Guest Post by: Surbhi Gupta (Mentee, Session 8, The Product Mentor) [Paired with Mentor, Tim Nunn]
“For a Product Manager, building the right product is more important than building the product right.”
You have stumbled upon an idea to build a next generation drone that can fly around and automatically take good photographs. You have brought together some of the best robotics engineers and have raised money from some of the best Venture Capitalists in the valley. Next, you have solved all the incredible technical challenges involved in building this product. You go to the market with much fanfare talking about all the problems that you have solved, the quality of your processes, and how you have one of the best teams. Everybody seems impressed, but alas, only a few units sell. The several long nights by your team and you seem to be a waste, and you are left wondering why.
Some aspect of the above story is often seen playing out within many companies and startups alike everywhere. It may even resonate with some of us. It is important to remember that we are designing and building products for humans — humans who may not be like us, who may not think like us, and who may not share the same needs as us. All humans have emotional and varied needs to be solved at a subconscious level. However, it is highly unlikely that a product can solve the needs for all humans. Depending on what the company and product goals are, we need to pick a problem to solve, pick the target audience, dig very deeply to validate the selected audience genuinely have the problem, identify possible solutions to experiment with, and rapidly build them. Oh and don’t forget to measure success along the way. As the Lean Startup methodology suggests, build-measure-learn.
It is imperative to understand your user and answer these questions around Why, Who, and What:
- Why is your team trying to solve a problem by building a product? What is your motivation for building this product?
- Why would certain groups of people want to use your product? What are their needs?
- How will it impact their life? Does it add value? Taking analogy, is it in the category of pain killer or just a vitamin?
- Who: Who are you building your product for? Will she be a college student, a grandmother, or a young professional? Focus on what their preferences, the work they do, the lifestyle they have and brainstorm if the problem you are trying to solve matters to them?
- What: What is the minimum set of features that you could build, and test that you are indeed solving the needs of the users? What differentiates you from others?
It is always good to do early problem validation. Doing so may not be easy, but it is also not impossible. Some techniques would be conducting ethnographic interviews, user interviews and impact mapping.
“Focus on the user and all else will follow.” – Google
Let’s explore more on impact mapping. I am choosing impact mapping as I have seen some product and design teams tend to move too quickly to solutions. Impact mapping is one of the commonly used techniques to narrow down a set of features and solutions. It allows us to focus on brainstorming the goal, the users (aka actors) and the impacts we want to have on those users, before listing down all the possible solutions. Once we have a list of possible solutions we can try to determine how much impact or value the user is going to get from them. This process allows product managers to explore the solution space which they can test to validate hypothesis with the users to make sure the solution has the expected impact, then move onto the next best possible impactful solution if the first one doesn’t work out as hoped, and so on. One of the most useful parts of impact mapping is that one can move the conversation with stakeholders strictly from the solutions space to the user impact space.
Why do you want to build a particular solution?
There are many problems in this world waiting for a solution. Why should you focus on the particular problem that these users are facing? In order to answer this, we have to ask the following questions to ourselves and find both quantitative and qualitative answers for them:
- How large is the user base?
- What percentage of the user base will meet their needs by the product?
- What is the growth rate of this user base?
- Can the user base be segmented such that they have similar but slightly varied needs?
- What price is each segment willing to pay?
- Finally what is our company good at, what are our capabilities, and what is our expertise? Do these cover the solutions we are planning to build?
Even if we have answered these questions for ourselves, they are still just hypothesis and assumptions. We need to talk to a set of users to validate these assumptions. Interacting with users can give us valuable feedback. They may be looking for some changes in our product. Sometimes, we may uncover bigger challenges that can even result in behavioral changes. For example, take the humble shopping cart placed at the entrance of grocery stores. This is to influence a shopper’s behaviour who walks into a store for picking up an item or two. By placing the cart at the entrance, we give a cue to shoppers and influence them to buy more.
“Move fast and break things” — Google, Amazon, Facebook
Looking too far ahead is also not necessarily a good idea. While the validation and discovery phase of the product is important, moving fast and learning fast is equally just so, if not more. Therefore, do not spend too long on validating an idea or having broad, unrealistic goals that you end up missing the opportunity.
“Don’t be the lone wolf.”
You could possibly do all this yourself in the role of a product manager. However, doing so in isolation is not leveraging the talent of designers, engineers, data analysts and the like. By yourself, it will be hard to understand the nuances of the problem that you are trying to solve, the complexity in solving it, or sometimes the relative simplicity in solving a very slightly different problem.
It is best to get as much sense as possible by just discussing the concept, storyboards, and early prototypes with as many potential users as possible. This should only be targeted to the main set of features, i.e., the prelim to a minimum viable and loveable product, that is necessary to be able to test and see if the the users feel like their need is being solved. This is followed by google ventures in their popular Sprint methodology. As per the sprint methodology, a five-day process is enough for answering critical business questions. It involves all the steps including prototyping, and testing ideas with customers. I personally highly recommend this process as I have seen it bring fast results since all the participants focus on solving a particular problem without any distractions and following a process that brings result in sufficient time. Sprint process shortcuts the endless-debate cycle and helps you validate your idea with a realistic prototype rather than waiting to launch a minimal product to understand if an idea is any good. The process is super fun, collaborative and brings the energy in the team since it’s so focussed. Although 5 days sounds a lot to many folks, in my personal experience, it’s quite optimal. As an analogy, this is essentially like driving on the roads at recommended mileage to drive safely.
In conclusion, you should always focus first on WHY you are doing something without being so obsessed with the solution too early. Once you’ve identified your customers and their needs, and the impact(s) you’re trying to have on them, only then should you focus on how to execute the right product. Once we have solved the first set of needs, we do not just stop there: this process is repeated at every stage of the product.
Make It Right!
Surbhi is a problem solver and a builder. She works to bring ideas to life by building innovative products in the B2B2C and B2C world that positively influence people’s behavior on a societal scale. She is passionate about helping start-ups analyze, plan, and execute growth plans at scale. She grew up in India and then lived in multiple cities. Her global exposure through living and working in Australia, Canada, Dominican Republic, and India, and building and managing cross-functional teams in Europe and Middle East has helped her to get closer to many different cultures and personas. Additionally, she likes to mentor to help individuals to shape their career.
More About The Product Mentor
The Product Mentor is a program designed to pair Product Management Mentors and Mentees around the World, across all industries, from start-up to enterprise, guided by the fundamental goals…
Better Decisions. Better Products. Better Product People.
Each Session of the program runs for 6 months with paired individuals…
- Conducting regular 1-on-1 mentor-mentee chats
- Sharing experiences with the larger Product community
- Participating in live-streamed product management lessons and Q&A
- Mentors and Mentees sharing their product management knowledge with the broader community
Check out the Mentors & Enjoy!
The Product Guy