Saturday, December 24, 2011

Product Conversations Before Product Validations

When companies started producing software products many decades ago, most of them created a product and shipped the product to the customer, usually on a floppy disk or a compact disc. When they built their software, they validated their features with customers by conducting feature validation sessions. Fixing problems in software that has been shipped was costly. Once the software shipped the vendor had little control over the code. The only option they has was to add more code to address the problems. The additional code normally added more problems. So product managers were risk averse and kept their conversations about the features they produced.Things have changed in the past few decades. For many years now software is provided as a service.

Hosted software enables companies producing software to add features and  address problems quite frequently. Most enterprise software companies release software every three months. Some even release every week. Companies that product software today have the opportunity to not only add features anytime but also remove or modify features significantly even while their customers are using the software.

Yet, product managers and product designers have a product validation mind set today. They build a feature and ask customers for their approval or their feedback. One thing they do not normally ask is if that feature actually helps the customer run their business better. They do not asking the customer enough open ended questions about what their business problems are and if there is anything they can do to solve that business problem.

My colleagues @enricgili @esdediego and I have experimented with product conversations rather than product validations for a couple of years now. It works better than just asking customers to validate a particular feature.

Customers have a role to play as well. They need to sit back and ask themselves why they are asking for a particular feature. May be even ask themselves if software is the real solution to their problems.

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