Friday, December 12, 2008

Customer loyalty vs product features....

My good friend Bill Self, in his blog has a great article on the difference between product focus and customer focus. I recently had a brainstorming session with my long-time customer Knowledge Athletes. We were trying to look further out than the next funding round so we could prioritize scope and determine what things to concentrate on after completing the scope we'd already committed to. We also wanted to be sure we weren't looking at the trees and forgetting about the forest.

We started with an hour or so on mission statement. KA has a GREAT mission statement to start with, but it's useful to periodically review your mission statement to be sure that as you develop new ideas your mission doesn't change. By publicly declaring the mission statement we also gave ourselves a measurement to determine if each presented idea fit within that statement. This stayed on a whiteboard during the entire session.

Our next step was a brainstorming session to get down ideas for the product. Ideas were contributed by the business folks, educational leader, programmers, advertising, customers, sales and marketing. The rules were as follows:

  • There are no bad ideas - we're putting them ALL up there, and we'll judge them later.
  • We're not evaluating ideas - no judgements on how hard they are to implement, whether they complicate or simplify the user interface, or whether they add value or not. Just get the idea on paper (or in this case spreadsheet). We'll evaluate later.
  • View the feature from the customer's point of view - at this stage, since we're looking at features (rather than infrastructure) we're suggesting features only from the point of view of the customer. "If I were a customer I'd love it if the product can do X (and define X)." This is the part that relates to Bill's article.
  • Don't dig too deep - while we're capturing input on the ideas, don't start speccing the whole idea out - we just need to get the gist of the idea to prioritize and evaluate it. We can dive into the nitty-gritty of what the feature does and how it does it later. This requires a moderator to call "time out" if the topic strays.
  • Use end-user input data - During the brainstorming phase we extensively used the vast amount of research data KA collected during our initial proof-of-concept phases. What did users stumble over? What did they have a hard time learning (IE not intuitive)? Where did the product complexity not solve their problem or issue? What suggestions did THEY have for improvements

After we concluded our brainstorming session we had over 70 new features to evaluate. Note I didn't say add - we still needed to look at what is more important, what is easy or hard to do, and whether the addition of a feature adds or removes user complexity and capability. Obviously the budget doesn't support all these new features so we also have to prioritize them. I'll address how we went about that process in my next post. In the meantime be sure to check out - it's an awesome blog.