In Pursuit of Perfection: Scoping the Product

Mat's Business Blog: Collected Thoughts on Business, eCommerce and Digital Marketing

Mat’s Business Blog: Collected Thoughts on Business, eCommerce and Digital Marketing

In reality ‘perfection’ is a very fluid concept that only exists as a idealised concept within the mind of an individual – its definition can change over time and does not usually have shared understanding or agreement within a group. The idea of a ‘perfect’ product then initially exists within the mind of its creator but needs to be translated into something that is as close to being ideal in meeting the needs of the target audience as possible.

So how do we create an ideal product? The answer starts with who is going to use or consume it. A great practical tool to commence the product discovery process is to create a series of “personas” – these are fictional illustrations of end users that represent key members of the actual target audience. The more real you make the character the better. More importantly one of these personas needs to be selected as the “primary persona” – it would not be correct to develop a product that included every feature required to satisfy the needs of every possible end user – the product needs to be focused. More trivial features should not be allowed to detract from a strong concept.

By resolving how users will interact with the product it allows us to scope which features will be critical to the product’s success. Generally within any commercial project there will always be financial, time and other resource constraints – the one factor that can never be compromised is the quality of the final product. Therefore knowledge of these dimensions helps us to establish the “scope” of the product and assemble a feasible log of all of the components and mechanisms that will be required to create the product. Some product items will be essential and on the critical path to launching something which has the potential to bear real utility for its users and provide real commercial value; some of the features are peripheral and may either offer enhancement to the core functionality or satisfy the needs of some of the secondary user groups. If time, budget or resources become available then these peripheral features can also be tackled or if there is a risk of quality becoming compromised due to the project becoming overstretched then some of these less important features can be dropped or possibly revisited in later updates or iterations.

I talked previously about how eCommerce development should be seen as a customer centric process and how customer feedback should inform all stages of development. You should create prototypes, release test versions and candidates – ask the customers whether the product meets their requirements, observe how they interact with the product, prepare to fail fast and fail often, and use what you learn to inform the direction of your efforts and further iterations the product development plan. Click here to read more on this topic: Fail Fast, Fail Often, Fail Cheap.

A great example can be observed by comparing Google search engine to its (dwindling) competitors. Where Google focused on search, Yahoo! and other search engines tried to be portals and offer all sorts of other services such as weather and sports scores on their front pages – useful you might think, and in the right context you’d be right! But Google pinpointed the needs of its primary user group and did not dilute its major product. Several factors contributed towards Google’s success: firstly its engineers were focused on delivering the most vital features and did not spend valuable resources on other more trivial or non-business-critical features that were diversionary to the products main purpose. Secondly, users rightly assumed that because Google focused on its core product it would return better search results and help them better achieve their personal objectives. Google satisfied the needs of the majority of its end users… and if you really needed that weather report you could, after all, just ‘Google’ it!

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Fail Fast, Fail Often, Fail Cheap

Mat's Business Blog: Collected Thoughts on Business, eCommerce and Digital Marketing

Mat’s Business Blog: Collected Thoughts on Business, eCommerce and Digital Marketing

When developing an eCommerce product the tendency for many is to want to get it 95% or even 100% right before showing it to anybody or deploying it to a live environment – but ultimately to ensure the creation of a great product that customer’s love it is essential to fail fast, fail often and fail cheap. It’s worth noting that by ‘failing’ you are actually succeeding in taking full advantage of critical feedback from your end users and accepting that in reality it is impossible to get a product ‘right’ for the customer without first consulting them on how it satisfies or falls short of their requirements. Product development should be an iterative process with feedback at each stage shaping further cycles of product discovery and the direction of ongoing development.

At first the idea of ‘failing’ early and frequently during the product development process seems rather counter-intuitive (surely it’s better to ‘succeed’ for longer), however in truth succeeding for longer is in many instances lack of awareness of the true reality of the situation. Consider what would happen if you spent all of your available time and valuable resources on a product that you believed was right only to find that it didn’t provide the value and utility you thought it would and didn’t meet the true needs of your customer. This would be a costly mistake at best and at worst a fatal error which may mean that further development of the product becomes commercially and financially unfeasible.

Have you ever tuned-in to Dragons Den and watched the would-be entrepreneur pitching an idea that is totally unsuitable for market? This is a classic example of critical failure at a point where it’s often too late to do anything about it – many of these hopeful inventors literally remortgaged their homes to blindly pursue an idea and create a product that only they love. To the outside observer their mistake is obvious: what we want a product to be and what the customer needs a product to be are sometimes very different things entirely – we need to disconnect from our own desires and obsessions, which can be blinding, and plug-in to the world of our end user.

The key to good product development is to release early and frequently, let the customer tell you what your mistakes are and discover how they interact with the product. We can then gather and analyse this feedback and integrate this valuable learning into the ongoing product development plan. In this way we develop a product that is ultimately better matched to the needs of the target audience. The product may still not be ‘perfect’ but if we involve the customer they can help to inform a programme of well-directed continuous development and help us focus our efforts on the issues that are really important to them. Moreover future development of the product is much more likely to make good business sense.

Those who embrace ‘failure’ and are flexible, iterative, agile and open in their approach are the most likely to succeed; as a Brooklyn basketball player put it, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” That basketball player was Michael Jordan.

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