Product Growth using Validation Questions

So I recently took it upon myself to start writing as a Product Manager in the Middle East. I’ve worked on various online and mobile products with various tech companies in the region, in Amman, Dubai and Doha. I find that our own experiences and perspectives are unspoken so far and worthy of sharing to the rest of the world.

This is my first time attempting to write for “an audience”, so bear with me and I hope you enjoy it and find it valuable.

For today’s subject, I’d like to share my own developed toolbox that I like to call Acquire, Engage, Expose, and Grow! (AEEG?) which is a methodology that has similarities with Dave McClure’s AAARR model, but I’ve developed it to be more of a way to implement Growth Hacking into the core of my Product Management. It’s not exactly a marketing methodology, rather it is a simple tool that continuously helped me make the right decisions as a Product Manager. It is a way that allowed me to remain focused on maximizing value and achieving continuous growth for my product, often leading it to market itself merely by design in the ultimate scenario.

Growth, you say?

What you’re about to read is a set of simple concepts that I’ve developed and practiced on my own based on a lot of experimentation and learning in Product Management roles I’ve taken. This methodology desperately calls for achieving growth in a product through asking various meaningful validation questions helping you make the right decisions around your product, and properly share your vision of growth among of the team managing the product from various functional teams. It provides for a complete thought and decision making mechanism that has helped me in every decision I had to make around my products. How?

Well, to build an Online product that is programmed and planned to grow then eventually succeed, you would need to do quite a lot in your daily life as a Product Manager which can make things quite messy if you don’t equip yourself with a solid thinking and decision making mechanism of some sort.

Because as a Product Manager, you need to build a viable product that solves a problem, for a certain amount of people that really do exist, really do need it solved, while being able to build sustainable revenue around it. That takes building a product that works, appeals, and becomes worthy of sharing and spreading around “Because it solves a real problem, remember?”.

You would have to focus on acquiring users, engaging them correctly, and exposing their activities within the right context for sustainability and growth.

Lets not forget also how you would need to learn to lead the team working with you on the product, recognize and empower them, grow together with them, share your vision with them on the product you’re building, wear different hats, learn from everything and everyone, inspire everybody to do the same, and celebrate as a team.

This is a glimpse on product manager responsibilities and duties at the individual level, which can be quite overwhelming and even still vague to describe in such a manner.

Which is why I’ve defined a set of four areas or pillar stones that has helped me stay attuned to the growth of my products and helped me stay focused on making informed calls and decisions that are optimized towards growth, and eventually success.

The Methodology

Acquire, Engage, Expose and Grow!

As a Product Manager, you usually ask yourself various questions such as whether or not you should develop that certain feature next, whether you should fix this bug or that one, or maybe you should use A/B testing for a certain page’s layout in order to find a version that gets the best results “sign ups for example”. This is all common ground.

But, get any two product managers and ask them to make that decision, and you’ll find that their decisions would almost always vary on exactly what change they would bring next, and how exactly they would get it done.

This dilemma eventually led me to critically think about the rationale and logic behind all decisions that can be made, analyzing every aspect to the smallest detail.

One thing I’ve learned in Design school is that even if you draw a mere line somewhere, you should know as a designer why you drew it, and how it contributes to the overall message/functionality of the design. This is basically the difference between Art and Design.

Product Managers are designers by nature, in the sense that we design for a purpose the same way an Advertising Creative designs for the purpose of Visual Communications, and in this case we’re going to tackle the purpose of Growth using Validation Questions.

