By including continuous customer feedback throughout the process, you ensure your product solves real problems and fulfills genuine user needs. In fact, this way, you’re 30% more likely to launch successful products. 

2. Slash product development cost

Building an MVP first, instead of a fully loaded product, can cut development costs by an impressive 30% right off the bat. But that's not all. Lean product management also focuses on streamlining processes and eliminating unnecessary features. 

This relentless focus on value creation ensures you spend your resources wisely, avoid costly mistakes, and maximize your return on investment.

3. Speed up your time to market

Traditional development cycles can be agonizingly slow, delaying your product launch and potentially missing valuable market windows. Lean product management (thanks to their emphasis on MVPs) can get you to market three times faster. 🤯


How to implement lean product management 

1. Obsess over customer needs

Remember—lean product management is all about your customers. So, before you even start building at all, you have to be sure it’s a product they actually want to use. That's why everything starts with understanding your customers and their pain points. 

The billion-dollar question now is how? Here are a few of our favorite methods:

  • Conduct user research: This method is a bit obvious—but that’s because it works. Conduct surveys, tests, interviews and create a customer advisory board to gather valuable insights from your target audience.
  • Collect feedback & feature requests: Always have an open feedback channel where users can freely submit their ideas, feature requests, and bug reports. One of the best methods is to have a customer feedback tool in place.
  • Embrace empathy: Put yourself in your customer's shoes. What are their daily challenges? How can your product make their lives easier or better?
  • Use a “Jobs to be Done” framework: If you’re not familiar with it, the idea is to focus on the “jobs” that lead customers to “hire” your product. Make a list of core jobs (e.g., “I need to organize my documents”) and think about solutions.

2. Develop hypotheses and prioritize

Based on the problem you’ve identified, you need to create a hypothesis. 

In lean terms, a hypothesis is an educated guess about which features or solutions will resonate with your customers and address their needs. You can test and validate it through your Minimum Viable Product (MVP)—we’ll get to that shortly.

Here’s a format we often use to develop hypotheses:

  • "We believe that [action we will take] for [target customer] will result in [desired outcome]."

Let’s say you want to develop a language learning app and discover your potential users have trouble staying engaged. One of your hypotheses could be:

  • “We believe that introducing gamification for language learners will result in higher learner engagement."

Having multiple hypotheses is fine, but don't cram them all into your MVP. Keep your MVP simple and functional. Test one key idea at a time by prioritizing the most promising solutions rather than over-engineering a complex solution upfront.

There are several prioritization frameworks that help with this, such as the RICE score, KANO, and the value-effort matrix. These tools can help you figure out which hypotheses to test first. Our feature prioritization frameworks guide covers this in detail.

Featurebase's value/effort prioritization matrix.
Value/Effort Prioritization Matrix (made with Featurebase)

3. Build a minimum viable product (MVP)

Instead of building a full-fledged product, start with a basic, functional version (MVP) that includes the core features related to your hypotheses. This way, you can quickly get it in front of your users and see if your proposed solution actually resonates with them and solves their problems. Think of it as testing the waters before diving in.

If your MVP doesn’t hit the mark, you can quickly return to the drawing board and tweak your hypothesis. And since it's a simplified version, it's faster and cheaper to develop. So, you can avoid investing heavily in features that might not be valuable to users. 

Don't confuse MVP with a product lacking basic functionality. It should still provide a valuable user experience that allows product managers to test their core hypothesis. 

4. Gather customer feedback and learn 

Get your MVP in front of real customers and listen to their feedback. This feedback will help you understand how well your hypothesis is performing and identify areas for improvement.

There are several ways to collect user feedback at this stage. With Featurebase, your users can submit their ideas and you can create surveys to understand their thoughts on your MVP.

Featurebase's public feedback portal.
Feedback portal - users can freely submit their ideas and feedback.

Alternatively, you can use one of our feedback widgets, which can be embedded directly into your product. This allows users to share their opinions without leaving the product, making it easier for them.

