Launching a product is hard work. And to be frank, for product managers it can be downright heartbreaking. Think of the 2017 Samsung Galaxy Note 7 launch. Despite all the hard work by the product team, Samsung had to recall the entire line. However, what can be more even disappointing than the big bang of a recall, is the whimper of a product as it fades into obscurity.
Some key reasons products don’t make it:
- Building a product that doesn’t solve a customer problem – too many times I’ve seen product managers building products they think customers may like or because an executive thought it was a good idea, without actually validating that this is what customers want. The cost of this is high – not only are you releasing a product that isn’t used by your customers, but you have also invested a lot of developer time working on the wrong product.
- Building everything and the kitchen sink in the first phase – start off with a minimum viable product (MVP). Get your product out there faster with only the core features. Collect data on how your customers are using your product and what they are asking for. This will help inform your next set of features.
- Letting a customer tell you what they want – this might seem counter intuitive since listening to your customers is imperative to building a good product. And a lot of the times what customers tell you they want is actually very valuable. However, the bigger value is in what customers don’t tell you. Observing customers using your product will enable you to notice patterns of behavior that your product can solve. At eBay we observed sellers using the Sell Your Item form, browsing hundreds of categories to find the right one to list their item in. Each time they asked us to make the browsing for categories easier, make the list of categories shorter. Observing the sellers use the form lead us to create a “Suggested Categories” feature which enabled sellers to easily enter the item they were selling and we would automatically suggest the category to list the item in. This saved the sellers a lot of time and made their listing on eBay more efficient.
- Focusing on the wrong metrics – you’ve launched your feature, it’s gaining traction because the traffic to the feature page is high, but revenue has not increased. Too often I’ve seen Product Managers announce victory on a product feature because they are focused on a vanity metric like pageviews which are easily manipulated and don’t necessarily correlate to the metrics that really matter and ultimately lead to revenue, like engagement.
A truly successful product needs to make it through several stages: discovery, design, development, delivery, testing and feedback. It’s not good enough for a product management team to simply tick these boxes either. Each stage is crucial to the success of the product, as is being able to hold onto the thread of your brand the whole time.
Here are my top tips on how you can meaningfully navigate the product management lifecycle without ever losing sight of the product vision:
- By staying true to the product’s secret sauce – The secret sauce is what led your product to grow and succeed to this point. Understand what that secret sauce is and make sure you don’t deviate from it. This is what differentiates your product from the competition.
- Observing customers using the product – Sometimes the golden nuggets are discovered when you observe your customers using your product. You pick up on things they may not be aware of, and end up solving more than you anticipated. Observation can be invaluable when piloting new tools or features.
- Walking in the customer’s shoes – This is a philosophy we had at eBay early on. We were strongly encouraged to use our product every day – buying and selling on eBay. This allowed us to have empathy for our customers and to understand where the product was falling short and identify opportunities for improvement.
- Being ready to let go – You need to be willing to kill features that are underperforming. It’s easy to continue to build on your product without stepping back to see if the product experience still makes sense. It’s important to have a user experience philosophy from the beginning and to sanity check if the product still aligns with your vision. It’s also imperative to track key metrics to understand if your features are performing to your expectations. If a feature is not working, kill it right away. Don’t wait.
- Managing stakeholder expectations – When working on key parts of the product, you will have multiple stakeholders to balance. One time at eBay, we set out to redesign the home page, but by the time requirements were collected from each stakeholder, and the home page was redesigned based on this feedback, it looked worse than when we had started. Needless to say, we scrapped that design and started all over again. You should establish a clear set of shared goals with stakeholders early on. When collecting stakeholder feedback, it’s also important to think strategically when deciding what feedback is applied to the product.