Tag Archives: product management

Don’t add features to make products successful – instead remove complexity

Adding new features to products and services will not help them be successful if this is at the expense of simplicity. Instead of simplicity you may be able to substitute the words beauty or usability, but the core point remains. If you want to add new features, then these need to be added without ruining the core values and functions of the product.

  • A new feature should never ruin the beauty of a product
  • Additional complexity should not make the product harder to use.

The temptation to add that one extra feature, is always going to be there. The demand for new features though needs to be balanced with the drive for simplicity.

Simplicity matters, because at the heart of simplicity is customer focus.

By demanding simplicity, you drive a focus on what is important to the customer. Instead of adding every feature you can, allowing every possible combination, put yourelf in the shoes of the customer and make a choice for them about what matters most. In doing so you reduce complexity for both the customer and you as the supplier. More importantly, you take responsibility for the product. You cannot hide behind always saying yes. YOU need to understand what matters most to customers and be excellent at this. Feature bloat means mediocrity. Allowing limitless options, but allowing customers to make poor choices is not a good strategy. Take responsibility and help your customer. Don’t sell them what isn’t needed. Don’t add features they will never use and don’t change something because you simply want to make your mark on an established product line.

Deliver what will best deliver the outcome that the customer wants.

Not all customers will be happy, some will demand features that were not included or options that are not available. This is inevitable when you seek simplicity. The goal is not to make everyone happy. The goal is is to exceed the expectations of your target customers; to make the customers that YOU want very happy with your product. In defining the customers that you want to sell to you need to make a choice. Successful products don’t seek to sell to the whole market. They may end up doing this and have wide appeal, but successful products start by having a target customer and being the best choice for that customer, then growing and improving.

It doesn’t matter whether the product is luxury or commodity, high or low price. The same principles apply:

  • Know your market [specifically define who it is AND who it isn’t] then design to meet their needs
  • Don’t add features they don’t want or value – never play the more is better game without validating this with customers first. Likewise don’t ignore clear demands for new features – but in adding these, add to the experience not ruin it
  • Be careful about changing the fundamentals of your product. Do this with extreme care and only after extensive testing

Extensive testing doesn’t just mean rigorous scientific sampling. It can do, but what is most important is talking to your customers. Talking to them about what they love, what they don’t like and more importantly about what they want to do, but cannot.

Your most powerful question, ‘who wants this?

Your second most powerful question, ‘why?

Your most powerful word, ‘no

Your most powerful tool, the red pen of deletion

Don’t be fooled into thinking this is easy. It isn’t. The stories about getting this wrong haunt every product manager, but the stories about getting this right should equally inspire. Building a simple product, a simple product or service gives you a great platform on which to grow a long term future. In fact it is hard to think of market leading products and even companies that have not embedded the principles of simplicity and brilliant balancing of function and form.

Get this wrong. Launch a bad product or service, particularly in the early years, and you may never be able to recover from this.

Apple is always the classic case study to show success, and its focus prioritising design and user experience shows why, but other companies equally deliver simplicity – whether at the high or low end of a market.

  • Sharpie pens vs. Mont Blanc
  • Uniclo vs. Arcteryx
  • Premier Inn vs. Four Seasons
  • Mini vs. Ferrari
  • Southwest Airlines vs. Virgin Atlantic

Looking at the list it is also clear that simplicity is intrinsically linked with customer experience and quality. These are connected. They always are. It all comes back to customer focus. Driving simplicity forces you to remove what is NOT needed, what reduces value and what makes life harder for the customer.

One final point for those who are going to drive for simplicity. Be patient. What you are proposing is not a product change, but a culture change. Technical teams will challenge you and demand complexity. Sales teams will highlight every micro-feature that the competition has and push you to replicate this. Listen, then speak to the group who really matter – your customers. Evidence from this group is what really matters and trumps everybody else every time.

Simple really.

 

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Design to evolve

If you are ever asked to design any technological solution/product/service, here is a quick tip …

Assume that what you design is wrong.

That is not to say you are wrong.

You may design a great solution, but if it includes technology, it will be a solution for today; a solution designed with today’s mindset, today’s products and today’s expectations from services. The more technology included, the greater the risk of premature ageing.

Instead of defining a solution for today, think about how you can design for the future.

How can you design a solution that can be adapted, upgraded, changed, replaced?

The way to do this is to assume that things will change. If you had to replace or upgrade key parts, whether software or hardware could you easily and cost effectively do this?

Can users do this? Can end users modify the solution to improve it or do you want to maintain complete control?

