In the course of my ongoing interactions with product teams and top management, we often see a set of common themes that run across organizations that are ultimately hindering their product evolution and advancement in some way, shape or form.
In this 2-part point-of-view, I share a handful of common myths that often hold teams back and offer some guidance on how these can be overcome with the right mindset and approach. All with the goal to help any aspiring organization accelerate ahead with operational excellence in their product development efforts. Let’s dive in!
Myth #1: Always listen to customers for input on what to build.
It’s industry best practice for companies to ask key customers questions about how they’d like to see the product evolve. From surveys and focus groups to 1:1 power-user interviews, these feedback forums are important to baseline and to assess the priority for the path forward.
In most instances, customers are happy to share their ideas about a new button they’d like to see, data they’d like to extract, or a new filter to add to the search functionality. The problem sits with the fact that oftentimes these inputs are likely to be from an organization’s most influential customer base, who have an inherent bias (and even some indirect power in influencing what gets built in the next waves).
In the moment, it seems almost impossible to ignore seemingly simple requests and logical sounding ideas. This important feedback can even be viewed as an essential component as a customer retention strategy – which is understandably a noble intent. However, if not handled with care and foresight, the long-term consequences of ALWAYS incorporating specific customer requests can be detrimental to the strategic evolution of the product.
Additionally, we often observe requests taking precedent or hyper-customization to support customer-specific requests, where a majority of development time could then be allocated to small optimizations. The totality of which can be difficult to measure the long-term value of, and even constrain the overall production evolution for other customers and future buyers.
When encountering customer request scenarios, our best advice is to “read between the lines” of their ask. Really push to understand why they are asking for a particular feature because it is easy to miss out on identifying a bigger opportunity. For example, if a customer asks for an extract button to export the data – we recommend taking the time to understand how they plan on using the data, where it’s going, and what other workflows it might impact. Your solution might not be to build an extract button, but it might be to import other data to enable the user to make a decision without needing to hop across multiple systems.
In the end, it is still a balancing act and there is some amount of reasonable investment that should be allocated toward customer requests and feedback. However, these should be carefully monitored and the long-term implications should be clear, especially when it adds maintenance costs or unintended customer consequences that might prevent other more important innovative work.
So, listening to key customers is clearly an essential component of the product development process – and the customer curation journey. But, be sure to have an approach to plan and prioritize what requests are critical, without compromising the long-term vision of the product.
An excellent resource to learn more about this topic is Radhika Dutt’s book Radical Product Thinking. It has a chapter offering an approach to features’ prioritization (see detailed insights here), which has a great framework for how to navigate this balancing act.
Myth #2: Being too customer-centric slows down development.
One of the excuses we often hear is that product managers sometimes feel they can’t spend the right amount of time on customer discovery. This can be bred from a perception leadership has that customer discovery will slow down development – and a misperception that lengthy research is a requirement before projects can get “started.”
While this can happen, it is important for product teams to help leadership understand what ‘discovery’ practices they need and how they will help uncover a steady stream of insights (versus a one-time research project mindset). This challenge can be coupled with ongoing pressure from leaders to launch “something” soon and a desire to skip unnecessary customer interactions that will hold back the pace of development. This is precisely why we see so much chatter about measuring outcomes over output in product circles. The unfortunate truth is that we observe more companies who have built the wrong product versus teams who have spent too much time in research mode.
While it’s true that research can be drawn out, it doesn’t have to be this way, especially in the spirit of getting new product development projects kicked off. There are a number of valuable techniques to bring the customer perspectives into daily culture that don’t require lengthy timeframes to procure the needed insights to have a strong and steady customer view.
In myth one above, I shared why “always” listening to customers could sometimes have a detrimental effect on product evolution. But, in this case, the broader theme of customer centricity is a necessary and critical component of any great product team – and is anchored more in an insights-generation approach that adds value (also to leadership) while keeping the development pace steady.
In my next article, I will share two more key myths with you and how to work around these scenarios. I look forward to your thoughts and experiences on this topic!