When evaluating a product, a customer may see the product as special, adequate, inadequate, or awful. What is uncomfortable for product teams is that they have no control over how the customer sees the product. They only have influence. What teams need to learn is how to approach creating the product a customer will see as special.
You Need Something to Position
Customers need to be able to easily understand what your product is, why it’s special, and why it matters to them.
April Dunford, Obviously Awesome
April is writing about positioning – how to make sure the customer understands that the special product is special. Upstream of positioning activities, product management is responsible for setting a product’s direction so the product will be special for the target customers.
Specialness comes from both the effectiveness of helping a customer achieve their goals, and the quality of the experience of helping the customer achieve their goals.
What you need is a special product. Then positioning can help customers see why it is special.
Special in the Whole
Jeff Patton developed the user story map as a collaboration and design tool to enable teams to holistically understand the customer’s goal. This level of goal and context of product thinking is the whole kit and caboodle – too much to try and do all at once. Jeff’s user story map embraces the user story as a unit of analysis allowing teams to both iterate and increment in pursuit of delivering on the promise to help the customer achieve this goal.
The actions that users take in order to reach their larger goals have a goal level themselves that’s tied to user behavior.
Jeff Patton, Creator & Author of User Story Mapping
Within the user story map, you organize the user stories representing the collection of sub-goals, which in combination reflect the users’ paths to achieving their broader goals. By developing towards the larger goal through these increments, the team creates a collection of smaller, faster opportunities for feedback, learning, and course correction. This increases the likelihood of creating a special product.
All user stories, however, are not created equal.
To achieve “special” in the large, you have to discern which user stories deserve your attention, and which do not. You have to identify where “special” in the small is what creates a special product as a whole.
Special in the Parts
Some user stories have a significant impact on the overall product experience. The easiest way to think of it is as a sensitivity analysis – achieving some sub-goals is critical to achieving the larger goal. Other subgoals are identifiable, but are not particularly important in the bigger picture.
To make great products, you need to combine the sensitivity analysis (what matters, what does not matter) with a gap analysis. The gap analysis for user experiences is best addressed in terms of satisfaction; some actions and interactions are already good enough, some are not.
Where things are already good enough, investment to make them better is wasted. At a market level, this is what Clayton Christensen referred to as “overserved” markets. At a functional level, this is what is commonly known as gold-plating. While something might be objectively betterbeauty is in the eye of the beholder – and these changes are not valued.
When a sub-goal is not particularly important – it is not the “make or break” aspect of achieving the larger goal, the team should only invest minimally – enough to make sure the product is not broken. If existing functionality or designs are “good enough” look for opportunities to leverage them vs. recreating them. When fixing broken things, do just enough to be no-longer-broken. Remember, every single investment you make comes with the opportunity cost of not doing something else instead.
When you are looking at the critically important sub-goals, there are two situations to consider. The first is to consider that if the existing solution is already good enough, then there’s no real reason to build something new – there’s no opportunity left in the space – just walk away. It is not always evident when looking at the big picture, if there is room to provide a solution which customers will value more than the existing solutions. Looking at the critical sub-goals and finding them well-addressed is the sign that this is a problem which does not need to be solved.
The opportunity to create a special product comes where a sub-goal is critical to the larger goal and the customer is dissatisfied with the current solution. The user story, as the unit of analysis, is the perfect frame for exploration and experimentation.
Your Purpose is a Special Product
It is easy to look at a body of user stories and just see them as “one after the other” work to do. But you should, instead, look for the magical stories which, if done exceptionally well, create a special product. Combine the sensitivity analysis with the gap analysis. Find the current problems which matter the most, and then focus your energies on great solutions there.
Published on Java Code Geeks with permission by Scott Sehlhorst, partner at our JCG program. See the original article here: How To Make Your Product Special
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