Author: Dmytro Yurchenko, Product Manager, FinTech, Ciklum.
Dmytro has over ten years of experience in different roles in information technology. After joining the Ciklum Product Management team, Dmytro manages product and solutions focused on complex data processing and analytics in different business fields.
Pretty often, people engaged in information technologies have a simplified understanding of product management. In general, it can be described like: “Same as regular project management with additional work in business analysis”. Such a narrow view of the actual product management tasks results in many undemanded products and an enormous amount of people’s time and efforts wasted for nothing.
Most of the product manager’s work is focused on communications with end-users, product stakeholders and different kinds of research & analysis. These activities remain primarily invisible for others, which creates an illusion of simplicity and transparency of the product management, which by fact is very far from the case.
According to statistics, 9 of 10 startups fail within the first year of their life. The top-10 failure reasons are:
As we can see, “No market need” leads by a wide margin from the rest. It means that despite the “obvious” need for preliminary research of user needs and market capability, many entrepreneurs start implementing their products considering them as something extremely demanded and then face the harsh reality.
This short article describes 5 “obvious” points one should keep in mind when starting a new product.
1: The More You Know About The World, The More You Can Propose
Expand your horizons in all areas of life
Looking at any unfamiliar people’s activity from aside, one would hardly notice any significant problems to be solved, and it might seem that there is nothing else to propose. However, we can see new successful products constantly appear in every business field. So how do people discover unsolved problems and ideas for improving a particular activity?
Many successful products or even large businesses started as a simple solution for a problem or improvement for a typical job a person faced at some point. Really good solutions which are useful and relevant for many people are getting popular along with their authors getting more and more requests for help. Usually, at this point, people start selling their personal tools as a product.
Another option for making a successful product is to adapt an existing and proven solution in one business field to solve similar problems in another one. In any case, it is highly doubtful that a good product idea would appear out of the blue – one can not solve a problem without knowing the problem exists.
2: Best Tools Are Not Always New Tools
Learn about other existing products and tools
A product manager does not have to invent new wheels constantly – sometimes a new successful product is a right combination of existing solutions and tools which are already familiar to users and don’t require additional learning.
A well-known example of such a combination is a cell phone with a camera built-in. At the beginning of 2000-s people had a cell phone and a digital camera and were pretty happy having them both unless someone decided to poke a camera into a cell phone. None of those two devices was reinvented, however, today people rarely consider buying a separate non-professional camera or a cell phone with no camera.
The other reason for keeping track of emerging products is to have a wide range of ideas and implementation options to choose the most appropriate one. The more solutions you see, the better products you can propose to your users.
3: Expectations Drive A Product
A successful product meets every stakeholder’s goals (more or less)
Despite the active automation in all spheres of human life, one can still see a lot of manual work even though it can be easily automated. So why do those manual tasks exist? What makes company managers invest in some solutions and not in others? To answer this question, a product manager must understand business priorities, investment abilities, management motivation etc. Business would pay for a product only when it fits the goals of each party involved on their side.
Besides the customer, a successful product must meet goals set by the product creators and sponsors. Actually, before starting new product development, all internal stakeholders must get aligned on the product goals and everyone’s expectations for the product. A product that does not meet its’ creator goals would not get further funding and support.
Not all products are created for profit. Organisation starting new product development might have one of the following goals:
- Attract as many users as possible to increase awareness;
- Increase amount of user traffic on a certain resource;
- Get a certain revenue from direct product sales;
- Get revenue from indirect sales (company services related to a product);
Each of these goals has its own strategy, focus, priorities and target audience. Goals that the organisation sets for the new product must be clarified and recorded before moving any further with the product.
4: So Many Heads, So Many Opinions
Everyone sees same things from a different angle
The opinion of each person is subjective and depends on personal experience, knowledge, character, age, etc. The same applies to potential users of the product, the product team and the product manager themselves. A product manager must always mind that a product is made for its users, not for creators. However, the users’ opinions can differ a lot and even contradict each other.
Let’s say your product has four features: A, B, C and D. Only two of them can be implemented within the first release. You need to decide which of those features are more valuable for your potential users and should be included in the first release. To make the right decision, you showed a prototype with all four features to potential users and got the following feedback:
- The first user says he needs A and B, C is interesting, although not very important and D is something absolutely useless.
- The Second user says that C is a very important one, A and D are desirable, but not critical and B is useless.
- The third loves D and will buy the product if the feature is there, also likes A and B and thinks that C might be useful.
Which two features would you choose for the first release? That might be a tricky question, right? And also in this example, we omitted that each user has their own preferences within each particular feature.
There is nothing you can do with variability of feedbacks, so the only way of making the right choice is gathering as many feedbacks as needed to form some statistical picture. There is no certain number of interviews you need to have as it depends pretty much on a product type, the variability of target audience, efforts required to set up an interview, time constraints your team has and a lot of other factors.
In addition to potential users, each member of a product team sees the product and each of its features from a slightly different angle. Although the whole team seems to understand everything in general, each team member might use the same words interpreting them differently according to their own role, experience and knowledge.
A product manager must ensure the team is aligned on business problems the product is aimed to solve, the proposed solution approach along with the purpose of each feature planned. “Not the right team” is the third among the top-10 product failure reasons, however, in most cases, the primary responsibility for the team results lies on its manager – sad, but true.
5: There are no “bad ideas”
…unless you have it confirmed by your users
Product managers must always mind that they create products for users, not for themselves. It means that every new idea, even if it seems insane to you, should be verified with potential users before deciding whether it should be a part of the product or not. People are complex and pretty irrational creatures, so a feature which seems inappropriate to you might be a desired “killer feature” for your users.
If you don’t want to end up with a product made primarily for yourself with “No market need” (remember 42% of failures) you must involve the whole team, no matter if they are analysts, designers, developers or quality assurance engineers. Ask them to come up with as many product feature ideas as they can and verify every idea with your potential users – this way you would get the most objective picture and make right decisions which would help you in building really valuable and, consequently, successful products.
We are used to seeing many different products around and the word “product” seems to be well-known and absolutely clear to everyone.
However, creating a new product that is valuable for a number of people is not as simple as saying the word “product” itself. To get some understanding of the depth of the issue, try to come up with ten different birthday presents you can ask your friends or colleagues for your birthday. And vice versa – try to come up with one valuable material thing you can present to ten of your friends or colleagues for birthday.
One of the main challenges for creating anything new is our implicit limitation on things or services we already know. Pretty often great inventors just didn’t realise that things they made were “impossible”. Probably if they knew, they would not create those stuff…
A good product idea can not be made up with willpower alone – usually, it appears by chance under certain circumstances. However, it can not appear if you know nothing about the world around you. The broader your horizons, the more good ideas you can come up with that would result in useful and valuable products.