Hey Product Manager: Do You Know Why You Are Building That Feature?
May 18, 2020

Hey Product Manager: Do You Know Why You Are Building That Feature?

by Brian de Haaff

People love sharing their opinions. Customers and teammates are usually willing to tell you what they think you should do with your product if you ask. This is a good problem to have. The hard part is deciding which of those ideas will have the biggest impact.

Ideas are plentiful — great product managers know exactly how to determine which ones customers really love.

You make decisions every day that impact not just your product, but also the company as a whole. This is true always. But when we have global events that turn us upside down, decisions can seem more fraught and weighty. Now more than ever, product managers have a real responsibility to innovate and act with courage.

There are always plenty of obstacles though — even for the boldest among us. Competing viewpoints can distract you from making objective decisions. The loudest voices in the room can sway you, here comes the sales teams clamoring to close a deal, and look over there! Shiny object syndrome is real.

This is why you need a clear process for reviewing ideas and backlog items. From weekly product team meetings to planning releases, you have an opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of your customers every day. You just need to create space to identify those truly exceptional opportunities.

Putting strategy at the center of your prioritization process can help you see more clearly when things seem cloudy.

So what exactly does this process look like? It is intentional and repeatable. It involves a careful calculation of important factors like costs and market opportunities. And it requires deep customer empathy. Here is how to choose wisely when deciding what to build next:

Think broadly
You know what you want to accomplish. Your product goals are top of mind (or at least they should be). But you can think bigger. There are broader business goals that your product also needs to support. Understanding the relationship between your goals for your product and the goals for your company will help you decide what work will be most impactful.

Observe the market
Are there real customer needs that are not being addressed by competitors? How many potential users are impacted by these unsolved pain points and what are their characteristics? Try out competitor tools for yourself (if possible) and look for ways your product can differentiate. Monitor how your competitors position themselves in relation to new market opportunities.

Empathize with customers
You might not actually be able to use the product you are building. But you can create personas to get into the mindset of your customers. It is important to engage with your users directly too. Since you cannot speak with each one individually, give all customers a voice with idea management software that allows them to submit or vote on product ideas.

Evaluate objectively
Set metrics ahead of time that you will use to objectively rate and prioritize work against your strategy. This helps you stay focused on what matters most — particularly when faced with those competing viewpoints and you have to say no. Objective evaluation points help others understand why something is not going to be pursued, without added emotion.

Calculate the costs
Financial investment is an important factor, but you should take into account other costs such as resources and effort. Then, weigh those costs against the potential return on that investment. Depending on the scope of what you are considering, a business case that summarizes your ROI calculations as well as the factors discussed above can help you when presenting to company leaders.

Breakthrough products are the result of decisions based on strategy, market opportunities, and customer feedback.

Your strategy and deep understanding of customers should tell you what to build. Product managers are fortunate to create the future. You have the privilege of building. And there is pride that comes from creating something that provides real value to real people. Every decision you make brings you one step closer to generating even more customer love.

What factors do you think are most important when making product decisions?

Focus on building products that matter. Start your Aha! trial — free for 30 days.

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 roadmap software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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