Have we lost the drive to create visionary products?
Organisations have always wanted to move from product idea to launch as quickly as possible. But we must wonder if this drive to deliver something quickly is overpowering the importance of delivering a visionary products.
Since starting my Product Management career in the late 90’s I have seen the rise of Customer Centric approaches to product delivery, in the form of Agile (2001), Customer Development (Steve Blank – 2006) and Lean StartUp (2011). These methods all champion the idea of delivering small components of a larger product idea to “test and learn”.
I have been substantially influenced by these methods since they embody techniques that have the potential to make great products. They acknowledge that as product developers we don’t have powers to guess what markets and customers need. These methods have incorporated customer feedback cycles that enable us to experiment in market quickly, to test and learn from customer reactions and iterate product features so that we can better serve the customer.
Lean and Agile are positioned as the antithesis of the more traditional development methods like Waterfall, which is characterised by large product builds, limited customer insight, formal meetings and documentation. Waterfall approaches that exclude an effective customer feedback cycle usually take too long, and deliver a Product that customers no longer want.
But like it or not, these new methods (Agile, Lean StartUp) have been interpreted as being synonymous with speed first and foremost at the detriment of market observation and wisdom. Its’ more important benefits such customer insight, the opportunity to reflect on lessons and incorporate the learnings tend to fall by the wayside. These are an afterthought in many projects .
I see that there is a drive to deliver quickly, across all sectors and businesses. There is almost a palpable fear that if we don’t delivery quickly we’ll be left behind, or the company will be left behind. Irrespective of what we are delivering; a marketing campaign, user stories, or a new product, fast and faster are phrases that are constantly bandied. It seems every company is working on a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), to ‘quickly’ get to Product Market Fit. At least, every Product Manager worth their salt is touting a MVP in their back pocket.
Not only is our mantra about speed, our support systems also facilitate our ability to build things quickly. We have an excess of tools that provide us with the opportunity to make and test something almost instantaneously.
This article on building a start up in a day is a great example of that. The author Rajat Bhageria set out to create a product in a day. He spent 1 hour on market research, 5 hours designing a website, 1 hour branding and pricing the product and 3 hours launching the product in market. A good day’s work! To be clear, he followed the philosophy “If you can launch a product fast enough, your product’s performance in the market is the market research.”
But, we have to question the value of the product and the value of bringing a product to market that hasn’t had sufficient time to develop. Will a fleeting product concept with minimal work resonate with a customer?
Despite my love of Agile and Lean I am concerned. I suspect that this focus on speed means that we skip the opportunity to design visionary products.
Visionary products require breathing space and time. Visionary products require strong judgement latched to real people with real problems, desires and needs. Visionary products inspire us to move away from the status quo. Visionary products go that extra mile. Visionary products are never built on speed.
The real benefit of leveraging Lean and Agile approaches is to learn, to course correct, validate assumptions, and improve on customer experience. The final product launch may in fact take longer but the confidence that it will be successful will be increased. It creates an opportunity to deliver a great vision, by being open to constant learning both before and after a product goes to marker. The outcome is therefore not speed but a product of value.
It is the Product Manager’s core responsibility to champion and challenge the Product Vision, to ensure that it solves a problem that is important enough in a marketplace for customers to exchange something of value in return.
Product Management is NOT only about shipping the next version of the MVP, nor is about quick half-baked learnings and fast turnarounds just to tick a box. Product Management is more than the sum of a few features and widgets that are sent to market.
The purpose of Product Management is to build the visionary products that make a difference in customer lives. So take the time to consider and plan how your product will deliver that change because if you do it may deliver the returns faster than a haphazard effort.