There’s that famous Robert Frost poem that starts:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Many times, when trying to prioritise what to tackle next in our product, it feels a lot like Frost’s traveller, puzzling at that fork in the road.
It’s rarely the case that there is a single obvious path forward for what to start working on next. The situation is more complex. There are a myriad of roads to consider. Each of them good, each with its own merits, a sound business case, a log of user feedback and our own product convictions to support it.
So how do we decide which road to take?
The vital thing to remember is that each of these options doesn’t address a single part of our business. Rather, each will have a multi-dimensional impact. There is a cost and benefit to each internal department (engineering, design, marketing, support/success, operations etc). And there is a cost and benefit to user experience.
So we ought attempt to consider all dimensions in concert when making product decisions. Focusing wholly on one dimension to the exclusion of others will create an imbalanced business. A table with weak and wobbly legs.
I came up with a rubric to help frame my thoughts on this matter:
The Customer Chorus are the themes of feedback we receive from our users, and we can make product decisions to address these themes.
Serving the Customer Chorus does not necessarily turn a negative into a positive (i.e. a complaint into a compliment, a 7/10 NPS into a 10/10), but it at least turns a negative into a null.
The Customer Chorus represents something which is already known to users beforehand, a want they are able to articulate.
Customer Delight is about giving users something they didn’t know they want till we showed it to them, something they weren’t able to imagine, but we were able to invent for them. Novel ways to create and derive value from our product.
TIME COST / PRODUCT VELOCITY
Product velocity is sacred. It is the elixir of startup life.
And everything we build impacts this velocity. Design time, coding time, testing time and success/support time to write help docs and run our beta groups.
Internally, we may be working furiously to deliver the next Story, but from the outside, from our customer’s point of view, our product is standing still.
So, remembering that we at Qwilr have high standards of what “ready to deliver” means (aka Undeniable Bestness), we must ask ourselves: what length of time are we willing to exchange for this new piece of product?
These questions of “velocity with valour” can sometimes seem intractable. But often times I’ve found that a feature/area that seems atomic, is in fact, divisible. That is, we can execute on a part of it now, delivering part of the value, and the remaining piece later, delivering the full value.
FINISHABLE & UNFINISHABLE
Some features have very clear boundaries of "done". Consider password security. This is a feature whose conception and value is very well defined and well bounded. Its the kind of thing we can release and then move on, putting our focus elsewhere.
But not all features are like this. Some will open up proverbial product rabbit holes. Their potential scope is so wide, that whatever version we can feasibly implement still invites more user demands, calls for greater depth of functionality, extensions etc. The Customer Chorus will start singing. These are "Unfinishable" features. Those that carry an ongoing burden of engineering, design and company focus.
There's nothing wrong with Unfinishable features. They may indeed constitute the core value of our product - the Qwilr editor itself is a prime example. But when considering what we want to build next, we need to be fully cognisant of whether a feature is Finishable, and if it is not, factor in the ongoing organisational cost into our decision making.
Sometimes the problems we are trying to solve are very clear to us, but how we should actually implement the solutions (aka design) is much less clear.
Looking at a bird and thinking how convenient it would be to fly, is very different from having the blueprint of how to build an aeroplane.
Consider the maturity and clarity of our thinking in regards to "how will this actually work in our product at the nuts and bolts level?".
Some product features are inherently”juicy” from a marketing perspective. These also tend to belong either to the category of Customer Delight, or to long-awaited satisfactions of the Customer Chorus.
Marketing “Grenades” are newsworthy items that make people sit up and pay attention. They generate a lot of noise and fireworks.
Don’t be lax with your definition of a “grenade”. Some features are powder kegs. For example: our “kinda magic” integrations with CRMs. This is cool, this is different - it’s of a nature that people have not seen before and merits excitement. But other product work does not really qualify - “we’ve just made taxes easier to match and comprehend on the accounting integration settings screen”.
When product features are distinct and discrete they can be packaged into one or another plan.
These provide an additional levers for Sales. It helps make the value of one plan over another more tangible to our users.
Often times its not the totality of features offered on a tier that converts a customer to that plan, but one or a few critical features.
Some Sales Levers are hugely impactful - Salesforce, or our API for example. Others much less so.
CONTRIBUTION TO OUR EUTOPIA
I found out recently “Utopia” actually translates to “nowhere” in Greek (as in un-reachable). Eutopia however translates as the “good place”; so we’ll use that word instead.
People will love our Product because of its impact on the character of their life. I’m not being wishy-washy or high concept here. I’m talking about a very concrete qualitative difference in experience. (If you’re old enough) consider the experience of the fiddly old Nokia brick phones from the 90’s, in comparison to using the exquisite modern iPhone. It actually feels different to use an iPhone. My intentions are translated into action with a sense of smoothness and fluidity. This is the Eutopia that Apple products take us to.
Some product features bring our Eutopia closer to realisation. Generally speaking, operating in the dimension of the Customer Chorus will not advance towards Eutopia, but operating in Customer Delight will.
Finally, there are those rare pieces of product that increase the value delivered to our customers, while increasing our ability to capture value from that customer. A fair trade. For example: building our Blueprint and Foundry API’s, allowed us to capture value in an entirely different manner (volume based, versus tier or seat based), while creating a whole new kind of product value for customers.