Building the RIGHT product starts with understanding the end user needs through obsessive user research and experience design.
Concept to Product Discovery
We dream a hundred ideas over a good year. Only if we could dream of businesses, we would have more products disrupting the ecosystem, making lives better, becoming commercially indispensable & hence successful. “Solving for the wrong problem” accounts for the second-most reason why even the most promising products fail. At Caizin, we spend enough time in the problem space and very well know that decoupling from the solution space is crucial to defining and articulating the problem (as it is perceived) by different people who are a part of it. It is incredibly tempting to jump into the solution space, relying on past experiences to propose a plausible output that presumptuously could solve the problem. But this haste has never paid off well.
We start with the idea, define it in multiple possible ways, evolve the concept, and visualize the relationships to assess impact. To fully grasp the gravity of the problem, empathy is the strongest tool. We often hear people start talking of their pain with two common phrases: “If only I could” or “If only I had.” This most often gets followed by a suggested output. If we dig deeper, we learn they also talk of the explicit tangible outcome. “It saves me time,” “It improves quality,” “It brings me more money,” “It eliminates menial labour,” “It makes me look good,” etc. We start by classifying this impact and looking at actors who identify with the same pain and (just about predicted) gain. Impact mapping can be facilitated by leading conversations that help align the problem statement with more people and back it with deep research. Create a visual ecosystem with all its domains, journeys, stakeholders and context-relevant motivations and outcomes. We would then be staring at a problem worth solving.
Having open conversations and consolidating the findings in a structured manner that funnels ideas is a skill very few can master. Extending these discussions to prepare a prioritization board with those ideas is the level of maturity that comes from experience, having done this exercise a thousand times. One important factor, often neglected when talking to actors or personas, is the ability to live in their world to discover the experience they are accustomed to, are comfortable with, and what could enhance it beyond imagination.
For instance, online food ordering and delivery always existed with a few restaurants that could afford to invest in it. But who knew that making the adoption of the last mile delivery super-easy by simply aggregating it, disassociating it from the core restaurant business - could make it vastly efficient, and cost-effective, and also increase the market by a whopping 42%? What does this tell us? This means that validation of the ask, of the pain, is equivalent to asking the right questions. Product discovery, in its true sense, never ends but gives us enough to start with. Once we map the pain points and the opportunity, the problem definition starts to clear itself out into product requirements.
Customer Discovery & Development
The reason why this is an important stage in the identification of the product market fit is that these first customers (not only would) validate our product with genuineness, but they would also help us scale in the later stages by becoming referenceable customers we can truly rely upon. However, finding these first customers is no less than a challenge. At Caizin, we extend the impact mapping framework to validate the outcomes with as many customers as possible. It is very important to reach out and talk to customers who would deeply identify with the problem definition, see value as we understand it and volunteer with commitment. It does not stop with a single market or a region. If the product intends to serve multiple industries, we must speak to an equal number of customers in each of those segments, if not more.
It is not easy to gauge how bruised the people are because of the problem. Such discussions need to be done with considerate skills which help the customers open up and confide with their struggles in us. We must remember that at this stage we offer nothing but a premise, as such, we are more taking than giving. Yet, if the problem is serious enough, the customers would speak. We always start with the objective, maintain the context throughout the duration of the user interview, explore it sideways to cover the breadth of it and navigate through all majority areas of the customer’s business. Capture the essence to find out the primary drivers for the business and that which obstructs its growth. Amongst all of the many issues the business may have, if the problem we wish to solve resonates with great benefit, there will be no future need to incentivize product adoption.
Expectations always get in the way. And we leverage them. If the customer tells us about the problem, in their own words, they will also tell us what they dream would solve it. In conversation, we dissect the customer’s version of the solution. Ask more questions on the alternatives, draw parallels with the products they may have already used (albeit for other reasons), seek to learn from their preferences, and most importantly discover the cardinal sin of their world. This diverts the discovery exercise to talk about the commercial value structures. The monetary loss that the problem creates, the prospect destroyed by the problem’s impact, and the promise that the solution offers, will soon get us to know why & what would they pay for the product.
More often than not, in a B2B scenario, the person who feels the pain (the actor) is not necessarily the person who shall pay for it (the influencer) to be alleviated. Even more so, the person who shall interact with the product (the user) could be anyone else. This mandates us to talk to people across the board and cover the entire business ecosystem to find out areas that our product shall penetrate. We are now discovering the personas and building honest hypotheses across perspectives from their POV of the problem and solution. Developing the personas distinctly with their role in the business workflow imparts immense clarity on earned value. It soon becomes obvious how the different personas shall uplift different metrics of success of the product - features, adoption, revenue and scale. Using a tool like an empathy map helps to dig deeper into the minds of the persona and guide conversations to fully understand the interactions and the pains and gains of their world. Such an empathy map must echo fully the voice of actors in the ecosystem.
