To create value throughout the product development process, designers and developers must change how they think about outcomes, says Jason Nash, VP of consulting services at Emergn.
Product development aims to increase a company’s market share by developing products or services that satisfy the customer. When technology leaders and product teams set out to build a product, they often lose sight of a significant part of that definition—the customer. The push towards digital transformation has also led technology leaders and development teams astray in meeting product development goals. With IT spending projected to reach $4.5 trillion worldwide, according to Statista, the surplus of available technologies has created impulsivity among businesses to implement innovative tools along operations to drive performance and improve outcomes.
However, driving value throughout the product development lifecycle isn’t about the number of software resources available. It is about leading high-performing teams through an encouraged focus on customers’ needs. Generating continuous value throughout product development requires a change of thinking regarding both the development process and the desired outcomes. This is achievable through great leadership that motivates and drives employee performance and increases understanding and focus on the customer.
Leading with Confidence
To achieve true value throughout the development lifecycle, product teams must build the right things—and build them right! It is up to leadership to bring teams together and clearly define processes, expectations, and short- and long-term goals, as well as get an understanding of team needs to achieve said goals. By aligning team members with a shared goal in mind and empowering them with the resources they need to achieve their goal, organizations can eliminate wasted time and resources due to miscommunication.
It is also critical for businesses to reimagine the role of leadership. In the wake of the Great Resignation, where employees voluntarily resigned from their positions in masse in search of more rewarding and fulfilling roles, organizations have realized that sparking motivation in employees that drives performance starts with transparency and trust. Rather than leading with a top-down business model, leaders must adopt a servant leadership style that embraces an uncertain mindset.
Servant leadership puts the needs of the employees first rather than harping on a company’s success. Unlike top-down leadership, servant leaders share power equally, work together, communicate and lead by example. By increasing communication and leading by example, leaders can better understand their team’s needs and wants, quickly and efficiently teach employees the skills they need to be self-sufficient, and build trust among employees that will motivate and drive performance.
The employee development and mutual trust created through servant leadership allow teams to embrace an uncertainty mindset. Rather than working with a focus on things like improving time to market or reducing costs or risks, an uncertainty mindset favors discovery through assumption and experimentation. This philosophy encourages forward thinking and asks employees to ask what customers want and need from their products constantly. By creating an environment that constantly questions products and processes and encourages experimentation to validate or disprove new assumptions, product development teams will continually and successfully improve the quality of systems and products.
Adopting a Customer-focused Mindset
By adopting a mindset that focuses on the needs and requirements of the customer, organizations can not only generate business success but even find more cost-effective ways to develop its products. One way to do this is to consider whether it is better to build, buy, or partner when creating the utmost customer-focused product.
Ideally, every organization wants full creative control over product development and design. But what if your organization doesn’t have the resources or expertise necessary to meet the needs of your customers? Rather than settling for what is achievable in-house, customer-focused businesses have the wherewithal to consider all options—including buying or partnering. Buying a product can be a fast and cost-effective option for solving in-house limitations, while partnering with another company can provide the expertise needed to achieve the desired end goal. In any case, by remaining customer-focused and considering build, buy, or partner approaches, organizations put themselves in a favorable position to create a product that meets the needs of their customers and differentiates themselves from the competition.
See More: How Product Developers Can Build Technology Humans Can Use
Understanding Your Customer
While it is obvious that customers desire businesses and products that understand and meet their needs, did you know that customer satisfaction and retention are substantial differentiators among competitors?
Renowned author and founder of the Customer Development method, Steve Blank’s number one rule is “there are no facts inside your building, so get outside.” Product management teams must prioritize understanding and defining their customers’ pains and gains and the steps or changes needed to mitigate and improve both. A business’s work environment should encourage and foster customer engagement and feedback.
Feedback is one of the most powerful tools at a product manager’s disposal. That is why feedback should be baked into the design process. Designing product development ecosystems that incorporate ongoing customer engagement and fast feedback loops enable teams to determine the success of new product innovations quickly, identify when a course change is needed, and ensure the customer is at the forefront of product development.
Analyzing Product Success
Like customer feedback, measuring the value of a product and its features is critical in determining success or the need for improvements or changes in a product. Companies must determine what product metrics will accurately define success or failure to properly measure the value of a new feature in a product. Let’s say you manage a product development team working on marketing automation software and recently introduced an email marketing automation tool to the software. An excellent way to measure the success of the new tool is through product page views, new users, or customer surveys.
Validating that a product is being used and satisfies user needs can eliminate days, weeks, months, or even years of misplaced effort and resources. By gathering and analyzing metrics that gauge product success, leaders can ensure that teams work toward desired business goals and generate value throughout the development process.
It’s Not All About Outcomes
All too often, product development teams are focused on delivering business outcomes and lose sight of why they are building the product in the first place. Product development that focuses too heavily on outcomes and loses sight of customer wants, and overall goals are prone to steering off course and ballooning into big projects—leading to added costs, wasted time, and the risk of cancellation.
On the contrary, product development that focuses on the customer ensures that processes and product features are being created and innovated to improve product outcomes and market value through the lens of the user. Businesses can drive value throughout the product development lifecycle by changing how designers and developers think about product development outcomes through servant leadership, an increased focus on the customer, and analysis of success.
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