I’ve made it a habit to ask myself and others a chain of validation questions around the product and team:

  • What change are we missing that would help us acquire more users?
  • What change should we do next? Does this change help me acquire more users?
  • How can we make this feature more effective in acquiring more users?
  • Are we acquiring users but losing them quickly?
  • How can we find out why we’re losing them?
  • Does the product as it stands deliver on its promise? How can we make it deliver?
  • How can we bring more qualified users?
  • Are we using diverse acquisition channels?
  • Which acquisition channels bring more loyal users to my product? And why?
  • Is the sign up form too long or difficult to use?
  • Should we make variations of the sign up form layout?
  • What ways are we currently engaging the user with the product?
  • What features are our existing users most engaging with?
  • What features do our existing users need or miss within the product?
  • Are our existing users sharing the product with their friends or colleagues?
  • How can I brief the creative team to bring in a user interface that fits the expectations of our users?
  • How do I ensure every member of the team is attuned to achieving our product goals? What can we do to push this forward internally?
  • And the questions never end…

These questions all have one thing in common, they are all actionable. But you should be careful. These questions can also be very tricky and misleading at times. Which is why I always ask these questions about one of the following four Pillar Stones of Growth (AEEG):

  • Acquisition of users into the product. Acquire.
  • Engagement of users within the product. Engage.
  • Exposing of users activities and admiration of the product. Expose.
  • Growth of members of the team working on the product on all levels. Grow!

To make your validation questions about one or more of these items, almost immediately guarantees that you’re asking a question of value, that when answered will provide actionable insight on what you should do next and how. Doing so also means to stop asking irrelevant questions around useless items that waste your and your team’s time.

This list is not exclusive or complete and never will be, but it is structured in a way to help you ask questions that directly relate to the growth potential of your products, and I use them everyday to ask useful validation questions around my products.

Lets take a look at some of those validation questions by attempting to answer some of them, and we’ll see what we have now:

First Example:

  • Validation Question: What change are we missing that would help us acquire more users?
  • Possible Answer: Possibly we can prepare multiple suitable landing pages for our Paid Search campaigns to better funnel in new visitors through instead of the homepage.
  • Follow-up Questions: How can we do that? Can we make these landing pages load faster, would that lead to more successful acquisitions? Can we make form on these new landing pages short to only an e-mail address? Can we freely apply A/B testing practices on these landing pages?

Second Example:

  • Validation Question: Are we using diverse acquisition channels?
  • Possible Answer: Most of our new visitors are coming through Organic and Paid Search, perhaps we should explore Email or Display as additional Marketing channels.
  • Follow-up Questions: What ways can we use email or display advertising to market the product? Would these channels be effective for our product?

Third Example:

  • Validation Question: Which acquisition channels bring in more loyal users to our product? And why?
  • Possible Answer: Organic Search has much better metrics than other channels. We’re getting better acquisition and engagement from users acquired through this channel. This is because these users and funneled in based on their intent through their search keywords.
  • Follow-up Questions: How do other channels compare with Organic Search metrics? What can we do to improve on the metrics of other channels? Are we doing enough to bring in more of this quality traffic?

Fourth Example:

  • Validation Question: Is our acquisition “sign up” form too long or difficult to use?
  • Possible Answer: Not sure if it is.
  • Follow-up Questions: How can I find out if the form is too long or difficult to use? What can I implement to find out about such difficulties with the form? Should A/B testing on various form layouts and sizes be attempted?

Fifth Example:

  • Validation Question: What features do our existing users need or miss within the product?
  • Possible Answer: I’m not sure.
  • Follow-up Questions: How can I find out what features may our users be missing? What methods of communication can I enable with my users or customers in order to find out? Such questions can lead to a customer or user driven product if handled correctly, as this is an area that needs careful validation every time you tackle a request from a customer. I always focus on what the customers are trying to do with my product in order to make my own informed decision on how to best give them a solution or solve their problems.

Using this methodology as shown with these examples, I hope to have clarified a little bit on how making these questions about either Acquisition, Engagement, Exposure, and Growth or a combination of them can always help you ask and answer the right validation questions helping you decide on your next move.

It is also worth noting that these questions will usually involve delving into other functions of work such as Marketing, Creative, Business, Operations, etc… which can be quite astonishing, as you will eventually need to answer your validation questions with the help of experts in these fields, which will eventually lead to enrich your development and learning experience even further.

Always validate, don’t depend on intuition. It takes a lot of practice but you owe to everybody to try and make informed and wise decisions for the product.

I hope you’ve found this article valuable. Please share your own thoughts and experiences, or any feedback you may have. I’d love to hear back from you.

Acquire, Engage, Expose and Grow!