by Founding Partners Susan Loconto Penta and Michael Goldberger,
the MIDIOR team is focused on the discipline of product
development and management, helping clients seize new opportunities and
respond to changing markets.
Changing the way you think about products
HIT THE MARK FOR REQUIREMENTS
Part Two: Get Into Your Customers World
so many of the questions we get from clients relate to the challenge of
defining requirements, this year's series of MIDIOR Mailbox newsletters
is focused on this very important topic. Over the course of the year,
we are addressing the following core question:
can we get better at defining requirements so that our products and
services consistently delight our customers? We often get stuck on
debating features that, in the long run, don't make a material
difference to the product's success.
suggest that the overall success rate for new products and services is
well below 50%. Since we know that getting the requirements right
improves your product or service success rate, it also makes a ton of
difference in the return on your investment. This year, we are
offering a step-by-step approach that is actionable for both products
and services and are sharing some key tips from our former lives as
product managers and developers as well as lessons learned from our
day-to-day work with clients.
Our last issue focused on the importance of starting with CONTEXT in order to establish the "whys" of the product or service initiative in play.
MIDIOR's Answer, Part Two
After CONTEXT, the next most important thing is to UNDERSTAND YOUR CUSTOMER'S WORLD.
Sometimes this is called "eliciting requirements." While there are many
useful methods that have been put forward as best practice, from Voice
of the Customer (VOC), to focus groups, from surveys to software, none,
on their own, can be counted on to complete the job.
think about requirements elicitation in a manner that aligns closely
with the basis for Agile development methodologies, valuing
conversations and communications over tools and processes and accounting
for iteration in each step along the way. In fact, this approach can
also be found in the construction industry whose underlying premise is
that it is impossible to "elicit your customer's needs" in a single step
or without actually showing them something that they can react
to. Rather, it is a conversation and an iterative process filled
with dialogue, visuals and models and lots and lots of questions.
If you are building a house, you would expect lots of questions from the
architect about its intended uses and what your family looks
like. You would be shown pictures and drawings that are refined
and tuned until you can picture yourself standing in the kitchen or
walking through the halls. You would NOT provide your requirements
through a survey or a single conversation and expect to come back in a
year ready to move in to your dream home. Rather, you would expect
to walk around the structure as it is being built, so that adjustments
can made and design flaws resolved along the way. Keep in mind that
customers may not be able to describe for you what they want and it
helps to show them something to react to. If Henry Ford had asked
his prospective customers what they wanted him to build next, they would
have likely said a better horse! Eliciting the true VOC is hard
and few people have the patience and aptitude to do it well. With
these considerations, here is our recipe for engaging in a meaningful
dialogue that will help you understand your customer's world.
Never assume that you know anything
and park your belief system at the door. The key here is
curiosity. Consider this a path of discovery - a learning
exercise, not a formula. We like to think of ourselves as investigative
journalists who are given a piece of information and then we go chase
down the evidence. Start by getting comfortable with knowing that you
don't know what you don't know yet and accept that you will never know
everything. This is the moment to stop thinking about "product" or
"service" and to instead think about the customer's problem. By taking a
random walk in the park with the customer through dialogue you should
get a close enough look at the problem to validate the answer.
Watch your customer:
Watch the buyer and the user of your product or service. A common
approach is to start by following a customer around for a "day in the
life study" and document the process. This is a good first step but
remember that on its own is not sufficient. You will certainly come to
understand the customer's to-do list and their habits, which is a very
important input but you will not know what they are thinking.
Talk to your customer:
Start a conversation. It's a good practice to put a stake in the ground
with a visual or a shell of a hypothesis and go from there. But first
you will have to select a set of people to converse with. Typically we
do this by creating a visual map of the customer's food chain to define
the various constituencies (their customers, partners, competitors,
vendors and employees). Then we have at least one, and preferably more,
conversations that provide a data point for each one. We look at who
touches the customer in the distribution or sales of the product as well
as in support and development of the product. Building your knowledge
about the customer happens when you engage in a dialogue that gives you
insight into their business process. That's why structured surveys can't
help you on their own; they don't give you the opportunity to ask the
next question nor do they allow you to anticipate what that question
should be before you ask it. We have found that there is simply no
substitute for the in-depth discussion (aka interview) and asking the
right questions. Let the dialogue move along without too much structure
and listen, listen, listen. We prefer discussion guides over a long list
of questions, transcripts over a list of answers.
Ask enough questions
to walk in your customers' shoes and look through their eyes. At this
stage there are no "should's," just what is. Sometimes it's tempting to
latch onto the first piece of evidence and form a conclusion when there
is still much to know. Accomplished investigators have the
confidence to take their time and know that asking all of the questions
will uncover the real truth. Don't limit your questions to the perceived
problem but ask what they do during the day; what's hard, what's easy,
where are the challenges? Sometimes customers have something they wish
they could do but have already accepted that this is not possible.
If you uncover the need and it's a significant one you have hit the
sweet spot of requirements. Very often, it does not look like what
you expected going in.
Recognize that it's harder for the winners:
Once a company or product is successful, we find there is a tendency to
file beliefs in a particular box and never return to untie the wrapping
around the box to see what's really inside. Understanding your
customer's point of view is not a task to be checked off along the path
of new product development. Sometimes, early product success correlates
with a growing distance from the customer. As the installed base grows,
direct customer interactions for open-minded inquiry occur less
frequently and it's easy to focus on other priorities. Keep in mind that
it's an ongoing discovery process. And the same wide-eyed curiosity
must apply even when you think you know your customers well. Their world
is always changing and there is no steady state.
you have a picture of your customer's world, all you have to do is
solve a set of problems in a way that the customer values and finds easy
to consume and buy. Sound easy? In the next issue we'll
look into how to use the customer insights you have gathered in a
meaningful way to define product requirements.
For more information about defining product requirements, contact MIDIOR.
|A New MIDIOR Workshop|
your product initiative to this one-day requirements workshop and build
your team's knowledge and skills to generate accurate requirements, the
first time and every time...get agenda.|
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|What does Johnny Carson have to do with product development? It turns out, he's still an innovator. Find out why...|
|In the Next Issue|
you think you have the customer's point of view? We'll cover what else
is important, how to use the data and translate what you know into
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