The One Idea of Your Product

a blue light bulb, a visual metaphor for having a single idea

“For what one idea do you want your product to stand in the mind of your customer?”  I heard Roger Cauvin ask that question at the most recent ProductCamp Austin [correction – he said it here – thanks Roger], and the quote has been jumping to the front of my mind almost daily ever since.  Maybe by writing about it I can exorcise the demon and get back to using the idea instead of being haunted by it.

The One Idea

You’ve just been given a new assignment – your company needs a new software thingamajig so that you can play in the whatchamacallit space, and you’re going to drive product management for it.  You’ve also been asked to deliver the first version in six weeks.  Of course you’ll be able to do follow-on releases, after all, you are agile.  That’s how “agile” works, isn’t it?

Cool.  Exciting.  Challenging.

You sit down with the folks who will be building the product, and find out that they have already spoken with several stakeholders.  Excellent. You circle back with the stakeholders, and start to gather data about your market and audience.

Your schedule is aggressive, so you think about what is realistic to get done in a very small timebox.  With the current schedule, you can’t afford to get caught in analysis paralysis, and you can’t realistically do in depth market analysis, persona development, hyper-accurate requirements prioritization, etc.  You do, however, have time to do the most important thing – define the one idea that will define your product.

If you cannot come up with this idea, you need to push back on your management team, and delay the launch of your product until you have that one idea.

Don’t Abuse Agile

Agile is designed to help you rapidly create iteratively better products, with iterative development and continuous infusion of market feedback and data.  Agile is not a process by which you start typing without any idea of what you intend, releasing it and then getting feedback in an iterative process.  If that’s how you’re approaching agile, your process is broken.

[image from Market Driven Competitive Advantage]

Unless you’re very lucky, your first iteration will be a waste of time and money.  Wouldn’t you rather be intentional than lucky? Make sure you have that one idea before you start developing.

Strategic Alignment

You need to come up with a one idea that is aligned with and supports your corporate strategy.  At a minimum, you have to make sure that you have an idea that is aligned with your stakeholder’s goals, based on the assumption that those goals are aligned with corporate strategy.


Your one idea really needs to make your users say “Wow!”


I was explaining the importance of this to a colleague (who is not a product manager), and his response was “Oh, you mean the hook.”

I was reminded that you not only have to provide a wow experience for your users, but you have to present a hook that will capture the imagination of your buyers.  Remember that buyer personas make decisions based on their perceptions of user problems [more on convincing buyers].


Remember that you don’t want to try and do everything perfectly in the first release – you want to satisfice.  You may only be able to target a single persona with a solution to a single problem.  You just need to make sure you are solving the right problem – which is where Kano analysis is very handy for identifying the Minimum Market Acceptance criteria.

[From Minimum Market Acceptance]

Conclusion: A Balancing Act

Defining the one idea for your product is a balancing act.

  • You have to align the one idea with your corporate strategy and stakeholder goals
  • You have to solve a valuable problem for your users, presented in a way that captivates your buyers
  • You have to create a product that is compelling right away – good enough in execution to enter your market
  • And you have to get the first release out in six weeks!

Good luck!  Or better yet – Good Intent!

35 thoughts on “The One Idea of Your Product

  1. Oh I love this post!
    Anyone that’s ever worked with a PR agency will have heard this a million times and often folks on the product side get frustrated and complain that “PR just doesn’t get it.” Every product, every release needs a story. Without one, it’s really hard to get the market excited about it.

  2. Thanks April (@aprildunford on Twitter)!

    Great addition – every “release” needs a story too! I’m looking forward to my next meeting with the PR team for my client next month. Will be great to walk into that meeting with an “idea calendar” for the product, from which they can craft a “messaging calendar.”

  3. Pingback: Roger L. Cauvin
  4. Pingback: Bob Marshall
  5. Pingback: Jonathan Babcock
  6. Pingback: topsy_top20k
  7. Pingback: david hudson
  8. Pingback: April Dunford
  9. Pingback: Darrin Johnson
  10. Pingback: Mike Boudreaux
  11. Pingback: Marc J. Miller
  12. This is a valuable article … does the one idea need to be presented from a marketing standpoint or from a business analysis standpoint or from a PR standpoint or from a Program Management point?

    If it is from a marketing standpoint, is it a branding or copywriting issue?

    I think that there should be a sequel to the article that clarifies some of that …

  13. Thanks Kingsley, and welcome to Tyner Blain!

    Great questions, and I’ll definitely write more on this. I’ll let Roger chime in to expand on something he’s ‘known to say’ – “positioning drives requirements.”

    The way I’m approaching it is that your roadmap / release schedule / launch plan should incorporate an “idea calendar” – what are the ideas around each release (why someone should get your product now and/or why should someone upgrade now/). That should be coordinated with your messaging calendar / PR.

    Which comes first is debatable, I’ve worked with companies where the model is “sell, design build” and companies where the model is more “solve, build, sell.” Each approach has different strengths.

    Great discussion!

  14. Pingback: IT Career Coach
  15. Pingback: Rich Mironov
  16. Pingback: F. Randall Farmer
  17. Pingback: Scott Sehlhorst
  18. Pingback: TomGrantForr
  19. Pingback: Julie Hunt
  20. Pingback: Jim Holland
  21. Pingback: Andrew Manuel
  22. Pingback: Mukesh Jain
  23. Pingback: Rian
  24. Pingback: Andrej Ruckij
  25. Pingback: ellen gottesdiener
  26. Pingback: Roger L. Cauvin
  27. Pingback: Scott Sehlhorst
  28. Pingback: DeEtta Balthazar
  29. Pingback: brainmates
  30. Pingback: Nate Schneider
  31. Very thought-provoking. I tend to see development teams and marketing people get lost in lists and lists of features, without too much thought on whether they add up to something compelling.

    In my mind, I kept thinking of Apple (as all product managers do) when I read your post. While the competitors spent their time adding features to their existing products, Apple came up with the One Great Idea that changed the whole game. Even though the first generation Apple products are nothing special from a features point of view (the first iPhone didn’t have any third party apps at launch), just the idea alone shifted the market onto Apple’s playing field.

  32. Pingback: Justyna Spurtacz

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.