Marty Cagan: Making Products Customers Love
Marty Cagan is one of the product leaders from whom I draw the most inspiration. He’s developed products at Netscape, AOL and eBay. (Oh, and a little company called HP) I participated on a panel with him and saw him speak at Georgia PDMA in 2011, and am delighted that one of his talks is posted online from MindTheProduct 2012.
In this 45 minute talk, Cagan reviews his Top 10 tips for building products customers love. Much of this is in Cagan’s book Inspired, but if you’ve never heard Marty speak, this presentation is well worth the time. I’ve noted a few of my personal highlights below the video.
I thought I’d make note of 2 of the key items I’ve picked up from Cagan’s talks and books that are discussed in this presentation:
Break “Product Discovery” into two phases.
- The first, Customer Discovery, is to find out if there are enough people who might buy a solution to the problem you’re considering. For this step, you should simply assume you can create a useful solution, but you don’t need to have the solution to determine that. Traditional product teams talk about this in terms of market size and potential revenue.
- The second, which I call “Solution Design,” is to find the optimal solution to the (now validated) market problem. To summarize, this is the process of showing various solution ideas to customers to help us get closer to the “right” solution. Cagan assumes that 2/3 of our ideas won’t ever work (because the customer doesn’t care, or it’s too complex). Because of this, we should plan to churn through our ideas until we get to the great ones. If a company isn’t killing at least of half their ideas, they’re building and launching failures and wasting lots of opportunity cost.
I argue that this can apply to products, as well as to features. You may know that your customers need to solve a problem with a feature, but most companies jump to conclusions about how that feature should work. A little time with customers to try out a few ways of solving a problem can result in a much more compelling solution.
I think we’re starting to see enterprise software companies pay more attention to design. B2B is behind B2C in this area, for reasons that include the separation of buyers from users. Buyers work off RFP’s, often without a keen understanding of the user’s real problems and workflow. As consumers are now used to consumer products with elegant design, they’re starting to demand it in enterprise products they use. Recent stories have argued that venture capital is moving from consumer to enterprise. Companies in the enterprise arena that pay enough attention to design will have the advantage.
Product Owner Team
Cagan is a strong advocate that the best product comes from a strong partnership between three different roles: Product Manager, Lead Engineer, and Interaction Designer. This combination of people help address a problem people will pay to solve, with a solution they’ll want to use, that the team can actually build. Cagan makes a point that the innovation often comes from the engineer, who knows best what is possible, but by channeling that innovation towards problems worth solving, teams can build commercially viable products.
Some companies have a formal Product Team in charge of the roadmap. In my current environment, I own the roadmap for my product, but I make a concerted effort to bring our User Experience lead into conversations with my team’s lead Engineer when we’re designing how a feature will work. Product Manager / User Experience designs often fall apart when Engineering looks at them. Product Manager / Lead Engineer designs may fall apart when User Experience realizes that the design needs to drastically change to actually be usable.
Getting these three minds together at the right time can avoid rework. Why waste time on a design that will need to change anyway, just because you don’t have the right people in the room?