February 24, 2018

Mistake #1 – Your Company Thinks They Are Right

I’ve had the opportunity of working with many companies over the last twenty years and I can’t remember how many times we would sit around a conference room table and talk about what “we” thought the market needed. This is just one scenario where a company becomes internally focused when creating new products or enhancing existing products.  Some other scenarios I have seen include:

  • A group gathers in the hallway or around the coffee pot and suddenly one person says, “wouldn’t it be cool if we could make the product do feature X”, and the next thing you know, someone has added feature X to the product.
  • The CEO comes back from a customer visit and says, “When I was meeting with customer A, they said they really needed feature Y. Let’s get that in the next release.”
  • The company or an individual develops some new technology and now feels compelled to create a product around it.

These scenarios are well summarized in a quote from Albert D. Ehrenfried.

Too many products are developed to satisfy the desires, urges, and hunches of people within the company, rather than to meet the specific needs of the market external to the company. Products grow out of the desire to tinker, or because an engineer sees a purely technical challenge.

The end result in all of these cases is that you end up with a product that has no clear market opportunity. We often describe that as a product looking for a problem to solve.

What I have learned from my experience and best practices is that we need to turn the process around. First, we must identify a problem that needs to be solved. This applies to both new products and in enhancing current products. Once you understand the problem, now you can create a solution or new feature that solves that problem. This becomes a much more powerful approach.

The best way I have learned to understand market problems is to speak with current and potential customers. I have always been impressed with the insight I learn when I speak with those in my target market. You can and should get this insight at multi-levels within the organization because this provides you different levels of information that will guide your product strategy. These include:

  • Market Trends – You want to understand the trends occurring in the market place and the challenges these trends are creating for the market segment that your serve. You can discover this through secondary research such as press articles and analyst reports and by speaking with the business executives in your target market.
  • Business Needs (Executive Needs) – Based upon the market trends as well as competitive challenges and internal business issues, you want to understand the businesses objectives your market segment is pursuing and what needs these are creating. You can discover these by speaking with the top executives and business unit leaders in your target market.
  • User Needs – Now that you understand the business objectives, you want to understand what capabilities the business managers and the technology users require in order to achieve these business objectives. You can determine these by speaking with managers and with those that execute the work on a daily basis.
  • Technical Needs – If you are delivering technology solutions, you need to understand the technical requirements and constraints that you must meet, such as technology platforms and points of integration. Often, these are pretty clear, but you should speak with business managers and IT managers to make sure you have a full understanding of these.

Once you have done this work, you have a much clearer understanding of the problems that need solutions and can begin defining your product strategy and the specific solutions that you company will deliver.



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