5 Ways To Make Your Product Development Process More Inclusive

In the early part of 2017, I had the opportunity to teach aspiring product managers at General Assembly. While we were on the user personas part of the curriculum, I got an interesting question from one of my students;

”It’s theoretical, but there’s something disquieting about creating these personas based on distilling, and how it could really leave a company never creating consumer products that are designed for a broader swath of person than white, single woman with disposable income. Is there a philosophy on how to best make sure that more people are represented?”

The product development process can sometimes become a silo and miss out on opportunities for other groups of users, potential features, and revenue. Based on my experience, here are 5 ways to ensure you’re building products and practices that help capture larger groups than the standard user persona allows.

  1. Focus on what needs to be done rather than who is doing it. The jobs to be done theory is the process a consumer goes through whenever they evolve themselves through searching for, buying, and using a product. It begins when the customer becomes aware of the possibility to evolve. It continues as along as the desired progress is sought. It ends when the consumer realizes new capabilities and behaves differently, or abandons the idea of evolving. (Learn more here) The jobs to be done framework moves beyond who the user is and focuses more on the future state of the user. While demographics and other user information is important, product teams should focus on collecting the appropriate information to build that bridge from current state to future state.
  2. Have a methodology you can look back to and evaluate. Companies should keep a metric/ or a process reserved for how effective they are at capturing fringe segments, feature requests, and/or products use cases. While it may initially seem like an extra chore for an already busy product team, it helps ensure that the team is accountable to dissenting features, products, and ideas. For example, a client I worked with back in the day had a 10% rule… The 10% rule stated 10% of their feature idea had to be fringe use cases. It helped the dev, product and marketing team think about particular types of users who may not be in the initial user segment.
  3. Employ for Diversity. Inclusive product teams (of experience, culture, background, gender, race, etc) is one the most important things you can do to insure you’re bringing inclusive products to market. The internal team asks the first set of questions, plans the go to market approach, and prioritizes which features get developed.
  4. Build diversity into the product feedback process. I’ve worked with a lot of companies who’ve outsourced ui/ux feedback to third party companies in the hopes of lightening the internal load. Feedback, especially early in the product development process, is best managed by your internal team. It also gives the product team a chance to focus on bringing a diverse group of users to the table for feedback.
  5. Don’t be afraid of the niche. Companies, especially in the early days, are afraid of building a niche product/feature. Building a niche product and getting market leadership is sometimes more important than getting mass market acceptance (also depends on company and industry). Sometimes being laser focused on a specific type of customer builds the bridge you need to the mass market and/or other niches.