So what are the essentials of making great products?
I was lucky enough to catch a mini-conference on this very subject the Sydney Vivid Ideas Festival. Presented by brainmates and bringing together representatives from the likes of My Fitness Pal, eBay, RealEstate.com.au and Pandora Internet Radio, we took a deep dive into the product management process.
Here’s what I gathered from the Product Essentials Mini-Conference.
Idea Selection and Opportunity Assessment
Warren Wan from My Fitness Pal tied his presentation to a quote from Paul Graham (Y Combinator fame) that centred on creating something:
- That the founders want
- They realise they can build
- That other people want, too
Ask yourself- how do I improve a pain point & create something I want? Look at the hurdles users face and deliver something that gives you a chance at competition.
Choose your ideas wisely. You need to be the best in class at what you do, and know what it means to achieve that in the future.
Make it simpler to do what you do, and do it well. Look for ways to simplify the user experience and focus on your core offering. This will form a basis of problem solving that helps the customer become attracted to the product. Be effort and impact driven.
Continually optimise your funnel. Think about traffic, check your ad placements and make the adoption process simple. As you optimise, consider not just volume of sign ups but get the signups that matter. Tailor the customer experience. Qualify the right ideas and set measurable objectives.
Don’t overbuild. Ship it baby, ship. Users on products that solve issues are more valuable than big products with no audience. Learn with the customer in play.
Don’t over extend in terms of ideas versus resources. One person startups can’t tackle 100 pound fight seasoned gorillas.
Build to stand out from the pack, not to follow it. Focus on the things that differentiate you from your competitors and let them guide you towards building a stronger product as you grow.
Finally, Warren Wan reminded us all to keep your team engaged and involved in the idea process. In order to keep your team at optimal size for idea generation and clever thinking, make sure you only need two pizzas to feed that team.
From the idea and assessment stage, you should be moving into your product planning, which is where Lisa Wong from eBay took up the presentation.
Creating product plan is fundamentally based on what do you want to achieve, identifying the product approach, and building the product roadmap needed to create the product itself.
Product planning is about:
- Articulating what you want to achieve
- Establishing a frame of reference
- Describing what you need to fulfil your mission to launch a product
During the product planning process, it helps to ask the following questions:
- What is the end state of what you are building?
- What do you want customers to feel?
- What do you want your team to feel about the product?
- What does success look like for your business?
- What does it look like on a product level?
Some people get caught up in the execution stage and forget about how important the planning can be. To avoid bias towards execution, you need to consider your surroundings, people and what you’re trying to solve.
You can’t skip the development stage. In fact, over explaining and over planning during the preamble to the product planning stage can help you:
- Identify issues
- Create a better framework and
- Get your team thinking about customer interaction.
Have clarity. Build personas. Know thy customer and build info rich user stories.
Establish your frame of reference. Assumptions and bias are dangerous to your ability to create products for people. Dig into the foundation of your customer action. Include what you would anticipate as a customer flow, but also include mental dialogue for users as they use the product itself. Build for a real person moving with a product.
While planning is important, you still have to be brave enough to test your work live. You can talk until the cows come home, but you need to execute to learn about live customer adoption. And making observations of that live adoption and planning around them helps create a stronger product.
Good products are like poetry. They encourage us to consider meaning and inspire thinking & interaction.
As product creators, get yourself ready for disruption in the digital age. Product development is fast, insight driven and pivot friendly. If you stand still, expect to fall over.
Product Market Insights
Henry Ruiz from RealEstate.com.au took on marketing insights and how you determine when and how you should go to market.
First steps, get the concept down so you can read the market and spot potential. Look at ways you can predict movement within the marketplace itself.
Consider your team’s attitude. Attitude is important. If you wouldn’t survive if you were dropped at the bottom of a business hierarchy, you’ll suck at product management and/or making a product likeable to the general population.
There are four essential skills to succeed when you are at the market insights stage of your product development cycle-
1) Being conceptual,
2) Understanding customers,
3) Predicting the market and
4) Being nice
An ideal team member (or product launcher for the smaller guys) demonstrates high competency, high self esteem and low ego. You simply can’t read the market correctly if you’re blind to things that don’t match what your ego wants the answer to be.
