By Peter Hanschke
Up until now I’ve talked about getting to your Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and creating your Market Validation Plan. To re-cap, MVP is your product with the minimum set of features and capabilities to satisfy the needs of your early customers. The key is to make sure that the features and capabilities are connected to provide use cases that address the needs of your target market. In other words, your MVP cannot be a disjointed set of features.
The Market Validation Plan is needed to provide a framework to get validation from the various markets you are targeting. Make sure that you include potential customers, analysts and experts related to your target markets and also others who sell non-competing products and services to your target markets. Asking “would you buy this” and “how much would you pay” are essential questions to have answered. (BTW – don’t be shy about asking for an order … you may end up with your first!)
So now what? Hopefully your product is gaining traction in the market. That is, you have users. And hopefully your validation plan is providing some positive and encouraging feedback.
With the addition of users and positive feedback, a new level of product management complexity has been created. Up until now most of the decisions of what to build have come from within. As an entrepreneur, you most likely hold the vision and you and your team are executing on that vision. Prioritization has come rather easily. But now requests to modify and add to your MVP are coming as a result of customer feedback and your market validation activities. The ability to prioritise your team’s efforts has become more difficult.
It’s viable, but how do you sustain it?
So the next step is your Sustainable Viable Product – a product that can grow and morph to satisfy your early customers’ needs and maintain the steady march toward fulfilling your vision. What complicates matters even more is that in most cases funding is tight to the point where not everything can be done. My favourite expression is that if I had 100 more developers I could say yes to everything! But since we don’t have this luxury, we have to make painful choices.
Customer-focused types have a real problem saying “no” to customers. Whether it’s a case of not wanting to hurt their feelings or whether they need to be loved, I don’t know for sure. But with limited funds, you have to occasionally say “no.” I want to clarify that bugs found by customers that hamper their ability to effectively use the product need to be fixed according to severity – high priority bugs that result in data loss or crashed applications need to be fixed ASAP. Moving a text box two pixels to the right can wait. High priority bugs will take up scarce resources, but it must be done.
What I’m talking about is the additional features and capabilities that your MVP does not support, but that your customers (and your validation feedback) are requesting, as well as all of the items you need to move your product towards your vision.
Market share vs. customer satisfaction
Score all of your requests (internal and external) against two criteria:
- Market Advancement – how well does the request build out my MVP to be able to reach more within my target markets? A “0” score would mean not at all and a “5” would mean a home run. In other words, the request is essential to capturing more of your target markets.
- Customer Satisfaction – how well does the request satisfy my current customers? A “0” score would mean none or hardly any would be satisfied and a “5” would mean that all of your customers would be satisfied. This criterion has two interesting dimensions. First, you can view this as the number of customers who have made a specific request. Second, you can view this as a scale of satisfaction, where a “5” would mean that the customers who have requested this would be absolutely delighted. My preference, especially at this point in the development, is to opt for the first choice.
Next, weight the criteria. For example, you may weight them evenly at 50-50 or give a slight edge to Market Advancement, say, 60-40. What in fact you are really doing is deciding what is more important between the two. This weighting can be changed to reflect your company’s current circumstance. But I caution against changing this on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis. I would suggest evaluating the weighting either quarterly or after some significant milestone (e.g. my 10,000th customer).
By combining the scores and the weightings you end up with your priority list of requests. What’s interesting is that the requests that satisfy both criteria will filter to the top – which makes sense.
From a process perspective, as you receive requests from your external sources and as you think of items to advance your product (i.e. your internal sources), score them immediately. A spreadsheet can automatically keep your list in priority order. Use this list to feed the agile development machine so that your development team is always working on the most important items.
To summarize, in order to sustain the development of your product in a well-focused direction you need to evaluate requests from your customers, your validation feedback and your internal vision-driven perspective. The combination of the scores and the weightings of market advancement and customer satisfaction will keep your product on the road to executing on your vision and keep your customers delighted.
This post is by Associate Peter Hanschke, an Ottawa-based product management specialist. Peter’s post is part of our continuing series about the ecosystem necessary to bring technology to market. We welcome your comments.
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