One of the most common misunderstandings among business leaders is that having a product strategy is optional. With a “ship it yesterday” mindset, some companies hope to uncover their strategy in the market, but this simply doesn’t work. It’s easy to spot dozens of shipped products that seem to be STILL looking for users because they were built without a solid understanding of the target audience. These products were built to solve non-existent problems. Incorrect solutions can be fixed, but solutions can’t be found for non-existent problems!
Rather than relying solely on your intuition in product development, you should create a product strategy.
What is a product strategy?
Just as a business has a strategic vision of what it wants to be when it grows up, the product has its own strategy and destination. Product strategy defines a product’s journey. As with any journey, you have to have a vision for where you’re headed. Your vision helps you define a destination (target condition) – the ultimate user experience toward which you’re aiming, and the experience outcomes that you want your users to have. You can plan your route towards the target destination by focusing on exactly what you need to build. By setting the goal (challenge), you can adjust the direction of your product efforts.
Product strategy is a combination of a vision and achievable goals that work together to direct the team towards a desirable outcome — the ultimate user experience. Image credit: Melissa Perri
3 Critical UX Questions For Your Product Strategy
Before any product features can be decided upon, you need to develop a clear picture of what the business goals and user needs for the product are. Answering the following questions will help you:
Who is your user?
Personas make it easier for designers to create empathy with users throughout the design process.
It’s impossible to design a successful product without knowing what audience it should target. A lack of user research puts a project at high risk of missing user needs, creating a product with no users and therefore no revenue. In order to prevent this from happening, users should be part of the design process from day one.
What helps you answer the question:
“The persona” drill is a critical activity for UX designers. This results in well-researched personas that act as a proxy for the user. Such personas help you better understand real users and in turn, make more human-centered products.
What should be considered:
As the author of Leah Startups Laura Klein said, all too often the personas we create tend to be descriptive, but not predictive. If you can create a good persona, it means you know not just what your users are like, but the exact factors that make it likely that they will become and remain a happy user. Until you can identify the specific things that make a person want to be a user, you don’t have an accurate persona.
What goal is the user trying to achieve with your product?
Answering this question will uncover the jobs the product is hired for. Customers buy products and services to help them get jobs done. This means that users will use your app/web service only if it fulfills a need or solves a problem they have.
Your user goals should be laid out clearly, because you can only accomplish your goals if your users complete theirs. Your product should deliver value to users, and if it does, that value also comes back to the product’s creator in the form of increased use.
Product-market fit means a product in a market that it can satisfy. Image credit: leanstartup
What helps you answer the question:
Products are used by people, so putting users and their needs first is a good idea. You need to zone in on user-focused areas of inquiry. Before you begin to define the core user experience of your product, imagine what users would say about its final version. What do you want them to say? How can you develop a product to create that feeling?
What should be considered:
You have to find the sweet spots between what users want to make their lives easier, and what the business needs to accomplish in order to survive and grow. The product you design must hit that sweet spot of product-market fit.
Sweet spot is where product provides value to both business and users.
What primary tasks should the user perform on a daily basis with your product?
As was said before, user experience should have a primary role in defining product strategy. However, it’s really important to know, not just what your users try to accomplish (goals), but how they are going to do it and remove all obstacles from their way. Design can manifest the strategy: include it upfront and allow it influence the strategy.
What helps you answer the question:
A customer journey map can help you to define an intended experience outcome. You can define the entire user journey for a product or service by creating a journey map. A customer journey map is a very simple idea – it’s a visualization of the process that a person goes through in order to accomplish a goal. When you map out how your customers explore your products, it becomes very evident where they are hung up and what they are missing. This will help you develop the best product road map: decide which features are critical and focus on removing bottlenecks that reduced user engagement.
While maps take a wide variety of forms depending on context and business goals, certain elements are generally included. Below is a template of a customer journey map from Nielsen Norman Group:
Customer journey maps help teams understand and address customer needs. Image credit: NNGroup
- Zone A: This section contains information about (1) a persona (“who”) and (2) the scenario to be examined (“what”).