Featurebase's embeddable feedback widget.
In-app feedback widget (see live demo)

You could also conduct user testing sessions where you observe real users interacting with your MVP using a product analytics tool like Mixpanel or Hotjar. Ask them to complete specific tasks while you take notes and gather feedback on ease of use, intuitiveness, and overall satisfaction.

After gathering feedback, take the time to analyze and learn from it. Here are some things to look out for:

  • Usage data: Identify which features are used most, where users drop off, and how long they engage with different functionalities.
  • Qualitative feedback: Pay attention to user pain points, suggestions for improvement, and overall sentiment toward the MVP.

5. Iterate quickly and pivot

After gaining insights from the feedback, implementing them as quickly as possible is the most important part. That’s the best way to adapt your product to stay relevant and address user pain points effectively. 

This could involve: 

  • Adding new features: Based on user requests or identified needs, add functionalities that enhance the user experience.
  • Modifying existing features: Improve usability, address pain points, or enhance the value proposition of existing features.
  • Bug fixes: Resolve bug reports and usability problems that hinder user experience.

Again, not all feedback is worth implementing. You'll also need to prioritize during the iteration stage, and Featurebase can help with that, too. We offer tools like feature voting, revenue sorting, and comment discussions to identify the most promising features quickly. This way, you can focus on the features most users want or those that promise the best revenue.

Illustration of sorting feedback by uvpoter revenue contribution in Featurebase.
Sorting feature requests & bug reports by upvoters' revenue contribution.

Don’t hesitate to pivot when necessary. 

Sometimes, even after iteration, the core concept might not resonate with your target audience. In such cases, be prepared to pivot—a strategic change in direction based on new information. The learnings from your MVP can inform the development of a completely new product or a significant shift in your roadmap.

6. Continuous improvement

Lean product management isn’t a one-and-done deal; it’s an ongoing process. The goal is to continuously refine your product until it attains the perfect product market fit. Here’s how to keep that momentum going:

  • Maintain the feedback loop: Always gather customer feedback and analyze market trends. Use this feedback loop to keep improving your product.
  • Make data-driven decisions: Base your product roadmap on data and learnings, not just gut feelings.
  • Embrace experimentation: Don’t avoid trying new features, functionalities, and marketing strategies. Lean thrives on a culture of experimentation, learning from failures, and iterating based on results.

Remember, lean product management is all about customers. So, it’s equally important to trust them by showing that you listen to and act on their feedback. 

Here are some ways to do that:

  • Changelogs: Implement a changelog feature to communicate new features, bug fixes, and improvements.
  • User communication: Use channels like email, in-app notifications, or social media to share significant updates and changes.

Featurebase can help you manage all these user communications in one centralized platform. Keep engaging with your users, and you’ll keep improving your product. 

Automatic in-app popup with new updates that you've made.

7. Eliminate waste

Before we cover this step, what exactly qualifies as “waste” in lean PM? This is an important question to answer if we’re trying to cut it out.

Here are a few examples:

  • Overproduction: Creating features no one needs.
  • Inventory: Adding extra functionalities that bloat your product.
  • Waiting: Delays or bottlenecks in the development process.
  • Motion: Inefficient workflows that waste time and resources.
  • Overprocessing: Adding unnecessary complexity to features.
  • Defects: Bugs that require rework and delay the launch.
  • Unused talent: Not fully utilizing your team’s skills and expertise.

Now, how do you eliminate these wastes? The key is taking your value stream mapping seriously.

Value stream mapping (VSM) is a lean management technique that analyzes the entire process from product conception to delivery. It’s a visual tool that maps out all steps, including value-adding and non-value-adding activities. This way, you can proactively remove those that don’t add value.

Also, if you iterate based on customer feedback or data, as we mentioned earlier, you’ll typically bring waste to the barest minimum.


Conclusion

Lean product management offers tons of benefits you can’t ignore—from speeding up your time to market to cutting development costs and keeping the focus squarely on the customer.  

The good news is that implementing it is simple. Just follow the steps in this guide, and you’ll be on your way.  

Featurebase can help you with lean product management, from gathering feedback and prioritizing tasks to communicating changes to clients.  

Start managing your product backlog with Featurebase for free →