When it comes to building successful products, there are three key variables that we need to examine.
- Firstly, what we take into consideration is the source of new ideas and the various influences we allow onboard to sway our decision making when we’re building new products or features.
- Secondly, how we actually build those features and get them out the door.
- And then lastly, how we measure it once it has gone live and how actual customers are using and adopting it. In short these are referred to as inputs, outputs and outcomes.
I think inputs are fairly self-explanatory, albeit we need to be cognisant to take the right ideas and inputs into consideration to become gate keepers of our products. The next key difference to make is between the outputs of a product team vs. the actual business outcomes achieved. In short, outputs are shipping products or features and getting it out the door. Outcomes are the impact of those shipped features from a business perspective, resulting in the return you got for the investment of the inputs and outputs combined. I believe in shipping faster and ship to learn, indicating it does not stop there for a product team once we’ve shipped a new product or feature.
My argument is that any focussed product team should be taking all three variables into consideration. We need the right inputs to influence what we’re building, we need the right processes for our teams to produce the right outputs, and then ultimately achieve the outcomes business is after, and when we fall short we learn from it. It’s about this ecosystem as a whole that makes a team and their products successful or not.
Inputs can take many forms, and as the name implies, it revolves around how you take inputs into consideration for what to build next. These inputs are then broken into projects and are distilled down into a roadmap for the product.
Once we take all of these different areas into consideration, it’s all about finding the right balance to pick the right subset of customer problems to form part of the next iteration. Even though these inputs cover a vast area of the product or business, you wouldn’t take all of it into consideration at the same time.
Inputs are ultimately customer problems, we need to take this into consideration when communicating the value into business to be considered for the roadmap. If the customer value is obvious it would have a better chance to naturally be selected as a high priority item.
We also need to take into consideration how these inputs were generated. Did it originate from just an idea? Or was it an actual customer conversation that took place and we can trace it back to the pain point the customer was experiencing? And have we seen enough of these types of client requests coming through to make it viable to pursue?
Inputs should not be dynamic, customer pain points and customer needs do not change that often. When they change often it’s a clear sign of feature bias and we need to step back and get back to what the customer’s actual pain points are and what we can create to fit their needs.
Your roadmap should be full of customer problems, and not business problems. You should be able to reframe each business problem as a customer pain point, clearly indicating the value for the customer when solving this specific business problem.
Types of Inputs to consider:
- Vision & Mission → Why does the company and product exists?
- Business Goals → What are we already aiming to achieve this quarter or year at a higher level.
- Business Strategy → Strategically what we need in place to achieve our vision, mission and business goals.
- Existing Customers Feedback → What are our existing customers saying about our products, and what questions are they asking our support team?
- Prospective Customers Feedback → What questions are our prospective customers asking our sales team, what features are they requesting?
- Feedback Loop → From previous iterations, is there anything we learnt that we can incorporate back into the process as new inputs?
At the highest level, outputs are shipped product changes. At all levels we have to realise that we can have good or bad inputs or outputs. The general rule of thumb applies: “Crap in → Crap out”, so we need to ensure we have the right fidelity input coming into the pipeline, have a reliable process for vetting the idea before going through to the product team to produce an output.
Overall there’s an obsession with shipping early and often so the sooner you ship the sooner you can learn and put it back into the feedback loop. This obsession still applies and we need to be cognisant of shipping at a regular pace, as it’s been proven that teams that ship more often has a higher success rate.
There’s a lot that can be said about how to produce the outputs, but that’s not really the focus of this article. The focus is rather on the overall ecosystem to produce the desired outcomes.
It does not matter what methodology you follow to ship new products or features, what I would however say is there’s three key factors to take into consideration when it comes to producing product changes to produce reliable and repeatable results.
Key factors when shipping:
- Scoping → We need to break inputs down into the right digestible chunk to be small enough to work on and get something out fast, as well as large enough to show real business value.
- Speed → Are we able to get outputs out at a repeatable rapid pace.
- Quality → Are we delivering at the right level of quality and not creating technical dept.
At the end of the day we need to produce outcomes for business. We cannot just deliver an output “throw it over the wall” and jump back into the next input. You need feedback loops from sales to know what’s happening and how new features are performing to understand what the outcomes are. We need to track the output and be able to learn from it. Whether it worked or not, there is always lessons that we can take into consideration and help us to produce something new that is better because of this.
The whole purpose of having a process is to avoid spitting out features left-right-and-centre and then having a varying degree of success not knowing how to separate key indicators that lead to successful features or not. You need to be obsessed with the ecosystem to ensure there’s a holistic whole that produce business results. The process we follow becomes the cohesive glue that holds it all together.
You should start with an intended business outcome in mind, that’s how you know you can take credit for the business results if it happens. It should be more of a science, and not like digging for gold where you’re surprised when you find it. There should be a strategy that binds it all together, and this should be repeatable for the next iteration.
Outcomes are about:
- Results → Start with the end in mind.
- Analyse → Track the results and analyze to understand what happened and why?
- Cohesive → Be obsessed with the process as a whole.
- Feedback Loop → Loop back into the inputs to ensure we take new learnings onboard.
- Repeatable → Become like a factory that can produce repeatable results.
The end-results for going through this loop successfully will ultimately result in a change in customer behaviour, it should make their lives easier and frictionless, and we would know this because we’ve tracked it all the way to indicating the desired outcomes.
All these variables are equally important, if anything thinking about the ecosystem as a whole is by far the most important element to keep top of mind. With that said, the current state of the industry is weighted towards outputs and outcomes. We need to ensure we place the right emphasis on the inputs. It comes back to “crap-in → crap-out”. We need to ensure we have the right systems in place which will help us ensure we only allow something into the funnel when it actually addresses actual customer problems.
If we get this formula right for taking the right inputs into consideration, producing the outputs that ultimately drive the right business outcomes, it becomes a repeatable and predictable process. You are at your best when you celebrate repeatable victories.