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My favorite quote regarding product development is attributed to Henry Ford who (allegedly) said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘faster horses.
This quote perfectly illustrates that the key to product planning is truly understanding your customers’ pain points and finding innovative methods to address them in ways they couldn’t possibly imagine.
As a product development professional who has been working in the technology industry for more than 20 years, I have found that the best way to avoid developing “faster horses” is to get close to the technology and even closer to the customer. At Sharp, our approach is to spend time with real customers in their everyday activities and observe first-hand how they work, where they struggle and how we can help. There simply is no substitute for taking the time to intimately learn your customer’s workflow and pain points.
Once you are familiar with what the customer wants, it is important to do your homework. Read everything you can get your hands on that is published about the market you are pursuing and become a subject matter expert. By understanding the relevant trends that will impact the market within a specific time frame, you can then predict not only which products to bring to market, but the best timing for them, as well.
Here are four ways to do just that:
1. Consider a scalable approach. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither were most successful products. If you are entering a new market, don’t try to launch an entire line of products at once; take it one step at a time.
2. Solicit feedback at each phase of the development cycle, but interpret it in context. Avoid scope creep. It is natural to want to incorporate every good idea that arises out of progress review meetings and feedback. Try to hold to improvements that help realize the original product concept and save the other good ideas for the next iteration. As technology adoption continues to accelerate, you must be quick to market or risk irrelevance before your product even launches. In order to move quickly, don’t try to be the best at everything. Choose a specific target feature set that can be the best solution for a particular customer pain point. Over time, pick other targets to attack and expand your portfolio.
If you attempt to be the best at everything from the start, you will most likely end up with a long development cycle, producing a product that lags in the market and does not distinguish itself from competition.
3. That said, don’t forget about user experience. User experience is potentially the largest potential pitfall. As you work to control the project scope, bugs are being addressed and pressure mounts to launch on time, the user experience is one of the most likely areas to suffer as engineers strain to meet compressed launch schedules. However, nothing will kill a product faster than a frustrating user experience. Conversely, an innovative and easy-to-use interface can dramatically distinguish a product from its peers.
4. Leverage the opportunity for continuous improvement. Your first iteration should hit a broad market area and solve the most customer problems, but it can’t remedy them all. Rapid changes in technology are fueling the need and opportunity for continuous improvements off a strong platform. You will need to allow for ongoing enhancements to help your product maintain its competitive advantages. Build these iterations into your go-to-market plan, knowing they will be needed to maintain best-in-class status in a moving market. It is important to set realistic expectations and goals for a strong launch, but set aggressive stretch goals for enhancements to secure long-term management support for the project and to bring the most value to your customers.
As you work towards bringing new technology to market, it is essential to put yourself in your customers’ shoes during the product planning phase while keeping up to date on relevant market news and trends. Doing so will ensure that you fully comprehend both how your product will be received and how to address common pain points in innovative, exciting and ultimately profitable ways.