šŸ‘‹ Hi, Iā€™m James. Thanks for checking out Building Momentum: a newsletter to help startup founders and marketers accelerate SaaS growth through product marketing.

Watch this TikTok: how much effort are you wasting internally based on seemingly smart — but unvalidated — internal ideas?

Over the last few years, thanks to the efforts of John Cutler, Theresa Torres and others, tech companies have embraced a new product management paradigm of opportunities, bets, iteration, and slices.

The intention behind this new world is to move away from big bang releases and instead ship value across the whole chain in iterative chunks. This requires continuous customer development, using the opportunity tree framework, building job-to-be-done maps, and generally being more receptive to a more fluid, less structured flow from insights to development to feedback.

Moving from internal to external opportunity generation

The goal is to move away from inward-facing insights and instead move to better understand and build for your customers. This means less off-the-cuff ideas, no more chasing competitor features just for “parity”, and the end of the HiPPO approach to product management.

And when it’s done well, teams should see increases in adoption, satisfaction, revenue, and speedier time-to-market.

Continuous customer development is one of the most exciting but underutilised tools in the product manager/product marketing/UX research toolkit.

Continually listening to the market and building a better understanding of customer needs can only be a good thing. From here, prioritizing those opportunities on their potential impact against the size of the “bet” and building only the minimum to increase confidence should mean we build resilient insight to feedback workflows.

The problem is that it’s so easy for us to justify building new features based purely on internal ideas, sizing them as small bets and foregoing customer validation because of overconfidence in our internal worldview.

Like in the TikTok above, we put the whole business value chain into motion. This doesn’t just waste time and money, but it’s distracting. Not only are there missed opportunity costs (from either building the thing right, or building the right thing instead), but it breaks down trust across teams. And as regular readers will know, confidence is a crucial part of the momentum equation.

Building an insight-driven product process

So how do we overcome the strong (and in some cases, overbearing) pull to build based on internal gut instincts?

Let’s use the “momentum equation” (Focus + Confidence = Momentum).

Focusing on customers and their jobs to be done

We need to build focus in the customers and opportunities we prioritize. This means having a really deep understanding of who our customers are, their jobs/pains/gains/triggers, and the common jobs they look to solve.

In practice, this means a consistent and structured approach to customer development. It’s not enough to do a positioning process with interviews, and then forget about researching the market ever again. You need to supplement projects with ongoing customer research. This might be a regular cadence of market research interviews for broad insights, as well as win/loss interviews for more tactical feedback.

We also need to use positioning as strategy, by detailing the value our customers desire and directing product efforts to better deliver those values.

I always recommend building a jobs-to-be-done map of your customers core jobs, allowing you to understand your product in context of your customers goal. You can also use JTBD maps to identify opportunities, by measuring satisfaction versus importance at every step.

Finally, opportunity trees are still relatively rare in practice, although the theory is solid. By focusing on the outcome and working backwards to identify different potential solutions (whether through product, service, or other methods), we can identify more innovative, out-of-the-box ideas with greater impact at lower cost.

Validate opportunities before (and during) development

Determining how much confidence your teams need before building something can be tricky.

But you know what’s easier to gauge? The inverse: how much work they would feel comfortable throwing away if a feature wasn’t working out.

Part of the new paradigm is to think of product development less as features, and more as bets. How much risk are you willing to take?

Luckily, we’re not making bets on a random roulette spin. We have the luxury of other confidence-building tools at our disposal: time, research, and iteration.

We can choose to spend more time considering a bet to gain all the required information – or we can move fast.

We could invest a lot of research effort to perfect the designs and ensure it met customer needs – or we could operate on low-fidelity signals to get things moving.

And we could build the full, end-to-end workflow – or just the first part to test demand before building the rest of it.

In practice, there are tons of ways that we can build confidence in the opportunities we build, from validating wireframes with friendly customers to operating a “wizard-of-oz” feature, and more.

The bigger challenge is to create a product and engineering team culture where iteration, delivering slices of value, and comfort making bets is accepted and lived.

Move at the same speed as your customers

One of the issues I’ve experienced is that it’s really easy for companies to think their customers are just as advanced as your team are, and therefore need all the bells and whistles you can dream of.

But your customers aren’t experts. They have a million other things going on that aren’t even vaguely related to your product or problem space. We can’t expect them to be as knowledgeable, foward-thinking, and visionary as your CEO, product team, or technologists.

The danger is that you move faster than your customers, and that alienates them. They lose confidence, and jump ship – while you’re left with a dodgy mix of simple and advanced product features.

But by using some of the ideas above, you’ll always be on the same page as your best customers, moving at the same speed. Great ideas will be validated quickly, while riskier bets will take longer to iterate from bad to great. You’ll ship product faster, customers will be happier, and you’ll have a solid foundation for aligning the rest of the business on what you’re building, and why.

Thanks for reading! Let me know what you thought – find me on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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2 Replies to “Focus and confidence in product”

  1. […] there, understand who your customers are, and what they really need. Come up with clever ideas, but validate them with your market first. Don’t position your product based on assumptions – test as much as you […]

  2. […] Continuous customer discovery is a superpower, whether you’re using research to build positioning or to validating product direction. […]

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