Want to make better products? Figure out where they fit

Perfect fit

Perfect fit

Product/Market Fit” is a brilliant concept. With this simple phrase, Steve Blank created a common language to refer to the point when a product finds its customer base and usage explodes. But in reality, finding Product/Market Fit is just the start of the work. Companies that find Product/Market Fit fight a constant battle to keep customers delighted in the face of a changing competitive landscape and evolving customer needs.

How to find and maintain Product/Market Fit

While every new product (be it from a start-up or a big company) aims to find Product/Market Fit, the truth is that battle never ends. We intrapreneurs (project managers, designers, engineers) who make it a reality spend our days in the minutia of stories, sprints and a feature backlog that is several thousand ideas deep.

We do the customer discovery, the A/B tests, the sprint planning, the prioritization, the wire framing, the designing, the usability testing, and the iterating. We do all of these tasks because we know that our product can’t find or maintain Product/Market Fit without continually bringing to market a valuable set of synchronized features that are easy to use. So while Product/Market Fit is the goal, the day-to-day efforts are actually to achieve Feature/Market Fit.

What is Feature/Market Fit?
There are two fundamental challenges that every product team fights daily:

  1. What is the right feature set?
  2. What is the optimal user experience of a specific feature?

Focusing on Feature/Market fit helps product teams prioritize features, understand customer needs and develop products more efficiently.

What’s so hard about that?

While these goals sound simple, the reality is that achieving Feature/Market fit proves to be really, really hard. Why?

Signal versus noise: The more customers and stakeholders you have, the more opinions a product team gets. Some opinions are louder than others. But volume of any particular voice doesn’t have a strong correlation to accuracy.

Users don’t know the solution, only the pain: Steve Jobs said it right: customers don’t know what they want. However, if you show a customer something to try, they can tell you what they like and what they don’t like. But how do you easily get feedback on feature ideas from a meaningful group of users?

Prioritisation: We can’t build every idea and every team has competing priorities. I know what internal stakeholders want, but how do I get feedback from my customers on what they value?

How to achieve Feature/Market Fit!

Any good product manager will tell you that the hardest part of her job is reconciling the difference between what customers say and what customers do. That dichotomy is what makes it so hard to choose the right set of features and to craft the optimal feature spec pre-build.

The solution to this challenge is a scalable, time-efficient process that allows a product team to let actual users play with a prototype/wireframe of a feature under consideration. That way, a product team can learn more about the feature spec and priority before a feature is built. Once built, teams should A/B test tweaks to optimize the feature.

Image: Thomas Leth-Olsen (via Flickr).



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