What phases do product ideas go through?
How do we know we’re building the right product?
While the engineering roles at Whispir primarily focus their energy on building the product right, the product, design & intelligence roles focus on ensuring we’re building the right thing for the right market. That’s the idea at least.
The way we do this is to simply follow the math. When teams come up with ideas without validating if those ideas will help us reach our goals — it’s a bad situation that usually leads to disaster and lots of wasted effort. It’s easy to forget, but every time you make a choice about what to build you are spending real money. If your bets are wrong, that capital is gone forever. But if you spend it right and can convert it into customer value, your organization will grow. So each bet you make must be worth it. And to make it worth it, you must think very hard before you decide. This is why a process is key. It helps keep you honest.
The good news is by following a few simple steps, Whispir teams ensure we are not reliant on a few genius ideas (or good luck), but instead, can use the rigor of a thoughtful discovery process to ensure that anyone can work out if we’re building the right thing for our business and our customers.
Here is how we do that today
We start by observing user behavior to derive a hypothesis. When we watch FullStory sessions for example, maybe we notice users are all having trouble with contact imports. Observation is the foundation of where our ideas come from.
We then make some guess about what we think is going on. Why is this user doing this thing? We think that if we do something, maybe build a new feature or modify an existing one, we’ll get some desired outcome. This is where ideation plays into what we do. This is the stage where various people get together to talk about the customer problem and speculate on different ideas to solve it. Often these ideas are placed on an impact vs complexity matrix.
Next, we research, either through customer interactions — talking to people, finding empirical studies, or just talking to noncustomers to find their user needs. Research can sometimes help flesh out the viability of a solution. Maybe we discover there simply isn’t enough of a market to warrant investing further in the idea or maybe we find out customers don’t actually want this idea. Firmi estimations, a technique we use in the recruitment of product managers, are often used in research to help understand the actual market opportunity of certain ideas.
Research is about seeking data points to encourage you to pursue the idea further. Generally speaking, the research is documented as part of the PI candidate information preparation which the product managers produce ahead of PI planning and backlog refinement.
*PI planning is where we get together as a whole department for 3 days and plan out the next 10 weeks.
4. Experiment (testing ideas)
Let’s say the idea looks good. Good product teams will test ideas before they go live. This is (in most cases) usability testing, but experiments can also be run on production code. We can run split A/B tests in production from time to time. But the idea is that the test should validate your hypothesis and if it does, it’s worth pushing forward. Experiments don’t need to be long and arduous either. You can often run lightweight experiments which can be completed in a few hours.
As a product team, we don’t need the right answer or the right idea all the time. It’s often easier to let the experimental evidence inform the right ideas, in that way, you can never be misguided and you can leave your ego at the door.
Once you’ve decided the idea is worth pursuing more seriously, it’s time to build the idea out in a production sense, covering off all the definitions of done tasks that are required to consider something complete. This phase also covers things like go-to-market release information.
Why we pursue bad ideas?
At each phase, the teams can decide to keep going or cut their losses based on something they’ve learned. There is no crime in abandoning a bad idea if you discover something is not going to work. But interestingly, teams will pursue bad ideas all the time, and there is common psychological reason they do so.
In psychology, there is a cognitive bias called the “Plan-continuation bias” which plays a role in why most teams pursue bad ideas. It’s the tendency for people to continue with an original course of action that is no longer viable. An example would be an airline pilot who unexpectedly encounters bad weather at the scheduled destination but decides to land anyway rather than divert to another location because, you know, the runway, it’s like, right there!
Plan-continuation bias appears to be particularly strong toward the end of the activity and has been theorized to result from the interaction of such factors as cognitive load, task demands and social influences.
one way to combat this idea is to simply ask — based on what we know today, does this still meet the four basic needs of any idea at Whispir.
- Is it still viable?
- Is it still desirable?
- Is it still feasible
- Can we still make it usable?
If the answer is no, we try to shut it down.
Do all ideas at Whispir go through these phases?
No. But 80% should.
In reality, about 20% of the ideas avoid these phases all together and go straight into the build phase, guns blazing. These are often very table-stakes features that just need to be done or can sometimse related to compliance and security concerns (or bugs). But we try and ensure most of the work goes through these phases before our 3 day PI planning process.
If you like our vibe 😎 and are interested in reaching out, you are more than welcome to take a look at some of our open roles at Whispir. We’re hiring quite a lot of roles across product, design and technology today so if you are keen to work on something really exciting, reach out to me on twitter or check out our open roles here.