- Zone B: This section is the heart of the map. It contains the details about experience, usually aligned across (3) phases of the journey. The (4) actions, (5) thoughts, and (6) emotional experience of the user throughout the journey.
- Zone C: The output should vary based on the business goal the map supports, but it could describe the insights and pain points discovered, and the (7) opportunities to focus on going forward, as well as (8) internal ownership.
What should be considered
All too often teams define features for a product without understanding their goals for its user experience. Keep in mind that good product strategy is not about just shipping lots of features. Quite the opposite, any features that you release to market should first satisfy whatever minimal experience your team has defined.
So many companies today want to get features out the door fast, regardless of whether the features are actually useful and well designed.In order to create good UX companies need to obsess about user and customer needs, not features. Image credit: Bigdoor
The Lean Startup movement made the concept of a Minimum Viable Product popular. A team first needs to validate that they’re solving the right problem for the right audience, in the right market. Only after that should they polish their product.
MVP is a product that has the minimum set of features to prove the most essential hypothesis in your business. Image credit: Brianpagan
However, recently, there has been a bit of a backlash against this concept for setting the bar too low. A new concept called Minimum Loveable Product suggests that product teams should define the few essential features and implement them very well, so users will love the resulting product or service. A polished, streamlined execution of a few key tasks often makes a difference between a good and bad product.
A Few Important Moments To Mention
The Importance of vision
Before you start any project, you must take the time and do the work to set a clear vision for your product or service—one that will be useful for your users. When your team is working on a project, they don’t need to know every detail about the final outcome—concepts can be refined in process—but your team does need a clear vision and reference point against which to assess all of their decisions.
The vision defines your high-level goal for where the company or business is going.
Product strategy isn’t an action plan
A lot of business leaders are taught to think that a product strategy is a list of desired features with deadlines that teams work toward. This kind of thinking is a trap. When we lock ourselves into planning to build a set of features we rarely stop to question if those features are the right things to build to reach our goals. We stop focusing on the outcomes, and measure the success of teams by outputs. This often happens on agile projects when teams understand their short-term, narrowly focused goals, but have no conception about what the big picture should be.
We need to switch from thinking about product strategy as something predefined, and instead something that is uncovered as we learn what will help us achieve our objectives. Sometimes, instead of just saying, “Yes, let’s do that!” it’s better to take a step back and ask, “Why are we building this thing? Should we do this in the first place? What is gonna happen as as result?”
Product strategy isn’t set in stone
Product strategy is not meant to be something you create and never touch again. Don’t get caught up in making product strategy perfect or exhaustive in nature. Start primitive and build from there. Product strategy is a living document, and it emerges from experimentation towards a goal. You will update as you collect more information and as your business grows.
Product strategy should be based on your user’s vocabulary
The exact words you use to describe your product strategy are equally important as the strategy itself. Users know what they want to do and have their own words for that—your job as a UX designer is to decode this language and build a product that’s easy to understand. Don’t write the vocabulary from the top of your head. Instead, research and reuse the existing language of your audience:
- Conduct interviews, surveys in order to figure out what exact words users use while speaking about their goals, tasks, and objects.
- Borrow terms from established software products that your users know well.
Let’s Wrap It Up
Everything that was said above can be summarized into one short sentence: you must deliver the right features, with the right user experience for the right people. In order to get our designs to work we need to focus our design efforts on the right things: audience—goal—tasks. Define your target audience, then research their problems, and finally, focus on building a product that solves those problems!
Product strategy should be your number one tool to justify user experience decisions. You must start every product-development project by defining the experience that you want people to have with your product or service.
Whenever you’re working on a product—creating a new one or adding new features to an existing one—make sure you make all decisions with strategy in mind.
Life’s too short to build something nobody wants.