7 Key Concepts About Product Development I Learned in 2015

NOTE: I spent much of 2015 learning more about product development from conferences, books, blog posts etc. Among the many sources I am indebted to, for this specific post I want to call out and thank Melissa Perry, Jon Kolko, and Boon Sheridan.

1. A new product’s problem/solution fit considers what problem exists and how/why we would want to solve it. Key questions for determining a good problem/solution fit are:

  • What problem are we solving?
  • Who are we solving it for?
  • Why are we solving it?
  • How are we solving it?
  • What does solving it mean for our company?
  • What are we doing to realize our solution?


2. And then there’s the market/solution fit—the perfect solution to a problem is useless if customers don’t want to buy it. Key questions for determining a good market/solution fit are:

  • Is our solution repeatable?
  • Is our solution scalable?
  • Have we eliminated friction from the conversion process?
  • Have we factored user gratification/retention into our customer journey?
  • What are our customer acquisition channels?
  • What are our specific metrics for defining success?


3. Some foundational concepts for product development are:

  • The customer journey guides product conception and execution
  • Our solution plans for the entire customer journey
  • We explicitly plan and design for each individual touchpoint within that customer journey—from initial product research, to eventual purchase, to customer service and product maintenance
  • Our solution responds to both customer and business needs
  • We validate our solution with both business stakeholders and customers


4. What are some assumptions we should be aware of—and avoid?

  • We already know what our customers want—we just need to build it
  • We’ve got to create this product since our competitors have one
  • We can begin by defining the solution instead of the problem to be solved
    (Can lead to creating solutions without corresponding problems)
  • Customers have as much knowledge as subject matter experts
  • Customers are willing to spend as much time with our product as we want them to
  • We can use unvalidated data to guide product development
    (The perception that “everyone wants this” often masks the reality that it’s just a few loud opinions and isn’t broadly desired)
  • We should develop the first solution we come up with
    (It’s usually not the best possible solution)


5. Some specific recommendations for product development are:

  • Create the lowest-possible fidelity wireframes to prototype the smallest-possible product iterations
  • Start product planning with the small viewport and add progressive enhancements to larger views
  • Plan for content flow, not screen flow—expect to chunk the experience differently for different views
  • Utilize design systems where possible—don’t continually reinvent the wheel
  • Explicitly plan and design for errors—they will happen! Customer experiences that have carefully-considered, helpful and informative error states inspire customer confidence
  • Ensure the product’s future-friendliness via flexible design and code


6. Create a Feature Request Form to help colleagues prioritize ideas:

  • What feature would you like to build?
  • What KPI will this feature change? By how much?
  • Is there any other value for this change?
  • What is the business priority?
  • Is this dependent on other changes that have yet to be made?
  • Why is this a problem we can and want to solve?


6. Tips for “failing fast” and learning:

  • Don’t overcommit to the first solution; let it go if it doesn’t prove viable
  • Test very early, very quickly, very cheaply
  • Create small, data-driven experiments to validate interest:
    interview customers / make a landing page / create a lo-fi prototype, to test:

    • Do users have this problem?
    • Are they interested in our solution?
    • Are they interested in any solution at all?
  • Tests that fail to prove interest may reveal actual customer problems
  • The risk of continuing to work on a bad idea gets higher over time
  • Customers don’t understand/care about product iterations. The risk of launching a weak product can be huge—unsatisified customers won’t stick around for your v2


7. Start the development process one piece at a time:

  • Start with small, meaningful improvements (existing products)
  • Start with something small as an introduction (new products)
  • Get some small wins under your belt while establishing team cadence
  • This also creates a platform for growth—it’s impossible to learn everything in advance of building a new, complicated product
  • The team will learn throughout the process—not just at the end
  • The team will receive faster, more continual recognition for achievements
  • Rapid testing along the way helps establish criteria for testing the final product







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