Great product management starts with an insightful understanding of your market. Not just understanding a customer, and not even understanding all of your customers, but understanding your target market. What works for you?
The Needs of The Many…
Mr. Spock was on the right track in Wrath of Khan, when he said “logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” And Captain Kirk apparently took Pragmatic Marketing’s training, since he responded, “Or the one.” [That was their original mantra circa 1982, before the more common “Your opinion, while interesting, is irrelevant.”]
It isn’t just the crew of the starship Enterprise that believes an understanding of your target market is critical to product success. I believe it, Pragmatic’s folks teach it, every good product manager I’ve run across embodies this belief. [Note: Steve Yegge has a very intense article where (I think) he believes it too, but believes that it is futile to try and understand a market that doesn’t include you.]
Tools and Techniques
We have a lot of articles here that help you communicate ‘an understanding of the market needs’ with your implementation team – where implementation equals development AND testing.
- Documenting market needs (existing and new markets)
- Making strategic decisions to address those needs
- Engaging with stakeholders to validate needs
- Prioritizing / planning product releases / roadmaps to align a release schedule with targeted needs
- Engaging with stakeholders to clarify needs
- Gathering and documenting requirements details and inter-dependencies
- Validating feasibility / communication of intent with implementation (development and test) teams
- Prototyping and eliciting user feedback
To name a few. We’ve also written about several techniques you can use
- Gathering requirements via interviews
- Applying (and improving) your active listening skills
- Persona development, and differentiation of user goals from corporate goals (and from buyer goals)
The Missing Link
With all the current hub-bub about the bigfoot hoax (“I think I’m going to have a heart attack and die from not surprise!” – Iago, Aladdin), I couldn’t pass up this mug shot.
Collecting the customer-need data, with something more than anecdotal evidence, is tricky. One of the premises of the agile movement is that you can’t, so don’t waste time trying. I’ve always approached it by gathering anecdotal data, looking for root causes to create problem statements, and then working to map back to personas – dangerously extrapolating trends from a handful of datapoints. And it seems to work. But it doesn’t scale. There must be a better way.
I had a great conversation with someone who asked the Austin PMM yahoo group what tools they used for tracking “customer feature requests.” [Thanks again, btw, if you’re reading this.] The requestor was looking for something less than Feature Plan. Just a mechanism for tracking feature requests.
Here’s the problem. A feature request is to a market requirement as a gorilla suit in a block of ice is to a frozen captured Bigfoot. Tracking and managing feature requests isn’t what we actually need to do. Tracking and managing market requirements is what we need to do.
What Do You Do?
OK, so you manage a product that is sold by a sales team. Those sales people, and account managers get feature requests all the time. Or you have a SaaS product, and you built in a feedback mechanism. A 2006 survey of SaaS vendors found that the ratio of feature requests to bug reports was on average, 5 to 1. That’s a lot of feature requests. Your process should look like the following:
- Review feature requests.
- Do something, possibly using some tool(s).
- Determine market needs, prioritize markets (or needs), and update your roadmap…
Share what and how you do it. Some questions I would ask if you were teaching me how:
- Assuming you map ‘features X, Y, and Z’ to an actual ‘requirement A’, how do you chunk those inputs – by persona, by market segment, something else?
- Do you have a way to automate any of the analysis (e.g. mapping a market need to a segment or persona)?
- If you had a magic wand, what would make that job easier?
- Any lessons-learned / advice for new product managers?
- How do you close the feedback loop with the customers who originally submitted all of those feature requests?
Thanks in advance for any responses!