Have you ever shipped a product? Before you say “no”, I would probably say “yes”.
Think about that music compilation cassette tape, CD, or playlist you made for a special someone, friend or party. Remember now? Did he/she/they like it?
If she did like it, it was probably because you thought about her listening to it as you poured your heart into the song selection, the play-list order, and the fade between songs.
You thought…what are her favorite songs that she heard playing in your car? What songs has she told you that she loves – maybe via a smile, perhaps during a movie, or maybe via a thumbs up on Pandora. Likely you placed a song into the mix that was new to her, one that you thought she would like because what you know about her. If you’ve done this, then you’ve built a product. If she/he liked it, and still listens to it today (years later), then you built a really successful product.
When you built this product you were only successful because you listened to what he/she wanted, and you added in what you knew about them when you built it. You cared about her liking it. If you hadn’t taken her into account then your friend who enjoys 80s couples-skate music, will have received your Judas Priest/Ratt compilation and lied to you about how she liked it.
Scale this to what 10 friends like, and you can build a product for an Enterprise, such as the Department of Defense, P&G ($PG), Intel ($INTC), Alcoa ($AA), or other. Scale this process to 1M users, and you’ve built a product that Consumers are enjoying (StockTwits, Facebook, etc).
The process to understand what a successful Enterprise product looks like involves interaction with multiple enterprises in the segment you are targeting. It requires listening for pain points that are revealed as you understand their business processes. It means you understand their corporate software stack. Windows? Oracle? SAP? The point here is that you need to listen, and it doesn’t take 20 customer to learn, it take a number <10 in most cases to get traction.
On the Consumer product front, it’s just not enough to talk to 10 consumers. Unless you are Steve Jobs having an intuition unlike any other seen before, you do need to do user research. You need to talk to your consumers. Ask questions. Listen to their problems. Interpret problems without them even knowing they are divulging a problem.
I believe that a healthy organization has an understanding of the problems their target user segments struggle with. Multiple solutions are always kicked around inside the org. Solutions come from everywhere like popcorn — the CEO, a Sales Rep, from Engineering, the Product team, or other. Almost always there are more solutions (or “features”) generated than team size to build them. It’s important to narrow these features down to the ones that address the widest set of possible users in a target segment — rather than guess. After all, being a product leader is about making the best informed decision possible with the disparate information you have in your possession.
While leading Yahoo! Finance and now Product at StockTwits, I have been using Innovation Games to narrow down possible directions/priorities for the past couple years. Innovation Games give us the ability to play online games with our user base to narrow down the directions we should take. Games such as “Buy-A-Feature” allow my team to place a set of 16 features in front of users. Our users then collaborate to purchase the features they believe they all need – negotiating with each other on why one is more important over the other while we watch online. Games such as “Speed Boat” let our users tell us what they don’t like about our product, so that we can simplify it. Of the 15+ games, each one attacks a different product problem we are trying to solve.
If it sounds like nirvana that’s because it kind of is for those of us who want to listen. But word of caution…like any research, if you turn your head to the results, you probably are not fully listening. Remember, creating a successful product is about listening for the songs she likes…or “You’ve got another thing coming.”
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