Think about your overall approach to your product. Use context in the market as a driving force. Make your concept your success criteria. The content and documentation is your product idea. All of these elements need agreement and conversation. There needs to be an easy flow of the conceptual idea you are building and how it responds to the market it is meant to service. And this needs to be captured in the content accurately to keep the product on track, and the messaging on target.
Choosing your market is vitally important. Having a product for everyone is impossible. Pick your primary customer focus but keep the others within the cycle in view too.
Know how your customers interact with your product. For example, RealEstate know their customers take 9 months or more to research and experience the product prior to being at the stage where they are ready to make use of it.
If you have a longer sales cycle-
a) Spend time building trust
b) Use persuasive triggers and
c) Offer an immersive process that keeps the customer engaged.
Keep the tone of your customer conversations at the front and centre of your mind. Match people as equals with your conversations. Encourage, not challenge. Be humble, not egotistical. Customers don’t want to deal with products that make them feel stupid. And they can’t build trust if the consistency in how you respond to them is lacking.
Invite customers into your process without the geek speak and you’ll gain better feedback and higher adoption.
Maintaining Product Success
Jane Huxley from Pandora is the sort of person reminds me of the Ghostbusters quote “we came, we saw, we kicked its arse.” It’s hard to get your nerd on when you are watching Jane in full flight because what she gives you is intrinsically tied to an animated story.
Here’s the attempt to capture that success at presentation while talking product success.
Product success is product story
The old metrics were bums on seats, inventory shipped from warehouse. Product today is far more involved. You need to ask yourself what you are disrupting, and be good at it while you do it.
Budget doesn’t define product success. You can bring the grassroots to the fore and still make a splash. You can stand on the shoulders of giants if you can find the talkers who love your product idea. You need to be clever about picking the experts around you and bring together PR, the blogosphere, brand ambassadors and whatever else will help you tell your story.
Working in ambiguity with a new product is something you need to get your head around to survive. You need to define what success looks like, and define metrics along the way to get to that success. The ‘how do I do this’ is never immediately evident.
Like any good story, you need to know the ending. And you need to plot a course to get to that ending through choosing the metrics that support it. When you have a metric that says you need to get X amount of new members in a month or a quarter, you’ll find yourself being able to think of ways to achieve that goal. But you need that metric in place to inspire you.
Fill in the story the ways that make sense. Talk to your customers, people, partners and anyone that can help you achieve what you need to achieve.
Be as visible as possible so that people can discover you and your product. Say yes to every opportunity to speak about what you have – and do whatever you can to stand out from the crowd as a fountain of knowledge.
Pick your market and make friendly adjustments until you know who they are and what motivates them to action and interaction.
Encourage your users to drive the product adoption. You do this by making it deeply personal on an experience level and giving something to the customer that is their own personal discovery.
In Pandora’s case, you choose the music you want and design it based on song, artist, album and genre. Pandora delivers what you have asked for, but also uses that information to delight you with a new track you have “discovered’ every 5 or so tracks. So the customer is getting what they want while receiving an item of discovery that they can share with their friends.
Focus, focus, focus! Keep your eye on the ball of your vision of success. Ask yourself if you are getting close to it. Shut down the distractions. Say no to the fantastic ideas that don’t take you towards your end game.
If you are only going to do one thing, you better do it damn well. Know what you are trying to do and go after it. And prevent the loudest voices from drowning out the best ideas by keeping the idea review process simple, objective and repeatable.
The common theme in the essentials to making great products
You don’t have to be Einstein to figure out what the big lesson here is. Making great products involves making sure you drive what you build through knowing what your product is, who it’s for, and making sure you know what makes your product special.
The differentiation is not following the customer trends or what the company over the road does. It’s about pulling apart the problem the customer has, working out the solution that can solve it, and finding a way to gain adoption. Thinking, planning and asking questions are all part of this process.
So too is being open, losing ego and being brave enough to learn as you go.
About the product essentials event
I thoroughly enjoyed the event itself and would recommend this kind of mini-conference to anyone in startup, freelance or solopreneurship who is looking to draw on sound advice from seasoned players. It was definitely an afternoon well spent.
Did you attend the event or happen to catch the live tweeting? What did you think? Do you think anything is missing from what it takes to make a great product?