WebInno: Building Products That Win

  • March 2011
  • Posted By Nitzan Shaer

Nitzan ShaerLast week I had the pleasure of moderating a WebInno panel: Building Products That Win.  Our panelists were Ben Foster, vice president of product at Opower, Adam Medros, vice president of product at TripAdvisor and Fareed Behmaram-Mosavat, director of product, Boston Studio at Zynga.  Many thanks to David Beisel and Rob Go for putting together this exciting panel.

The statistic that 95 percent of new products introduced each year fail (according to AcuPoll) is often cited.  While some may see that as discouraging odds, I view it as a motivator.  It’s a call to action to every product strategist and product manager: what can we do now, to ensure the new product on which we are working can fall within the slim margin of 5 percent of products that win?  Our panelists shared their thoughts – both big, strategic ideas and smaller, tactical operating principles – on how to create successful products.

Here’s what jumped out at me:

Customer feedback.  All our panelists agreed customer feedback is vital throughout the product development process.  Gathering customer feedback does not mean doing a round of 10 interviews in the beginning of the product creation process.  It literally means means understanding what users want every step of the way.  This echoes my own experience – while I was at Skype leading the team to build out the mobile product, we had customers in our offices every Wednesday.  Whether we wanted them or not.  Whether we were ready to show them new product or not.  It was a refreshing (and at times cold shower) experience that kept us honest and on track.

One of the interesting points made by the panelists is that you need to be strategic about customer feedback.  As noted by Ben Foster, “Don’t just listen to what the customer says, watch what they do, and what they are truly looking for.”

Don’t fall victim to feature creep. It takes a unique skill set and drive to innovate and create new products.  There’s a rush some get when solving an “unsolvable” problem or inventing something completely new.  Unfortunately, that rush can overwhelm the product strategy.  It’s easy for a development team to get caught up in creating and lose focus on solving a problem.

Adam Medros of Trip Advisor offered his solution to this problem.  Every product roadmap of his has a “not gonna happen” column, which is enforced religiously.

Vision and motivation.  The product team needs to understand – and embody – the vision for the product – and how that product fits within the overall business plan.  Vision and motivation are reflections of the makeup of the product team.  As Fareed Behmaram-Mosavat commented, “everyone on the product team must be proud of the current product, but dissatisfied enough to keep kicking butt.”

While no single panel (or blog post for that matter) can unlock all the secrets to building a successful product, the ideas shared at WebInno are great starting points for product managers and product strategists at companies of all sizes – not just startups.


— Nitzan




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