If you can do this, you start to change the solution from a single standalone solution to a system. An upgradable, living system that can evolve. If you do that, you start to change the economics of the solution or product too. If you can extend the lifespan, you can positively impact the cost of ownership and start to potentially justify a higher price. More importantly you can quickly respond to competitive changes, avoid retooling factories for minor improvements  and ultimately and lower costs. If you can engage users, you can start to build a community of supporters who can create on top of your work and evolve from having a system into having an ecosystem and ultimately a platform.

Before you get carried away though, never lose sight of one vital question – how do you maintain quality? If your name is on the box, if you are taking the money and selling the service, then quality is your problem. So the decision is not simply about opening up everything, it is about allowing managed evolution. It is a balance between having inflexibility which you have ultimate control over (but which could be poor), or ultimate freedom, which could mean that you are left selling a product or solution that others are deriving the majority of the benefits from.

If in doubt over any area, one quick tip: Focus on human needs. Not sanitised artificial segmentations, but real human needs. These are the enduring attributes of people; their behaviours; their relationships; their wants; their loves. Though technology has changed, these attributes haven’t.

 

 

 

 

The Emperors New Clothes are still being made

Can I humbly give Product Managers a quick piece of advice?

STOP LYING!

Stop lying about what your product can do for me if you know it doesn’t do it.

Just tell me the truth.

Instead of telling me it can do something it can’t, or something it can do, but does badly, instead pick something that I really care about and do this brilliantly. If you don’t know what that thing is, talk to me. Watch my life, understand me, heck – ask me. Professor Keith Goffin and Dr Chris Van Der Hoven from Cranfield University offer some techniques in their article that discusses why products fail.

When you think you have found it, ask me, if you have solved a problem I have, or met an undiscovered need that I didn’t know about, I will get pretty excited about it. However raw, if the idea and concept is good, then you will quickly know because I will want it NOW!!!

I will want to buy it.

I will want to know when it is available and what it costs.

A quick test for this … write down in 10 words what it is.

Real words, not marketing’ese. Simple words.

Core functions first, state the blindingly obvious.

Think about the most basic way that you can sell the idea and the product.

If you cannot do this, then go back and refine it, keep looking, keep searching. Don’t pick that last thing that was moderately interesting and build that, look for the problem I have, or the thing I want to achieve.

It you think you have found something, make it as real as you can. Build a prototype, a mockup so I can start to imagine this in the real world, in my life. This doesn’t have to be a polished machined prototype, a cardboard mockup today is better than a polished prototype in 6 months. Whatever you have, communicate the story of what it does. Storyboards, wireframes, mockups, prototypes – whatever you need to show the idea as live as possible, as real as you can, do that.

Then iterate and make it better. And better. And better.

Set a timeframe, a quality bar, and a budget, then iterate until you pass this. You will have to deal with these trade offs, but that is what a Product Managers life is about. It is all about compromise. Product success comes from making the right judgement about the balance.

If you do this well, when you come to launch, you can tell me the truth.

You don’t need to lie.

You can tell me with confidence what your product does, and why I should care.

If you have done your job well, I will want to buy the product or service.

And I will.

It is that simple.

Of course, if you lie to me, I will find out.

I will tell others that you lie.

I won’t buy from you again.

And neither will others.

Your choice.

You can try and sell the Emperors New Clothes, but you will be found out, and after that no one will trust you again.

… and no one will buy anything from you, because they cannot trust you.

So the next time you go into that product planning meeting, that product marketing review, tell the truth.

You can lie, but you will be found out.

Consumer technology needs to enable human ambitions to be of enduring value

Consumer technology needs to enable and empower human actions and ambitions to be valuable.

If you cannot clearly articulate the human value proposition for any given technology go back to the drawing board because you have not designed useful technology but unnecessary junk. It may be functional, it may even be aesthetically pleasing, but it is still junk. If it has no clear human benefit, it is junk. The benefit may be fun, it may be practical, but it still needs to exist.

Every piece of enduring technology from the Braun alarm clock to the Hoover vacuum cleaner; from the biro pen to the iPod can be expressed in terms of human benefit.

When the value of a technology is expressed solely in self referential terms, with the product describing what has, not what it can do for people, there can be no judgement other than failure because it is unnecessary to the buyer.

Far too many technology companies set the bar too low and forget about the most important factor in the product, the person.

Not the buyer, not the user, not any one of a dozen personas, but the human.

Not a demographic, not a segment, not a persona, but a human.

They express the description in functional terms, list features and detail technical attributes.

Successful consumer products don’t focus on the function, they focus on the human value.

If you want to be successful at consumer product or service design, don’t start with what you can do, start with why someone will care.