Product Teams

Focus On These 8 Things To Build Better Products

Published Jun 20, 2016

If you focus on these eight concepts you WILL build better products. It will not be easy, and it will not be instant. You’ll probably get a lot of pushback and ruffle some feathers, but I promise that your product/service will benefit.

1. Shorten the distance between the product development team (UX and engineering) and the customer.

For example . . .

  • Plan team field trips to visit customers onsite.
  • Host bi-weekly lunch and learns with moderated customer discussion.
  • Allow any front-line team member to pick up phone and call customer.
  • Hire full-time UX researchers, with goal to share research and engage others in research.

Why? Decreasing the distance between the team and customers helps prevent loss of signal. Efforts to filter customer feedback to make it more “actionable” are largely ineffective.

2. Accelerate any form of learning about your customers, market, technology, self, team, and organization.

For example . . .

  • Host regular team retrospectives, outings, and conversations.
  • Implement voice-of-customer programs and give access to accurate usage metrics.
  • Hold regular presentations on competitors and trends.
  • Encourage pairing, mob-programming, and a mentor program.
  • Offer experiment-design training, and share results broadly.
  • Celebrate learning! Share broadly. Share visibly.

Why? Your team’s collective learning is your organization’s foremost asset. Left unshared, it depreciates almost immediately.

3. Watch a real user use your product to get their job done.

For example . . .

  • Schedule and host moderated and unmoderated usability tests.
  • Start diary studies with screen-share (e.g. always-on GoToMeeting study).
  • Watch session recordings. Evaluate click-stream analysis.

Why? To get out of your own head! No use arguing about whose guess is better.

4. Make it possible to deliver software fearlessly and with less drama.

For example . . . 

  • Encourage test driven development, automated testing, CI, a “stop the line” mandate (with no repercussions).
  • Use feature flags, beta groups, and prototype framework.
  • Invest in DevOps.

Why? If you work scared, you won’t take risks.

5. Reduce the number of dependencies and constraints.

For example . . .

  • Craft SOA, plan for obsolescence and change (vs. hardening and future-proofing).
  • Align teams around distinct value streams (vs. organize around architecture or skill-sets).
  • Make fewer promises to customers, and other stakeholders (internal and external).
  • Stop late binding of teams (vs. pre-assigning epics to teams months in advance).
  • Advocate just-in-time planning, co-design, design sprints, etc.

Why? You can’t move quickly with your hands tied. If you try, you’ll have mediocre results.

6. Promote diversity, and engage the minority viewpoint.

For example . . .

  • Promote diverse hiring teams, self-selecting teams and projects, and voluntary team rotation.
  • Tailor activities to different communication and learning styles.
  • Coach on listening and communication skills (while respecting diversity). Leaders speak last.
  • Use anonymous surveys (if safety level is low).
  • Try ritual dissent.

Why? If everyone thinks the same and is forced to agree with the loudest voice, you’ll never explore different perspectives.

7. Foster creativity and freedom to explore and experiment.

For example . . .

  • Describe the end-goal vs. a particular solution. In other words, promote creative solutions for “normal” work.
  • Allow teams to self-select a stretch innovation project after completing a “normal” feature.
  • Get individuals out of the functional silo (UXers code, engineers design).
  • **Start a “10% time” idea marketplace (Tinder for collaborating on projects), or co-design with customers.

Why? If you are 100% delivery focused, you’ll eventually hit the point when the luck runs out. We all crave a sense of impact and get a buzz from trying something new. **Bonus: this is how you innovate … not some lab or hack day.

8. Bridge silos.

For example . . .

  • Advocate all employees spend some time in the support queue.
  • Get marketing and sales engaged in group design activities.
  • Have front-line teams present to senior management (not a middle-person).

Why? Silos inhibit the flow of information.

As product development teams we spend a great deal of time looking for “the answer.” We often adopt methodologies as a safety blanket, and then lose faith when the situation changes. I’ve provided some examples, but your teams are smart! Let them experiment with the how. Paint these broad goals and let them lead you.

John Cutler, senior product manager, spends his creative capital at Pendo thinking and experimenting with ways that make product development and the customer experience better. For a real-world story of how analytics and onboarding can improve customer success, read how TrendKite uses Pendo.