A New Way For Product Managers To Discover Breakthrough Product Features

by drjim on December 5, 2008

Product Managers Need To Know Where To Dig To Discover Breakthrough Features

Product Managers Need To Know Where To Dig To Discover Breakthrough Features

As a product manager, you are ultimately responsible for your product’s features. If you’ve guessed well, then you should have a successful product. If you’ve guessed badly, then you may be sitting on a stinker of a product right now. No matter which situation you find yourself in, you are facing one of the greatest challenges that a product manager ever faces – what next?

So just how do we go about picking features to work into the next version(s) of our product? Pick correctly and your career could take off like a rocket. Pick poorly, and your career won’t even get off the launch pad. Dang, why are there no classes for doing this type of thing?

I can only speak from my experience, but I generally kept a “pool” of features (“list” if you must) and when it came time to start to plan out the next version of the product, we would revisit the list and re-prioritize what was on it. Important customer complaints, features that competing products already had, things that the development team wanted to add, and features that were not too expensive to add all sorta got jumbled together and that’s what made it into the next release. Not the best process.

Some companies do extensive interviews with their customers in order to determine what they would like to see added to the product. I’ve participated in more focus groups than I care to remember and I fully admit that it takes a very special type of person to run such a meeting – this is not my calling in life. However, even with this scientific approach, all too often companies really don’t end up getting any good product direction from their customers – they are still guessing what features to add to their products.

Lance Bettencourt and Tony Ulwick have spent a lot of time thinking about this problem and they’ve come up with a different approach to uncovering breakthrough product features that they call “job mapping”. Job Mapping breaks down a customer’s task into a series of steps that together make up the entire process. By looking at the process that a customer goes though from start to finish, a company can discover all of the points at which a customer would be interested in having the product or service provide them with additional help.

Additionally, once you have a job map for your product, you can also identify where the biggest hangups and drawbacks to using your product is for your customers. Sometimes the best new feature is not something that your product does, but rather something that it no longer does!

Job mapping requires you to look at your product differently than you do today. As product managers we generally like to think about our products as being “tools” that our customers buy and use to solve problems and become more successful. Throw that thinking out the window.

Instead, you need to start to think about your product / service as something that your customer “hires” to get something done. Yeah, yeah, I realize that you’d like to think that your customer has a closer relationship with your baby than that, but they probably don’t.

One key advantage that job mapping brings to the table is that by mapping the entire customer process, you will also be able to identify the metrics that your customers use to measure their own success as they complete each task in the process.

For all of you engineers out there, take off your engineering hat right now. Something that everyone needs to clearly understand is that job mapping IS NOT the same thing as process mapping. The ultimate goal of creating a job map is to determine what your customers are TRYING to accomplish at each and every step of their process. This differs from process mapping that merely documents WHAT they are doing at every step of the process.

Lance & Tony believe that by taking the time to map out each and every step of your customer’s job, a product manager can find breakthrough product features that will allow your products to become even more successful.

Hopefully I’ve got your attention by now. If so, then you’ll want to stay tuned for my next posting in which we’ll dive into just what a customer job is and how we can start building a job map…

How do you determine what features will go into the next version of your product? Who drives this process – your customers or internal forces? How has it been working out – are your customers happy with what features they have been getting? Leave me a comment and let me know what you are thinking.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Gopal Shenoy February 17, 2009 at 7:44 am

Excellent post. You have now given me a different perspective on how to approach this. I had used this technique in the past kind of ad hoc, but this post has given me a better sense of how to approach it.

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Dr. Jim Anderson February 18, 2009 at 9:26 am

Gopal: fantastic! New features are the lifeblood of any product so the better you get at finding them, the better your product will be…

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Magnus Billgren August 13, 2009 at 1:39 am

Hi,

I have over the years worked with a similar attitude but different toolset.

I keep asking myself and the sales to find out what makes the customer to change their behaviour? In doing so I can start identifying the driving forces for change. From this I have been having customer discussions and internal workshops over what can be done to support the driving forces. We decide which driving forces that are primary and secondary. Then we add a “filter” to the original list and all the ideas that have been generated. Features are scored in relation to the driving forces.

The beauty is that the driving forces then become the mantra of the development and it is easily connected to the marketing and sales process.

I like the job mapping in finding new ideas but the evaluation process is often the main issue.

Magnus Billgren, CEO Beautiful Product Management

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Dr. Jim Anderson August 17, 2009 at 2:26 pm

Magnus: great idea! In the end, both methods are doing the same thing: listening to what the customer is telling us. This is an easy thing to say, but it’s actually quite hard to do. Your approach looks like it provides a very clear way to cut through all of the different messages that we get from customers, sales people, trade magazines, etc. and really get to the core of what the customer’s real needs are. Keep up the good work!

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