Maybe You Should Rethink That "Game-Changing" New AI Feature
What makes building something new so exhilarating? Ask a group of product managers this and you will hear a variety of answers: identifying exactly what problems people have, moving fast to define solutions, and then collaborating to bring all that new goodness to market. There is not one action that brings the excitement, but rather a common thread woven throughout — potential for impact.
Product development revolves around solving problems and delivering real value. You are creating something new that helps people and drives business growth.
Product development is also really hard. Especially in today's climate of belt-tightening, product managers are facing greater pressure to prove your worth and make sound investments with the resources you already have. Yet many tech companies and agile teams still revere newness — new trends, new technology, and shipping more new features.
No one wants to miss an opportunity to serve customers. And under pressure, it is all too easy to chase the next new thing as the answer. Lots of folks refer to this phenomenon as "shiny object syndrome" (SOS). It happens when product builders and company leaders are distracted by exciting new ideas. Current events and industry trends dictate what you build next, even if it is not aligned with your strategy and goals.
The risks of prioritizing shiny new ideas without deep thought about the broader impact are real — feature bloat, complex user experiences, and wasted resources to name a few.
Besides, what one person finds new and exciting may not align with what your customers or the business really need. This is why the best product builders take a goal-first approach when evaluating ideas. You align each potential feature to company and product strategy, prioritize product-market fit, consider the repercussions of development, and iterate so that you can deliver more value over time.
This does not mean that the hottest new technology or trend does not have a place in your product. It just means that you apply extra skepticism and rigor when evaluating ideas and building new functionality. Our own product team recently faced this challenge when deciding whether or not to add a built-in AI writing assistant to Aha! software. (Spoiler alert: We did for what we think are customer-driven reasons.) Here is how our team confronted SOS head on:
The world has been buzzing over ChatGPT since December 2022. It seemed like every company was talking about rolling out AI in some capacity. But is it necessary for product development software? Product managers spend a lot of time writing and documenting. Anything that could expedite this work could be a true benefit to Aha! software users. We validated this assumption by doing further research on use cases that leveraged what AI writing tools are best at — sparking creativity, summarizing content, and proofreading. Through this lens, it seemed like AI could make it easier to generate positioning briefs, product descriptions, customer interview questions, and more.
To better understand your customers' needs, think about how they currently use your product and where there are opportunities to optimize their experience. You can refer to a user journey map to see potential use cases for your latest idea — grounded by the reality of what your customers actually do with your product.
Our team felt confident about the potential value of an AI writing assistant. But we needed to vet the opportunity against relevant business and team metrics — alignment to company goals, number of customers who would benefit, potential lovability, and cost to develop. We used a product value scorecard to weigh all of these inputs and decided to proceed. Assigning a rough score to the feature early on allowed us to be more objective about the decision — orienting the team around the long-term value we can deliver rather than initial hype.
Encourage your team to score early and often. Question your assumptions about the feature and use what you learn throughout the development process to refine your score. Decide which metrics you will track, and create space in your team meetings to reevaluate and adjust the score when necessary.
Our engineering team was able to quickly roll out an AI writing assistant. But we wanted to gather initial feedback to fine-tune the use cases and identify any gaps in our offering. At Aha! we are fortunate that our entire team uses our software every day — so it was easy to let them preview the feature in a meaningful way. The team's feedback and observations validated the need and also exposed some additional use cases we had not initially considered. After refining the functionality based on what we heard, we felt confident that our customers would benefit too.
If you are not able to actively use the product you build, try to be creative about how you collect people's thoughts. For example, you can give demos to select groups of users or release a beta version of the feature, then think about how you can incorporate common feedback into the final product.
Since making the AI writing assistant available to all customers in April, our team has closely followed performance metrics like product usage and lovability. Collecting and reviewing customer feedback — both positive and negative — help us further refine the functionality. It also allows us to identify the next opportunity to deliver more value around additional AI-powered features in Aha! software.
Launching a new product or feature is not the conclusion of your product development work. Dedicate regular time in product team meetings to discuss customer feedback together. For example, each team member can take ownership of a particular performance metric — tracking it over time and sharing ideas for improvement.
As a product builder, sometimes the boldest move is choosing not to pursue the next big thing.
Now, in our case we ended up moving forward with the AI writing assistant. But there are plenty of features to which our team ends up saying "no" or "not right now." Applying a critical lens in a consistent way allows you to weigh the opportunity costs and determine the best path forward for your company.
Before investing valuable team time and resources into building a feature, pause to reflect on company goals and customer needs. Resist groupthink and stand firm in the face of external pressures and distractions. It takes strength to do this. But doing so will allow you to focus on investing in the features that will deliver real value and make the greatest impact.
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