Fools Rush In
Maintaining Love within the Product Lifecycle
Product development is a lot like dating somebody new. You’ll begin the relationship with your own list of demands and expectations for your partner — “spouse requirements,” prioritized by attractiveness, responsiveness, and general needs. He or she should dress in a certain way, should act in a particular manner, should accomplish something special. It’s an unrealistic assessment of ‘must haves’ and ‘nice-to-haves,’ directly and indirectly communicated to your partner.
And with the product discovery stage, you’ll dive beneath that superficial view to a deeper level as you build within the relationship. Identifying details, nuances, and challenges, making compromises and commitments, based on the emerging realization of what the future holds for your users and organization. It’s a product by labor of love. Then tested in public settings, revealing customer value and benefits, measures the potential acceptance rate within a group just as you would bring your significant other to events with family and friends.
The actual commercial launch would be equivalent to a wedding. Your trusted colleagues gather together as you pledge accountability to the product in the marketplace. Proclaiming that the personal investment made upon this product will return years of happiness for your organization. And it’s all love and excitement at the Introduction stage of the Product Lifecycle. Candy and flowers every day. Attentive and caring, you count the days by number of sales and conversions through the honeymoon — the Growth stage. You may even be dreaming of derivatives, little product children that could be raised within the family.
But then the newlywed mindset shifts to a marriage full of additional responsibilities. Monthly reports, minor errors and bug fixes; third party dependencies and obligations to extended families. The sexiness wears off and sales plateau. Product usage steadies itself with regular consistency and very few surprises left in store. Sure, there are seasonal upswings, but the year usually balances itself out to a predictable amount of revenue and a lot of unplanned maintenance work. You have found yourself in the Maturity stage, and the thrill is gone. Indifference and lack of preparation eventually pushes your marriage to Retirement.
“Maintenance and service is the most often overlooked part of product lifecycle…if you don’t plan for [the Maturity stage], it will result in costs being higher to maintain than to have built the product at all. Identify support needs and commit to them before going to market.” A discussion point during the Pragmatic Marketing panel at the PDMA 2016 Annual Conference.
As a product manager, you must believe in a thing called Love. In the Product Manager’s Survival Guide, Steven Haines writes, “Product people are the stewards or guides who serve to ensure that these products, as investment assets, are tended to and nurtured to produce returns.” He refers to a product as a business within a company. Therefore, you must hold to your vow made upon commercial launch. Your organization likely views success as a continuum of 1) revenue, 2) market share, 3) profitability, 4) quality, and 5) process. Managing a singular product, or a product family, brings these aspects down to a lower level, often overlooked by leadership. So let’s review a few ways to keep the love alive and naturally grow old with your product.
1) New Product Development
At the beginning of the New Product Development process, take the business goal of the product a step further and define the boundaries of success. If the business goal is something like, “implementing this product solution to increase sales by 3%” then leadership, product team, and additional stakeholders must agree on the details and development expectations beyond the commercial launch.
Consider Agile software development principles— your focus will be on the minimum viable product. Therefore, you should be transparent to those business stakeholders not privy to this approach and explain scaled development over a period of time: the basic product initially launched will progressively add feature sets. This will directly affect how the organization achieves the goal. Provide a quarterly backlog view of the product’s planned evolution, which will also hold yourself accountable to continuous innovation of the new product.
Responsibility goes beyond releasing a quality product. You must be able to measure its health after launch. Remember the adage, “What gets measured, gets managed.” In order to properly assess the new product’s success, you’ll need to be prepared to measure KPIs and other points of interest. Include data capture and reporting capabilities in the stories’ acceptance criteria and/or requirements document. Critical requirements should also include any new components to existing business intelligence software, development of platform dashboards and web analysis, and even the planning of customer satisfaction surveys which must be ready prior to Introduction stage.
2) Product Introduction
Upon commercial launch, meet with stakeholders once again to agree on centralized reporting of the new product to executives and throughout the organization. There can be many different data sources, many different teams who “own” those sources, and so many different early and faulty conclusions of your product’s success. Only the product team should be capable of proper interpretation. You have the market research, product dashboard, and customer feedback. And of course, a release plan for continuous innovation. As product manager, you are in the position to tell the story of your product. Get ahead of possible misrepresentations as your product’s personal representative in the organization.
3) Growth Stage
As sales or conversions begin to accelerate and product adoption rates increase, you must continue to improve upon the product as slated in your backlog of enhancements and defect fixes. This is also the time to begin discussion of the product’s retirement. Although it may sound premature, it reinforces the idea that this product or service serves a particular purpose and begins a healthy dialogue for other solutions to problems in the marketplace. You may still be swooning over your product, but don’t confuse your initial success with the best level of service that can be provided to your users.
Tonight, my wife and I will celebrate our five year wedding anniversary. We’ll leave the kids with the grandparents to go out to a fancy restaurant, order steak and wine, and laugh about time flying by. There’ll be subtle reminders to the ups and downs of our relationship, the discovery phase and Introduction. And as we drive home, I’ll glance over at her and ask with a nudge, “Want to do another five years?” It’s a ritual we follow, as common as a kiss, a thank you, and a love you. We may be nearing the end of the Growth stage, but we’re still moving forward with a backlog full of late nights, fancy dinners, and second chances. Candy and flowers every day.
And each time I feel like this inside, there’s one thing I wanna know: what’s so funny ‘bout peace love and understanding? Nick Lowe