I’ve worked on many software and electronic products over the years and they haven’t all been perfectly baked.
The attempted recipe was often simple; someone would have an idea, we’d build it, and our customers would love it.
But it rarely worked out that way.
Post launch, we’d finally learn about our products and, painfully, they seemed to have an abundance of features our customers rarely used. I had spent long evenings and weekends working on these features, and seeing them discarded was heart-breaking. Yet bizarrely, I never questioned the recipe. We just needed better ideas, a carefully planned build, and more appreciative customers!
The problem was of course that we didn’t truly know what the customer wanted until it was in front of them, and neither did they! So we worked on functionality that ended up costing more to build than it could ever generate in revenue.
This didn’t just waste our time and effort, it meant we weren’t building something better. Worse, it created a muddied user experience and added technical debt to our code base. Building stuff that no one needed robbed us multiple times over.
But what could we do?
It turns out there is a better recipe centred on learning as we build, and taking advantage of the unequal distribution of value across features.
A tastier recipe for our build
The freedom to add, remove or change features as we learn.
The ability to quickly and completely build any feature, in any order, independently of any other feature.
The ability to get feedback from customers on any feature.
Prioritize all the planned features by value. At first this will be guesswork, but as we learn about our customers we can use more accurate cost-of-delay or return-on-investment estimates.
Build the highest value feature first, and if it’s a big feature, break it down and reprioritize.
Let our customers inform our decisions on what to build next. How do they use and understand it? Should we improve it or drop it? Do we spot a new opportunity? What have we learnt about other planned features?
Go back to step 1 and repeat until crisp and golden brown.
It’s a simple recipe but finding the right ingredients can be difficult. They are often in the form of cross functional, empowered teams working closely with customers - that’s a big ask.
And responding to what we learn is critical. But just a small shift towards building the important stuff first can significantly increase a product’s overall value and create competitive advantage.
It’s more than just navigating a different path though a feature set, it’s discovering a different and better feature set entirely.