There are multiple ways to approach the process of building a product. Different product owners (either product managers or entrepreneurs) have different strategies. Some will just go with their intuition about customers and market needs while others simply assume that their own problem must be that of others and go about building a product to address that problem. Although these might be good starting points, the process of assessing the validity of an idea shouldn’t stop there. In fact, user and data driven product design and development is the only way to build top notch products that will take off!
Henry Ford once said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Ford’s adage may seem to contradict my point that user and data driven product design is best – that, in reality, users may not actually know what they want.
However, based on my experience building innovative and cutting edge products that are used and loved by millions of people, I can guarantee that if a product owner listens hard enough and long enough to potential users she can learn what users want and, more importantly, what they don’t want. Users may not hand the product owner a vision or the solution, but they will surely point her in the right direction.
In fact, the customer’s voice is king in product development! To help you understand this more fully, I have outlined 5 essential steps to build a customer driven product development process and organization:
1. Customer’s voice should be echoed from all parts of the organization: Let the customer’s voice be channeled to your product team from all parts of your organization especially sales, marketing, and customer service teams. These groups are in the front line, working with customers and gaining lots of insights into what customers need or like. Thus, these teams’ feedback should be key in defining and designing your product.
2. Make various research methods part of your development DNA:There are various tools and techniques that enable a customer driven product development mentality. Some of these tools include focus groups, surveys, user interviews, usability testing, prototype testing, and beta testing. All these techniques lead to the collection of qualitative or quantitative information that should shape product decisions and designs.
Each of these methods are most effective at different phases of product development. For instance, user interviews are best used in early phase of product development to help the product owner understand user’s sentiment around a particular topic. On the other hand, usability testing comes later in the product development process when designs are already available. Usability testing helps identify whether the designs offered are intuitive or not.
In order to build an experience that people will really love and embrace, you should use more than one of these research methods before building any product.
3. Test strategy before launch strategy: Generally product owners think about when and how they want to launch a feature or product. But many times they forget to clearly lay out their pre-launch testing strategy. Testing any feature or product before launch is key for gaining confidence in its quality and performance; thus, the product owner should clearly lay out the testing plan and incorporate the time necessary for testing into her product development timeline.
Various types of testings should happen in different phases of product development. Each test will provide different types of insight and information for the product owner. For instance, early prototype testing with real users enables the product owner to see if her original idea and the way it is designed seems appealing to the target customers or not. On the other hand, beta stage product testing should come right before the product launch, and it is meant to catch the final bugs and perfect the last versions of the product. One should expect that the final product will be quite different than the early prototypes ( as you collect more data you will improve your product), but there should be minimal changes to the product between beta and launch.
Testing the product early and often allows you to land on the perfect product market fit. So piloting your product with your early adopters or your cheerleading customers is one of the most important steps in product development.
4. Let data speak stronger than opinions: Many product owners fall into the trap of letting their gut feeling or ego drive the product development process. Although it’s great to have confidence in your vision and plan, it’s critical to set assumptions and test your idea against those assumptions. Collect data and be honest with yourself about what that data is representing. It’s sometimes easy to get emotional about your idea and ignore data, even when data is available. Letting data prove your vision is the best route to build successful products quickly and with minimum development cost.
5. Kill the solution not the problem: A lot of times the product owner’s observation for a problem in the world is the right one. However, finding the right solution for that problem may not always be a simple answer. If data doesn’t support the original solution, the product owner and her team should slightly change the solution and pivot until they end up with the right solution that addresses the original problem they discovered.
Put these tips into testing and apply them to your product development process. Let me know the results. Please share your insight and experience about the product development process – whether it’s similar or different. The discussion could help benefit everyone.