Businesses today are more competitive than ever—constantly working to innovate and dominate a particular market. But oftentimes, businesses rush to get their products out the door without understanding what’s needed to build an offering that will truly benefit their target customer base. According to renowned innovation expert Clayton Christensen, there are over 30,000 new products introduced every year, and 95% fail. It’s not enough to just make a product for the sake of it—organizations need to build the right products by delivering value early and leveraging customer feedback.
Many organizations today are too inwardly focused and think they know what to build—but they miss the true customer need and don’t solve the right problem. When innovators are too focused on what they think they should build, or the aesthetic and simple functionality of the product, they end up losing sight of the core issue. The result is a new product that fails to impress the market, or the need to update an already launched product with several band-aid fixes that are just short-term solutions, and in turn, blowing the product teams’ allocated budget and wasting precious time.
Instead, time should be invested in learning what the true problem is — rapidly testing solutions in an iterative experimental fashion, whilst responding to feedback until they achieve ‘solution fit’.
By leveraging feedback from customers and delivering value early and often with a discovery mindset, product teams are poised to release successful products to market.
Leverage fast feedback
The job of a product manager is to explore a customer problem and find product-market fit as quickly as possible, before scaling and investing more precious capital and taking valuable resource time. Product management is an exciting field that requires design skills and a willingness to spend time with customers (current and prospective). The work environment that product managers foster needs to enable delivery teams to engage directly with customers and their needs. In short, it’s about getting developers as close to customers as possible so that ideas can be validated and evolved quickly.
As Bill Gates said, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” Understanding the customer is critical to the design process. The customers’ needs, more than ever, must come first, and companies must adapt to ensure their products and services put customer needs first. This means that companies should design new products centered on customer needs and ensure succinct, easy and logical journeys at all points of the customer lifecycle. According to one analyst, 13% of customers will share a negative experience they have had with a product or service with 15 or more people. That’s one more reason to put the customer at the center of everything an organization does.
Product managers must learn how to analyze existing feedback loops within your process of debuting a new product and suggest key improvements when necessary. For example, Google+ hardly ever caught on, and some believe it’s because Google connected the social networking site to other, more popular Google services, so customers felt it thrust upon them with no chance to explore the product themselves. It’s likely customer feedback was collected, but it’s important to think of when to ask for feedback, how often and against what other product. The goal is to have interactive product development with feedback built in at every stage. A drawn prototype takes no time and gives customers something instantly to provide feedback against.
Customer satisfaction input tools (like CSAT) and interviews are only helpful if they are put to good use. It’s a waste of valuable resources for customer feedback to be collected and forgotten. When it comes to implementing feedback rapidly, it’s critical that product management teams know what to prioritize. By keeping the entire team in the loop, focusing on trends seen across multiple customers and proactively requesting feedback, product management teams can quickly implement and change course when necessary. In order for rapid testing to be successful, product management teams also need to be transparent with customers and stakeholders when their feedback does not align with the overall strategy, so a different solution can be achieved.
Deliver value early
As product managers, it’s critical to deliver value early and often, instead of focusing on a single deadline to release a new product or version. The first question product managers should be asking is, “how do I know what value is?” Value sits at the intersection of something that a customer needs (desirable), something that has a strong business model (viable) and something that the company has the capability to build (feasible). Of course, other lenses are no less important, can the customer work out how to use the product (usable) and should you build it (ethical).
Introducing these lenses into a deliberate discovery process when building products or services can save an organization from failure. A discovery mindset promotes a new way of thinking, moving away from ‘we know what to build’ (the certainty mindset) and asking questions like ‘how might we’ in order to focus on solving problems—not just building ‘something’.
A deliberate product discovery focused on real customer problems allows for a company to pivot when necessary and ensures customer needs are being met. A discovery mindset requires a deep understanding of what a company knows and doesn’t know and then creating tests to turn the unknowns into knowns. Everyone in the room should be aligned around discovery—embracing uncertainty and unknowns rather than seeing them as failures. Using a discovery mindset, product managers must start by identifying pain points and needs in the market—only from there can they begin to understand how to deliver value to their customers.
Product managers must also consider how not delivering value early can and will impact their customers. To ensure that a product team is able to get customer feedback and make a product that delivers results, organizations must communicate in a simple and effective way about what they are looking to achieve so they can get fast feedback. To keep from a product failing or not reaching maturity, product management teams must first get clear about their product’s value proposition. A value proposition is a solution to a need. Communicating a value proposition in a way that resonates with stakeholders is key to involve them and get the feedback needed to go forward. A well-structured value proposition functions like a great pitch or a compelling story that will sell an idea to a broad audience.
Both product managers and developers should be able to articulate the value and need of a product before it’s presented to the customer. If someone can’t identify the need, it’s likely the product will flop. Take for example, when Apple thought people would want a $10,000 smart watch. Because they didn’t cater the product or the price point to their key demographic, Apple wasted valuable time and capital releasing something that sold a mere few thousand units before discontinuing the product altogether.
In today’s fast-paced environment, it’s critical that product managers don’t fall victim to ‘analysis paralysis’ – instead it’s crucial to deliver value as fast as possible, get customer feedback and evaluate that the right product is being built to solve the right problem. This will ultimately save organizations time, unnecessary frustration and money and give product managers and developers work they can be proud to see in the market.