Complex product management is a risky business. When things go well, you may hit a home run by identifying a product that solves a customer problem, delights the customer, and has a significant impact on the market. These products may be on a trajectory of high growth and high market share and are considered 'stars.' Conversely, when things go wrong, you may end up with a 'dog,' which is characterized by low growth and low market share. How do you end up with a star instead of a dog?
While there is no direct answer to this question, there are steps you can take to increase the likelihood that your product will meet the success you had envisioned.
How to Get Your Product Idea Approved
Before you even attempt to build your product, you have to get it approved. One of the most common reasons why a product idea might not be approved is because you cannot effectively prove that your product idea is better than another. This may be the result of a lack of evidence that consumers actually want or need your product or an inability to determine the size of your market. In order to create excitement for your product, you need to do your homework.
Test Your Assumptions
A common issue when deciding which product to build is to focus on a problem that you personally need solutions for. While this may be one way to address a potential market, this is not ideal, as true customer behavior is often very different from your own. To be successful, your assumptions have to be valid.
Provide Data to Back Up Your Ideas
When identifying the customer pain points you are looking to solve, consider the following:
- What are the current solutions to that problem in the market?
- How satisfied are customers with the existing product?
- If there are solutions, can you build a product that is superior to the rest?
- How large is the target market?
By understanding your target market, you are better able to identify the key features that will make your product stand out and can present these to the board.
Methods of Research
The best way to research products is to get your boots on the ground and talk to the customer. Conduct interviews and surveys, and engage in direct observation. While this research is not going to be extensive, it will get you answers to the questions above so you can weed out the good product ideas from the bad.
Create a Product Strategy
This is particularly important when you have a highly innovative product idea that is costly and will take time to build. In this case, your board may be more likely to approve a product if you break the initiative down into smaller parts and iteratively improve the product as you receive feedback on each release and as technology evolves.
For example, if the final product takes five years to build, offer a scaled-down version or an optimal MVP with a meaningful value that you can take to market within a year. This offers the benefit of testing the market and generating a consumer response.
The revenue generated from the MVP can be used to fund further development of the product, with subsequent generations released over time and the final product vision achieved by year five.
If you have successfully targeted your users, this long-term approach will also allow you to create awareness of your product, create brand loyalty, and generate excitement over each subsequent generation with ever more exciting features.
Gain Insights into Your Product Idea
Once you have your product vision, it is important to collaborate with product teams and R&D to further develop the concept of your product. Your team members are a source of expertise and innovation. They can advise you on features that will work and ones that won't.
It is also helpful to channel communications with other relevant experts in the field, as it allows for additional insights that can help with decision-making.
How to Build a Successful Product
Once you've got product approval, it would be a mistake to invest a large amount of capital only to build a visionary product that requires several years before releasing it to the market. We previously outlined the importance of a product strategy that breaks a larger project down into smaller initiatives to gain approval and build an audience for your product.
During the development process, it is also important to present the product to consumers on a smaller scale to assess their reaction to the product.
As a product manager you are keen to see results more frequently during the product development process so that you can get feedback, make corrections, and reduce the cost of failure.
Create a Prototype
Prototypes are useful for gaining user feedback and insights. The various stages of prototyping are as follows:
- A post-it prototype with rough sketches of a product.
- Picture or wireframe models that capture the description, structure, and design of a product.
- A solid model that provides details of the internal structure and working of the product.
- A mock-up of the product is usually made on a smaller scale. This is useful for the review and validation of product features.
Then Ship the MVP
Once the early prototyping is complete, you need to create an MVP to present to your customer. While the MVP will generally not be built with all of the product features, this stripped-down version should have enough excitement factors so you can get a response from your customer.
Prototypes and MVPs are crucial in the early product development phase. As a product manager, you need to take steps to reduce the cost of failure, so market research, customer feedback, and product advice are vital. As you gain new insights, you can adapt the product and innovate to better meet the customer's needs.
From MVP to Mature Product
Once your product is defined, and you are ready to build, it is vital to keep your product teams on track. Moving from your MVP to a mature product requires incorporating customer feedback and improving upon the MVP and any other models you’ve researched and tested. Along the way, it’s important to keep the long-term goals in mind and follow the established product strategy. Regular meetings with cross-functional teams, using one source of truth for product plans and progress, as well as timely communication, make it possible to develop a mature model to launch to the market.