Projects share a common set of issues
All of the development programs and products I’ve managed share a pool of issues that had to be addressed during the life of the product. I have selected 5 topics to discuss over the next 2 weeks. This week I am focusing on the customer and how to improve products and processes by utilizing their expertise.
1. Who are my customers? What do I know about them?
Our customers are the source of our success. They purchase our products. They support us as we develop new ones. They are the ones who stake their business on our product or service because they think it is profitable for them. It is our job to provide them with the products that will serve them better than the many alternatives they have to choose from.
The only way I’ve found to repeatedly launch successful products is to get to know my customers and then talk to them frequently. Your sales team will tell you who are the influencers and industry leaders in your customer pool. These customers should become the core of your own board of directors or “Customer Advisory Board”. While you will want to frequently talk to a cross-section of your customer base, this advisory board will become the key sounding board for new ideas and will probably become a source of new ideas.
It takes time to cultivate this deep level of mutual trust and respect and it is never too late, or early, to start. Reach out to your key salesmen today and ask them who their best customers and prospects are for your product.
2. How do I know if I am creating the right product?
This question keeps many of us concerned and therefore searching for the next “right” product. It is true that you cannot create a perfect product but you can let the search for the perfect product delay your launch until your product becomes obsolete before it is released to the market.
I think of the search for the “right” product like investigating a crime. There are clues everywhere, and it is my job to put them together in the right order to give a complete picture of the “crime” so we can catch the culprit.
Start with gathering clues (information) in these categories:
- your advisory board and key salesmen can help you understand the market’s big picture
- in-depth study of the competition can give you insight into their corporate or portfolio strategy
- information on sales growth or decline of the competitors’ products can let you know if the market is accepting these products
- use cases from the actual end-user of products like yours
Take these data you collected and map it into a form that can give you insight. The form will differ by individual. I prefer to sketch a mindmap on a legal pad and spend a couple of days rolling it around in my mind. I then convert it to an electronic mindmap (Freemind or Xmind) for sharing with colleagues. Once we are done analyzing it, the resulting concept is converted to a text document for a formal business review.
Next week I will present 3 topics dealing with delivering project on-time and what to do when sales of you current product begin their inevitable decline.