Reading Eric Reis’s (founder of the “The Lean Startup” movement) recent article, “Are you building the right product?” pushed the worm in my head to write this note and I recommend it for mandatory reading to every entrepreneur and product manager (is there a difference?).
In our explorations in the product journey, I find myself in the middle of a “customer” vs. “market debate” (what’s the difference you may ask) and Mr Reis is advocating a different line of thought, something which I am tempted to say “told you so”
One of the most pause-worthy moments in Reis’ rant is where he says, “Because new features add overhead to products (generally making them more complicated), a new feature has to provide so much benefit to customers that it’s worth incurring this overhead.” Customers incur overhead too, not just manufacturers and marketers. Stop and think about that the next time you’re working on making something better.
Ironically, one of the challenges in building the right product is our increasing reliance on the voice of the customer. No one denies the importance of being customer-centric, but relying on customers to tell us what features they need is a bad idea. As we’ve said before, for many reasons, the voice of the customer cannot substitute for Innovation – it substantiates the co-creation journey
The effective way to understand if new features/capabilities are adding value is to identify and test the ways in which they impact behavior related to buying and using, i.e. if they will help the intended beneficiaries, be they buyers or users separately save costs, work faster, think better and more importantly move them up the “aspiration” chain.
Even if new features meet those criteria, the benefits may not be substantial enough. A new model of printer that offers a 2% saving in ink costs may not be attractive to a facilities manager who needs to expend effort on getting approvals from the corporate office and – deal with the disruption caused by installation.
Is it surprising that most “improvements” are simply not valued by customers when they are mostly done with a view to minimising cost for marketers or represents a please-all response?