Have You Defined Your Product’s Core Experiences?

Conceptually speaking

Core experiences are the foundational product journeys that bring your customers meaningful value. Your product is either helping customers achieve something, or maybe you’re in the process of defining the value you intend to deliver. By determining your product’s core experiences you and your team can be more effective with your UX design efforts and continuous discovery and delivery operation.

In this article, I’ll share a design thinking activity that can be used to understand core experiences for an existing product and I’ll talk about how this understanding can help software teams spend their precious time on work that matters.

On our team, we have many subject matter experts and other members who have worked on our product for several years. Depending on your team’s level of the subject matter and customer knowledge, you may need to explore other methods to define your core experiences.

Where to begin

To define our core experiences, I ran a workshop to explore steps one and two from the classic design thinking process; empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. To make these core experiences gain traction across the various functional groups involved in product development, I needed to engage the product offering team, developers, and designers in this workshop. Here is a quick guide to that workshop.

Start with personas. Ask everyone to post sticky notes with the personas they are serving through their work. These personas might emerge as named personas or as functional roles. Participants can group similar personas and then label them as they see fit. You might find that your team feels they are serving many more personas than have been defined for the product. I asked the most senior product manager to prioritize the personas that emerged.

For each persona, state the value received from the product. Begin with your highest priority persona and work your way through them all. On sticky notes, have workshop participants write as many meaningful things this persona is able to accomplish in the real world because of the product. When everyone is done, group similar statements and label those groups.

Reword labels so they state the real-world value your customers receive. We want to clearly declare the value the persona receives, so go back over the names of the groups to make sure they describe what this persona is able to accomplish. The group labels should sound like value and not like a tool to be used. To give an example, the value a customer receives might be to “easily spot and fix unexpected problems with a running marketing campaign” and a tool might be “a campaign dashboard”. We need to separate the value from how that value is delivered so we can explore various solutions.

This is the board of core experiences that emerged for each persona after the workshop.

With core experiences defined, what might you do?

Dig deeper to understand more. Validate the personas that emerged in your workshop. Use research to validate the core experiences you just defined. Map the current user stories for each core experience to understand where you might improve your user’s path to value. Find diverse sources of information to inform your understanding and adjust your core experiences as you grow your collective understanding.

Reimagine the user’s experience completely. With these core experiences in hand, you can take what you know about your customer and begin generating ideas for an ideal user experience. Test that with customers to ensure you’re on a the right path.

Align continuous delivery squads around your core experiences. Depending on the scale of your project, you may want introduce a little bit or a large amount of structure to align your teams with the value you intend to deliver. Look to scaled Agile frameworks for help organizing your teams, if you haven’t already.

Evaluate competitive strengths and weaknesses for each core experience. Since core experiences give you an understanding of the value your product delivers, your team is now in a good position to judge each experience, independently, against competitors that offer products specializing in delivering similar value. For enterprise software, there can be a tendency to compare our product holistically against competitors offering the same mix of value to the market. This risks skipping over smaller companies that are innovating around more narrowly-scoped experiences. For example, if your product focuses on email marketing, building content is a core experience and you would want to look at companies who are setting experiential expectations for this type of workflow regardless of size.

Look at customer feedback through the lens of your core experiences. Core experiences give you a filter to understand what feedback you should care about, and what feedback should be less important to your team.

Use core experiences to bring meaning to customer feedback.

Grouping customer feedback by core experiences gives your team a helpful way of analyzing qualitative data sources such as Net Promotor Score (NPS) comments and interview data. If the feedback addresses something outside of your core experiences, the team can decide if they want to track it to find emerging trends or discard the feedback altogether.

Understand which areas of your product need help. By assessing customer satisfaction across your core experiences, the team will have a framework for prioritizing effort on a macro level.

Customer satisfaction for each core experience is expressed a bubble. We can quickly see that experiences 2, 3, and 5 might need help.

The bubbles above show an example view of relative customer satisfaction for each core experience. Larger bubbles show a higher level of customer satisfaction than smaller ones. Having core experiences defined allows the team to focus on understanding how each experience is performing according to their customers and gives the team a solid starting point for prioritizing future work.

Use the core experiences taxonomy to connect new product development efforts. Core experiences can be decomposed into smaller experiences. By working through the user stories that lie below the core experience level, the product team is able to maintain an understanding of the relationship those smaller experiences have to the overarching value customer value.

As an example, core experiences can be broken down into experience families and then further decomposed into specific use cases.

By developing this understanding of how experiences relate to one another, the team can easily know the context for even the smallest interactions they create. Aligning teams in this way, designers, developers, and product managers can become more engaged, curious, and productive in their work.

When cross-functional development teams focus on improving how value is delivered to the user, they can work together to form solution hypotheses that become experiments to see what works well and not so well. When the group analyzes the results from those experiments, everyone becomes invested in building the best possible solutions.

The inspiration for core experiences

Identifying the value your customer experiences through your product is an important first step in some of the more enlightened product management and development frameworks such as Jobs To Be Done, Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), and Lean software development.

The motivation for this framework came about through a number of factors; recent exposure to new sources of customer feedback, a move to an Agile development model, and the need to create an enduring set of stories around what we are–and by extension, what we are are not–trying to deliver.

If you found this article informative, useful, or though-provoking, it would be great to hear from you.

Marco Di Costanzo is a User Experience Design Lead at IBM based in San Francisco, California. The above article is personal and does not necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.