Whether you’re a startup or an established company, success rides on your your product ideas, whether it’s a new app, a service or a physical object. Products that take markets by storm are usable, feasible and valuable; but how do you tell the difference in the development stage between a runaway success and a turkey? Product ideas are based on assumptions, but assumptions can too often be wrong, making product launches a risky business without the right development process behind them.
Analysing our own ideas is tough; we can’t just project what we think of our own product onto our customers, because what we think and what they think probably aren’t the same. So how do we objectively test a product against the usability / feasibility / value criteria?
Making it valuable
Any successful product has to solve a real problem that enough people experience, and that enough of them are willing to pay to solve. Ask yourself;
- Does this product address a problem that really exists?
- How much pain is it causing? (that could mean effort, cost, irritation)
- What’s the true impact of solving this problem?
- How much will people be willing to pay for a solution?
The trouble is, all entrepreneurs, startups and businesses passionately believe their idea solves a problem. The real question is whether they’re right in that assumption. To get a true, unbiased answer to that, we need to test whether we really understand the problem in the first place. One way to do this is to run a pilot where you simulate the service manually. It’s best to focus on one use case to do this, solving a specific problem and worrying about exceptions later in the development process.
This approach can work if you’re planning to use artificial intelligence in your finished product. Test using real people first to carry out the exact process the product will follow, using human intelligence instead of AI to test the structure. Services like Amazon Mechanical Turk can provide human intelligence for a process like this.
The founders of menu planning web app Food on the Table didn’t write a line of code until they’d tested their idea manually. They went in person to customers’ houses and manually made shopping lists and suggested recipes until they’d refined their thinking based on what they saw and heard. And the founder of successful shoe ecommerce store Zappos gauged demand for the idea for an online shoe shop by taking snapshots of shoes in shops, advertising them and then buying them when he got an order.
How do you identify customer problems in the first place though? Customer interviews are a powerful way to do this, but don’t make the mistake of just asking people what they want, or whether they would use what you’re offering. What customers say and what they actually do are very different. Instead, ask people about their relevant problems and get them to rank how important each problem is in terms of time and finances. You could find out more by pretending that the service you’re planning is already available to ask questions about pricing and gauge reactions.
Making it usable
So you’ve got some awesome technology that can solve a real problem for customers. But when they get their hands on it will they actually be able to use it? You might spend many months and a sizable budget developing a great product idea, but if customers find it frustrating or confusing, it doesn’t matter what marvels it can perform, they won’t use it or talk about it (not positively, anyway!)
Prototyping and user testing is the answer here. Validating your ideas early by getting them into the hands of users means you can find out if people can understand the concept and whether it’s intuitive early on, before that budget goes up in flames. We’ve talked about this before: learn more about idea validation.
Making it feasible
You may have an amazing idea, an easy-to-use solution to a real problem that millions of people are going to be throwing money at you to use, but it’s not much use if you don’t have the resources to make the idea a reality. You have to be able to execute your idea effectively, and that means having the right people and technology in place.
Companies can get into a mess with this if they keep their product design process away from customer service and developers, handing over a finished product concept only to be met with blank stares by the people who actually have to make the thing and get it out to customers. Instead, involving customer service and developers right from the start of a product design process is key.
Developers can provide technical insight into what’s required to execute an idea. Some technical ideas may feel simple, but in reality will require bespoke development, and integrating new technologies with established systems may have unexpected consequences for customer service, or require a technical proof of concept to help a development team understand the complexities before delivering a project. Getting your whole team in on the process from the start gives you a chance to plan your product realistically.
Want to find out more about validating the assumptions behind your next product idea? Get in touch.