Doing one thing really well

This was originally posted on my blog, where I discuss product management topics. I’ll attempt to keep posts to a ~3 minute read, and focus on things I have learned as a PM over the past few years. My objective is to focus less on ‘PM theory’ and more on real-world practical advice. I look forward to any comments or suggestions you may have!

If you’re new to product management, there is an initial temptation to move fast and implement all of the ideas you hear from sales, customers, and the exec team. Moving fast is great (and necessary), but being all things to all people will create problems for you in the future.

There are many reasons you should think about doing one thing really well. It’s most important when you’re early in a product and beginning to get traction.

Consider an MVP you have launched to validate some key hypotheses. As a result, you’ve received a ton of feedback. Here is what you should try to do:

  1. Make sure you identify the single biggest ‘problem’ the customer is looking to solve. They likely have many problems, so sometimes the best way to identify the ‘biggest’ is by analyzing what they are doing today to solve the problem — and the cost of that alternative (usually measured in # of people, # of hours, or $ spent per instance of the ‘problem’). If you’re already getting traction with your MVP, then take the opportunity to understand what problem you’re solving and how big this problem is in the market.
  2. Map their feedback against the customer job map. Map the steps your MVP is currently solving, but also talk to customers to figure out the remaining steps that have not yet been solved with your product.
  3. Reframe the product feedback. Use a prioritization framework like Kano or Intercom’s Prioritization Framework to group your feedback into different segments. Feedback is usually solution based, not problem based. So the first question to ask is: does this feedback map to the big customer problem I am trying to solve?

The above steps require discipline. It will be very tempting to prioritize the loudest customer or the latest ‘flavor of the month’ feature.

If you find yourself in this scenario, ask yourself: how well do I really know the customer problem? Can I explain it to someone in simple terms, but also provide several examples of the problem to really defend it’s importance? Do I really have empathy for the pain? If not, that’s a great signal for you to get back in front of customers. Turn that loud customer or demanding internal stakeholder into an advocate — ask them to introduce you to the customer so you can continue to validate the ‘big problem’. If you don’t do this, you end up ‘making stuff up’, the ultimate sin of a product manager.

OK, so here are the consequences of not focusing on one thing really well when you first launch your product:

  • You forget the biggest customer problem. Your marketing story falls apart and you dilute your differentiation.
  • Your sales team doesn’t know how to position the product. In fact, sales will disqualify less and spend more of their time trying to sell your product to personas who may not have that problem.
  • You end up prioritizing other things without completing the full customer job. For example, you may not automate the problem well enough, or forget to ‘conclude’ the job — ultimately dissatisfying your early adopters.

I’ve personally experienced all of the above and I can tell you it really takes discipline to stick to understanding the ‘big problem’ and attempting to solve it really well.

Turning things around requires getting intimate with the #1 thing customers are looking to solve. It usually requires a full team effort to refocus and double-down. You, as the PM, own driving this. Get data from sales, support, and customer success to help you in your next iteration of your product’s lifecycle.

I’d love to hear from you. Has focusing on one thing — and doing it really well — helped you?