Product feature validation and iteration – for product managers
Today we are talking about tips for selecting, planning, and prototyping product features.
To help us, our guest is Matt Genovese. He is the Founder and CEO at Planorama Design. He has in-depth experience marketing products, addressing product requirements, research, UX design, and management. He spent the first half of his 25-year engineering career in the semiconductor industry as a chip designer and the latter half in software product development.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[2:33] What issues have you seen in your career in both hardware and software when selecting product features?
In hardware, features are normally planned out well ahead of time. You do not have the rapid iteration capability that you have with software. Hardware tends to use more of a waterfall process. You have to capture feature understanding from customers upwards of a year before you release the product. In software, projects can be never-ending, but we do have the ability to learn as we go along. We try to learn little bits about what the customer needs and turn that into value we can build into the application. It’s very useful to start small and mitigate risk. You may not even have to build an application to validate your features. Sometimes you can build a quick prototype to test if value is being delivered.
[4:43] Do you have an example about starting small to do validation?
A friend was working on using large AI language models to help analyze data and produce some metrics about the data. To test this, you might not need to build an application. You could produce a CSV and ask the customer if that is the output that solves their problem. Then, you can fine tune based on what they need and build a script that produces that output.
[10:12] What do you do when the engineering team isn’t listening to the product managers?
Engineers usually strive for perfection. Customers just want their problem to be solved. Those goals don’t always mix well because “perfect is the enemy of good enough.”
There are different options to address this. The development team probably has technical debt they want to address. They want to make their application perfect because they know in the future they’re going to have to rewrite code or redo something. Allow time for that technical debt to be addressed. You can’t just keep pushing it out because it’s going to catch up with you at some point.
Developers may design a product that’s easier for them to use so they can get it out sooner. Their motivations are good, but customers may not use the product if it’s not designed for them. Product managers have to be the advocate for the business and meeting the customer’s needs.
[18:25] How do you select product features to implement?
There are different ways to address it. One is to ascribe value to each feature. That value may be value to the customer or business value. You can use the ascribed value to select which features are most important. Also, think holistically about the features—not only their current impact but also their future impact. If you need to get a high-value feature done right now, you may need to do a bunch of redesign later. Consider if you’re going to paint yourself into a corner by building a feature now. One of the values of UX design is ensuring you’re giving yourself room to expand in the future. Think about how that feature is going to play into a larger set of features later on. Also think about the administration needs of a feature. For example, you may need to adjust pricing. When you’re building a feature, plan how you will manage it. Consider the entire scope of work so you’re not surprised later.
In engineering, design is a necessary component. In software, we tend to think of design as optional. We think we’ll let the developers handle design or that design is just UX. UX is just a component of design. We need to think from an engineering perspective, holistically. Think about how to mitigate future risk.
[26:20] How do you balance optimization with flexibility?
To me, optimization occurs after you build something for the first time and find out how users are using it or how it’s functioning. Engineers are typically addicted to optimization, but when you’re thinking as a product manager, your objective is to get it out the door so somebody can try it. Later, based on what your customers’ needs are, you can do optimization. Flexibility is preventing yourself from painting yourself into a corner. If you’re designing a small thing now, in the future it might become bigger, so you should design for that now and try to avoid big redesign efforts Maybe designing it more or less flexibly is the same cost, so give yourself more freedom in the future. Optimization usually is not free. Mitigate risk, get the product out there first, and make sure it’s right before you optimize. Don’t optimize until you know you have something that actually creates value for the customer.
[29:58] What have you learned from using AI to assist with product feature planning?
When Chat GPT 3 came out, we built a tool called User Story Generator to help product managers get past the blank screen problem. If you need to write a user story, it will help you get started with a product idea. It will help you select the types of users that might want to use your product or help you brainstorm features. We started getting feedback that AI was really good at helping brainstorm and helping product managers consider other features that may need to be investigated. That doesn’t mean the AI is doing the work for you. Product managers can benefit from having a helpful AI sidekick that can help you consider what is possible and give you ideas for discussions with users and customers. That doesn’t mean you get to take your brain out of your head and let the AI do the work. All of the ideas it gives you are untested. You should still investigate whether the types of users it gave you are actually the types of users who would use your application or if the features it’s supplying are the ones users are actually considering. Product management is kind of a lonely job, and AI gives you a little product buddy to bounce ideas off of.
We are now building a tool called Sinfonia that helps product managers and product teams collaborate about product scope.
Action Guide: Put the information Matt shared into action now. Click here to download the Action Guide.
- Schedule time to talk with Matt
- Learn more about Planorama
- Connect with Matt on LinkedIn
- Check out UserStoryGenerator.AI and Sinfonia
“Perfect is the enemy of good enough.” – Montesquieu (paraphrase)
Thank you for taking the journey to product mastery and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.