Product Development managers know how critical it is to develop products people want. How do you figure that out without simply guessing? How do you ensure your choice of which product or service to produce wasn't just your opinion? You need customer-driven data. Here are my Top 5 Tips on how to get it right:
Never underestimate the power of the masses to give you the best ideas. By opening up the question to the world, or even just your customer base, you will be amazed at how many great ideas you can generate. You can simply ask your internal customers, like sales and support, or find key constituents who are passionate about the topic. The key is to choose an audience, maybe 10-15 customers, that is varied enough to capture the true market yet narrow enough as not to overwhelm. At Planview, we use the Agile process that enables our target audience to participate throughout the entire lifecycle and see progress every two weeks. The product (or service, project, etc.) can be refined with each iteration, giving us flexibility with inevitable changes.
Refinement. Once you have the ideas, you need a mechanism to narrow down the choices. We incent our target audience to vote on them. Again, the Agile process enables our audience to remain involved in the process beyond ideation. Because we are using the same audience from the ideation phase, we can ensure we are capturing the voice of the market, not just the voices of our executives.
Now that you have a list of plausible ideas, you need a mechanism to align them with your strategy. With clear strategic goals and set criteria, you can score the ideas based on key metrics, such as revenue, market share, new markets, etc. You must decide what's important and then measure the ideas to find the absolute best ones for your company. Make the criteria visible to the company so everyone can understand how each idea was scored.
With your best ideas in hand, it's time to estimate your capacity to develop them. "What if" scenarios allow you to imagine specific situations and how they would affect resources, revenue, time lines, and other criteria. With this data, you can make sound decisions to prioritize ideas based on real information. Many companies still do this process manually in spreadsheets, adding tab after tab with capacity and financials. But if something changes, which it always does, it's ridiculously time-consuming to make those changes to static spreadsheets -- even with pivot tables. An automated process saves countless hours of time and risks for errors.
After you develop and release the product (or service), you need to measure the results. What was the actual versus estimated revenue? How long did the project take? What did it cost to get it on the market? Actuals help you improve the next planning cycle. Comparing actual results is much easier and accurate when it is done with a product development tool rather than spreadsheets and manual reports.
Although your process should remain constant, your plan will constantly change because there are so many dynamic factors in play. The ability to see where you started and track your progress throughout the product development cycle enables you to make adjustments towards best practices.
Creating a process for capturing the voice of the customer is essential to developing the products people want. In fact, we followed this process for our latest software release and incorporated 320 customer-driven enhancements.
I want to hear from you. What are your methods for capturing the voice of your customers? Share your experiences and best practices -- leave a comment below.