At some point in time, cross-validation needs to be experimented with. People are mostly biased because of the repetitive nature of their work and the lurking problem which makes them habitual in adopting lesser efficient practices. Hence developing a persona helps solve the problem in a manner that appeals to a larger segment of people. We shall do the necessary research, brainstorm ideas, and design a mock prototype of a solution to the problem that aches everyone. Learn from demonstrations to all the actors of the ecosystem, test our theory, revise our ideas and circle back till we reach the highest levels of satisfaction. This consolidation and ranking seeds the proposal of an MVP.
Here’s a pro-tip: do not set recurring calendar invites to speak to the customers. At the start of the week, inquire how their week is scheduled and seek their availability. Listen what they rank urgent and must attend to before freeing their time for you. Pick a time best suited for an open minded, exploratory discussion. It is these side exchanges that build up context for the real conversation.
With the problem defined and research in place, it’s time for innovation in solution discovery & design. At Caizin, we are fully cognizant of the fact that in this modern world of de-centralization, the nature of problems may only change by their context, but technically speaking the impact more or less remains the same. This only indicates one thing. The differentiator in the solution we bring to solve the problem is what will help our product penetrate the market & scale wildly. The exercise to find this differentiator has two key elements - innovation & user experience.
Looking for innovation must have its roots in ideation. As elementary as it sounds, plotting the end-to-end customer journey map across all business functions gives us deeper insights into the existing customer experience and the opportunities that exist (or that need to be created) to enhance the experience.
It brings forth the touchpoints of the interaction of people with the business functions which more often dictate when and how the users shall interact with the software. There is no rigid principle in the layout and areas of a journey map, but a broad classification entails:
Awareness - customers hear about the product, discover it, and look to learn more about it.
Consideration - evaluating the product’s fitness within the business context.
Conversion - convinced that adopting the product can add value to the process & workflow, starts using it.
Loyalty - continues to proactively use the product, and gives credible feedback.
Advocacy - recommends other users in the organization to use the product, and becomes a champion, referenceable customer.
Each of these categories is broken down into focus areas & outcomes which we wish to capture & achieve.
Directly addressing the pain point that translates to a compelling need often gets a welcoming response. Then there is scope to introduce alternate workflows which could inject new experience into the journey. Every approach has its positives and struggles. The skill of the product managers to adopt an approach that best fits the market, where the solution shall be deployed, is being tested. Articulating the findings of user research and creating a solution that balances user preferences and business goals is where Caizin’s proven expertise sits.
The Customer Journey
Minimum Sellable Product
In a world where MVP was sorely fixated upon, blind-siding the livability of the product, there was a large void in terms of moving beyond the product’s adoption metrics. Every founder of the product company would desire for its sales to run on auto-pilot for which two aspects cannot be overlooked: User Retention & Recalibrating Outcomes. There may be nothing wrong in focusing purely on the MVP, but immense clarity is necessary on what “minimum” means (and to whom) and what “viable” is. Continually identifying and building features that matter, may require customer validation, but we shall be weary of any biases which do not invalidate the ideas that seem great to us but may not stand the test of time. This means looking closely for what users love, what users use more often, what engages them with the product, and what gets in their way of doing that is super-critical.
At Caizin, we practice an outcome-first approach which helps us identify opportunities. We map solutions to each of those opportunities and then building a prioritized backlog for those solutions helps define the scope for the MVP > thereon for the MLP > and furthermore for the MSP. It may be implicitly assumed that the product the users love, they will pay for. It helps make the sales channel more predictable in terms of funnelling, pitching, tracking conversions, and expanding customer segments. More so, for product managers, it provides some sort of a baseline that quantifies the prospect of a feature in terms of money value. This evidently means we shall build less (minimum) but will build it damn well (and complete).
As long as we can measure how close or far we are from our desired outcome, our means can be pursued with demonstrable value. Defining the scope for MLP is usually based on the benefits that the users can experience. The more obvious things get, the lesser talking you will need to do, and the faster your adoption and sales cycle shall be. When the sun sets, it is always the revenue that shall be on the top of the metrics for a product’s success. And for this very reason, the value must already be delivered incrementally (or iteratively). Pursue excellence by shorting the backlog. Read the user mindset faster to make adjustments sooner. The “minimum sellable product” is what users love & pay for and has a comfortable effort to value conversion. That’s exactly the kind of product you can plan the future for.