Archive for November, 2008

Taking an Innovation to the Market in an Uncertain Economy

November 30, 2008

The following article written by me recently appeared on Global Services Media. Please visit them for more reading -

Article URL – Taking an Innovation to the Market in an Uncertain Economy

What a year this has been! Organizations which had long withstood the weather over the years, simply found that they were probably just made up on paper.

With the new environment filled with uncertainties where even the big players trying to grasp for air, things have started becoming tricky for new product/business innovators. For these innovators, speed and innovation are the two things which form the foundation of their long term success. The challenge for these innovators now is how they can create a viable market for their ideas in an environment where typically the bears are ruling the roost and the desperate need to extract the maximum mileage from each of their invested dollar.

So below are the few best practices which could help customers in their endeavors.

1. Prepare yourself for a marathon rather than a dash: Any marathon runner would tell you, it requires a completely different mindset and preparation. At this time it is important to have the financial and go-to-market plans takes in the assumptions associated with the long term uncertainties by keeping them nimble.

2. Now is the time to put more focus on the end-customers: The end consumers of the products and services would still be there in this economy that is in turmoil, however the only thing is that they are now going to be choosy and demand better value and services. The business model of any services/product should incorporate more time and effort on customer acquisition and less on the operations and engineering.

3. Focus on innovation: The innovation in the products or the services is what is going to generate value to the end customers and would help to differentiate from the crowd.

4. Work within the budgets: It is important to take a good stock of your resources in hand. Understand their velocity and plan your operations within the constraints. Any changes or surprises should be managed within the known velocity by varying the long term scope or plan.

5. Build in early feedback mechanisms: Engage with your customers or to-be customers from very early stage. Invest in mechanisms like Prototyping or Visualization if you are into product development. Focus Groups are a good way to get early inputs into the evolution. It is also an easiest form of practicing and sharpening the skills associated with selling the offering. A lot of this skill would be needed in this economy.

6. Be agile: Always have a goal for the end destination but be flexible in choosing the path to reach there. Follow an incremental and iterative design – develop – test evolution process. As part of our methodology in the organization, there is one thing we always strongly believe in. It is not important to build and deliver what we had thought about. It is more important to deliver what is required.

From a service provider’s perspective, survivability and patience in an uncertain economy is the key. I am saying this from an all round perspective – whether it is an organization or an offering or even as individuals. This is the time when our strengths would have to come to the fore and our weaknesses may become our biggest liability. If we ever wanted to see how the “survival of the fittest” theory gets applied in the real world, this is the most perfect time.

Honey, I destroyed my product by adding too many features!

November 30, 2008

The temptation associated with squeezing in as many features before it gets into the user’s hands is typically very overwhelming for any product entrepreneur. This is especially true when a new product is being launched in the market for the very first time. A typical assumption behind this is that the probability of users accepting the product is directly proportional to the number of the features which the users find in it. The notion that the products just have one chance to get to the eyes of the potential users or buyers also fuels the urgency behind squeezing in the features. This a classic dilemma for products today.

Per the standard practices prevalent in product engineering today, the standard practice is to classify the features to be developed into different Priority Buckets along a scale. e. g. Priority 1, Priority 2, and so on. This scale may vary amongst various product groups. However, broadly this scale typically gets classified into three kinds of buckets – “Can’t go to market without them!“, “Lets do it if we have time!” and “Forget about it right now but I am so glad you documented it!“. Once the features or the requirements are classified in this manner, as a standard practice it is typically a race against time to see how many of these can be implemented.  If the team is able to implement the most from this list – they are considered to be the most efficient. It is also assumed that the product is better off once most number of the features from the list gets implemented.

However, in my opinion and experience – there should also be another way to look at the feature queue. The requirements prioritization should also take into consideration to understand if there is a threshold beyond which any addition of features would start affecting the product in an adverse manner. This threshold could be from the perspective of count of features or the spread of features from functionality perspective. Features and functionality in the product are meant for empowering the end users to fulfill their needs with the maximum amount of ease. Beyond a point, the additional features can make this task more complex and may actually result in turning off the user from using it.

Every product needs to have a core value proposition and a defined user base which it targets to. In my opinion and experience, the tendency to squeeze in as many features as possible in the product is typically associated with both. It can mean an incoherent understanding of the needs of the potential user base or probably a sign of weakness in the core value proposition associated with the product.

Any features which needs to go into a product should be focused around the few key value proposition which the product has to offer and how to do that in the best possible way. Increasing the breadth of features may enable the product entrepreneur to fill in a check list associated with a long list of features and claim “we have that too!”. However if this comes at the cost of diluting the key messaging associated with the product – this may just might mean the doom for the product.

Any thoughts or comments are welcome!

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