Monday, July 26, 2010

Provide the Shortest Path

Trying new things - especially new software products - can be both intimidating and time consuming.

You face a challenge when introducing a product in the marketplace. The forces of nature are working against you, since almost everyone but "early adopters" resists trying new products.

A major reason people resist trying new products is the learning curve. People simply don't have the time or patience to wade through pages and pages of documentation just to figure out what a product does, envision what it's like to use it, and how it would disrupt the way they live their lives.

One thing you can do to minimize this obstacle to adoption of your product is to provide the shortest path. Providing the shortest path means minimizing the time and effort necessary for a first-time prospective user to obtain demonstrable value from your product.

To provide the shortest path, you do some combination of the following:
  1. Make available a "quick start" guide that a prospective user can read in under ten seconds and get a feel for how she would use the product.
  2. Provide a demo (or full-fledged product) that enables first-time users to accomplish their primary goals with almost no time or effort.
Your product manager can drive this effort by defining personas and usability requirements relating to first-time users.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Henry Ford's "Faster Horse" Quote

You may have heard the (apocryphal) Henry Ford quote:
If I'd asked customers what they wanted, they would have said "a faster horse".
Over at the On Product Management blog, Saeed gives his take on this infamous quote. He "hates" it, and gives some compelling reasons. Saeed is spot on in his explanations.

Personally, I think the quote is great, but it's a matter of interpretation.

The valid point of the quote is not that it's a bad idea to facilitate a conversation with your market to better understand it. The valid points are:
  1. You must ask the right questions to get valuable answers.
  2. You must interpret the answers thoughtfully - often outside their direct meaning - to glean reliable information.
  3. Asking questions is not always the best way to "listen" to your market. (E.g., sometimes pure observational studies are more reliable.)
Nonetheless, I find the quote is helpful to combat "armchair product management" in the product development organization. You probably know the drill. An engineer, sales person, or executive insists on a feature and justifies it by saying that many customers have requested it, as if no deeper analysis is necessary to determine whether we should add the feature to the product.

But in our conversations with customers, we shouldn't be focusing on features. We should be striving to understand the problems they face. They are not experts on the features or solutions; they are experts on their experiences and challenges. If we ask them what they "want", they are likely to think of solutions and short-circuit the all-important understanding of the problems they face.

The Henry Ford quote (whether he actually said it or not) is a stark and simple falsification of the notion that a direct poll of customers is sufficient to draw conclusions about features. We should not use the quote to dismiss the importance of listening to our market, however.

If you found this blog entry enlightening, you might also enjoy another one on five ways companies make product decisions.