Unlocking Your Market Potential

SVPMA Presentation: Version 1 Product Release

SVPMA Presentation, June 2nd 2010

Best Practices in Product Management for V1 products (or, how to create something from nothing).
Dan Olsen, CEO, yourversion

Write-up by Keith Rayner

Obviously very pleased to be addressing an audience well versed in Product Management, Dan delivered the goods with blistering speed, highlighting the essential difference between activities for a first release versus ongoing development post-launch. The main takeaway is that for the first release you’re much more concerned with the quantitative aspects, namely “what it is”, as opposed to the qualitative aspects of “what it does”. And if we take Dan’s expert advice, here’s how it’s done.

The first step is understanding customer needs, and it should be clear that this is primarily a qualitative exercise. There’s so much uncertainty that at this point you need to establish a product/market fit rather than hard-baking anything. The quantitative comes later when you’re pretty sure you’re on the right track and you can start to look at refinements.

A successful product meets customer needs, does it better than the competition, with ease of use, and backed up with a good business model. Whether you’re a product manager, typically inbound, directing development teams and dealing with specialist UI designers, or a product marketing perhaps focusing more on outbound aspects such as coordinating product release, then as a PM you’re sitting between the market and developers. You have to be an expert on the market and customer, translate business objectives and customer needs into product requirements, be a clearing house for product ideas, and keep an eye on long term business strategy.

This is a real juggling act, but above all make sure you define the problem space first, and look at the solution space later. As a concrete example, let’s say the problem is “we need to book tickets online”. The solution is then a specific implementation to address that need.

Essentially it’s up to the PM to define the problem space. If you’re clear on the problem space then you can better define the solutions, and have a framework for prioritization, to make sure the product features you implement support the high importance needs.

But understanding the problem space and customer needs does means talking to your target audience and establishing how that need is currently met, and importantly what satisfaction level is currently out there in the market place. High need and low satisfaction with the competition means there’s a good opportunity out there.

Dan introduced us to the Kano model, which maps out the performance benefits, must haves, and the delighter or wow! Factor. Delighter factors tend to be trend setters which then get adopted as must haves, so if you’re first to market with a wow! Factor you’re doing well.

One issue is where to draw the line for the first release. Scoping the critical requirements is a key skill as you’re at the stage where you’re creating something from nothing. Prioritize by ROI – the features that truly support customer value and get you the most return with the least investment in time and effort are the ones that make it, and this can a simple way of deciding between two possible features. If you’ve got 20 high priority items you’re off track.

Even though the PM is defining the product, you do need to get some customer feedback on the initial concept in a usability test. Setting up focus groups, asking the right questions, and being open to feedback from usability tests are key skills at this point. The feedback from initial concept testing from outsiders can be surprising and the insiders have to learn to listen objectively and react appropriately. Dan gave us additional insights with a case study of this aspect – check out the presentation slides for additional details.

With your first release you haven’t had daily customer usage feedback, so don’t do too much work that you might have to undo later. Be precise about initial scope and keep it small. A key strategy to keep you focused is to decide what you’re not doing – this can help narrow your goals.

Having said that you need a certain level of functionality and performance and UI design to satisfy basic needs, and build the features and functions on top of this. And the base level for the required functionality in up-time, response time (search for example) is pretty high these days. If you have a real differentiator, then that mitigates the impact of a bad interface, but if there are many products with similar user benefits in a competitive space, good UI design and ease of use might actually be the only real differentiator.

The less user effort is required, the higher the proportion of people that will use it. In small companies there’s often a gap in user design, especially when people are throwing stuff over the wall and expect the finished product to look good and work well. A product manager that collaborates well on information architecture (site structure and layout) interaction design (how the user interacts with the product) and the visual design layer (how it looks rather than what is) will definitely have an advantage in creating a harmonized product set that has high customer acceptance.

Once you’ve launched, then you transition to persevere or pivot mode: With more extensive user and market feedback you can determine whether you’re climbing up the mountain and perseverance will pay off., or you need to pivot, namely take a major change in direction and start to climb a different mountain. As this is a new product hopefully you’ve still got the flexibility to do this if absolutely necessary, but it becomes more difficult when you’re further down the road. If you’re pivoting more than a couple of times after launch you’re probably in trouble.
To get from the void of a market gap through the fuzzy stages of matching the problem to the solution, designing a great user experience and finally getting customer feedback, should be done precisely and quickly. With so many companies rushing in to fill a market vacuum, the PM is a central figure in making sure you have a lean and mean product that reaches the point of revenue quickly, and keeps you on the right path to future optimization through feedback and continuous improvement.

Keith Rayner, Kemarra Inc: Oct 2009


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