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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Earlier today, Dropbox announced on their blog (here) they would retire Carousel and Mailbox, two products part of the Dropbox family. Dropbox acquired Mailbox for $100 million and made several acquisitions to improve the Carousel product.
From a user perspective, I understand the anger that comes from people who used either of the products. Mailbox, an IOS only email client, had a huge user base before the acquisition. Carousel was a great way to manage photos already stored on Dropbox and uploaded pictures from my phone gallery. The essence of Mailbox and Carousel will live on in new products Dropbox develops.
The product/ strategy guy in me knows Dropbox is shifting away from mass consumer products to more enterprise collaboration tools. Products like the newly minted Paper are the future of Dropbox’s enterprise strategy. It will allow them to compete with the likes of Google, Microsoft, Box and other enterprise companies.
Products phased out in large companies never really die. They often live on as core features within new projects. Product teams diffuse onto other projects and bring their experiences. Distressed users go on product hunt to find replacement products that solve their particular pain point. All products do make it to heaven. Its just a matter of how they get there.
Over the weekend, I randomly stumbled upon (Didn’t find it using StumbleUpon, but someone should make a StumbleUpon for mobile apps) Agile Tasks, a light-weight project manager app that makes it easy to manage your day-to-day projects and to-do lists. I got really excited when I found Agile Tasks because it takes a stab at the challenge of making a universal task app that everyone will appreciate while still understanding that people have unique flows when it comes to managing tasks. As a product manager, I can appreciate the agile process and how it applies to getting tasks done. The interface and the flow of Agile Tasks makes sense to me and makes it way easier for me to apply to my daily routine.
Agile Tasks separates tasks into specific projects, tasks that are in the queue, in the process of doing, and done. It’s a pretty simple set up. Agile Tasks also includes the ability to record voice tasks and time sensitivity/ reminders.
So far, its been a pretty smooth transition from my other task manager. (I used Zoho Task Manager because it connected to my email and project platform) While there’s no special integrations for Agile Tasks, I still find its use worthwhile. I’d love to see a desk top version. The more I think about it, Agile Tasks reminds me of a simplified Pivotal Tracker. Pivotal Tracker has been my primary project manager for my dev teams so that is probably why I find it so easy to use Agile Tasks.
I’ll keep on playing around with Agile Tasks and I’ll report back in more detail my experiences.
I’m in the process of pushing out version 2.0 for TrendPo Insights, a new product to the TrendPo family. While developing the potential list of features for V.2, the Henry Ford quote (above) kept popping up in my head….. I’m not sure whether he really said those exact words but, I digress. We often hear from many product managers, sales teams and executives that customers don’t really know what they want and its a company’s job to figure it out and let the market decide (validation).
Validation brings us to Steve’s quote here. Let figure out what we think the consumer wants and build it. Once they see it, they’ll know that exactly what they’ve wanted. Sounds like a good strategy if you’ve got Apple’s resources at your disposal. (Depending on what you’re building, there are cheap ways to validate like paper prototyping.)
It comes down to a company’s ability to speak the same language as the customer. This can be done multiple ways….I’m just highlighting two:
- Education- Give the customer the functional language to describe pain points (content marketing and thought leadership do a great job when done well.)
- Moccasins your customers– Walk a mile in your customers’ moccasins. It provides the experience and the understanding to empathize and comprehend customer needs.
A majority of the battle is understanding your customers. Once you’re speaking the same language as your customer, it opens the door to great better solutions for your market.
The older I get, the more I realize that life is extremely complicated. We decide how complicated we want our lives to be. For me, I’ve decided to simplify over the years.
Following the very similar design philosophy I use to build products, I’ve decided to simplify all parts of my life. Everything is going down to the “minimal viable product” necessary to work.
The best example I can use here is my phone. We’ve all been duped into thinking we need an app for everything. Based on a Nielsen study from 2012, the average US phone has 41 apps downloaded . That’s a lot of apps! I had over 60 apps downloaded on my phone. I’ve got it down to 15 and looking for more to cut.
When you simplify, you focus on what’s truly important. I hope to replicate my app deletion frenzy in other areas of my life….like my shoes. (Yes, I have a shoe problem)
From Google tweaking its search algorithm or Netflix delivering to you the most relevant movies for your viewing pleasure, recommendations have become a core feature of technology companies today. Most welcome the opportunity to be pushed content they might be interested in based on their previous actions. News sites have recommended readings based on the article that’s currently being read. It provides convenience to the user and saves them time that would be spent looking for the same content manually.
Yes, there are benefits to a recommendation engine but when does recommendation become a problem? For example, Netflix has all my viewing habits for my life time as a subscriber. What if I want to develop new habits so I can gain access to new movies? Well yes, there’s the search function but outside of that, how do get access to those movies at the same ease that a traditional recommendation engine would present? Another example…..all my peers are talking about a topic on twitter and it becomes trending. How do I find the next idea or piece of content that might be trending?
Ultimately, the most undeserved experience for users today is the concept of discovery. Relevance breeds conformity and similar results. Discovery ties into a human experience that connects on a very deep level. Imagine how you felt when discovered a song you’ve never heard and loved it. What about finding a restaurant that has great food? Giving users the opportunity to explore and discover just like they do in the physical world is central to a balanced user experience.