Building Great Products- Listen to customer problems and not solution
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Product Management is a dream job for many people out there who want to be a jack of all trades and has an entrepreneurial mindset to create new products. But becoming a product manager is no simple thing and requires a lot of skills and the right attitude to develop great products. Never forget that building products are not easy and building great products is even harder.

It takes a lot of intelligence and dedication to build great products and often requires making bold decisions. Understanding and deciding on what to build and how well to build it can make a lot of difference to the entire process of product development and coming up with awesome products. And of course, it’s all in the hands of a product manager.

If you take  a look at what product management is all about, the responsibilities of a product manager may be summarized as below:

  • Understanding a customer problem that has a market
  • Identify a solution to the problem
  • Facilitate building the product by coordinating between and guiding the cross-functional groups
  • Take the product to market

Among these, the first part ‘identifying the customer problem that has a market’ is the key to building great products.

Importance of Understanding Customer Problems

‘Customer Problem’ is the ‘Gold’ in product management.  Products should be created to address customer problems and delight them.

Identifying the problems that your users are looking to solve is very important because that is the reason that they will buy your product as long as it solves the problem and adds some value to the customer. If you are developing a product that actually solves any of the problems customers are facing, there is no reason for them to give your product even a try.

One mistake that many product development teams make is they spend very little time in understanding and prioritizing problems and spend a big chunk of time building the product or what they believe is a solution to some problem.

The decision to build a specific product can be born out of many reasons- like inspired by a competitor’s product, a big innovation using the latest technologies and so on. These are not bad ideas.

But the truth is people don’t really care much about products that have simple enhancements to whatever they are really using and product that doesn’t give them much value. There are many products in the market simply because they are possible with the latest technologies today. But, sadly innovation without a purpose may not excite your customers. One of the greatest examples is ‘Google glass’. The product functioned as a hands-free smart device letting users access the internet, camera, maps, calendar, etc by voice commands. One of the primary reasons for the failure of the ‘Google Glass’ was that the product offered no clear benefit to customers and did not address any of their existing problems.

Hence, customer problem understanding and prioritization should be given due importance for building a successful product that your customers would really appreciate. When you are building a product or rather working on a solution, chances are there you might go wrong with the solution at some point, but you may be able to fix it. But, if you have not understood the problem you will never be able to find a solution. Worst case, you may be even trying to solve a problem that actually doesn’t exist and there is little you can do about it after you launch the product.

How do you identify the customer problems?

Finding real problems customers face is difficult often. Even after a lot of research and fretting about what customers are looking for, it is possible that you will identify a problem that doesn’t really exist or that does not matter to your customers. The right way place to start to find problems is by talking to your prospects.

When you are thinking of designing a new product, chances are there your customers have most of the answers. Ask them several simple questions like, ‘What is the most serious problem they would like to be solved related to XYZ?’, “Do they agree of having that problem?’,  ‘How important is it for them for that problem to be solved?’, ‘How likely would they actually pay for a product that solves the problem?’, etc. You might even have customers who come up with solutions they want to their problems as an app idea or so.

But don’t be in a hurry to build what they have asked for.Never forget that your customers may not be able to articulate their problems well. After all, it is not their job and they don’t necessarily know what they want or what is possible to solve their problem. Their actual problem may be buried even deeper in their thinking process which they don’t realize and you might have to get to the bottom of what they described as their problem to know what the real need.

So, you should focus on their problems, and really not listen to (or consider it immediately)  the solutions they propose. A good PM should dig deep into the problems and customer responses, keep asking why and do some real-life observations to better understand them and be able to find a solution.

There are other sources as well to learn about customer problems - your customer support team, your sales, and marketing team, analytics team, etc, who can share valuable information about customer behavior or customer problems and market trends.

Building the Right Product the right way

One of the important reasons that many products fail is that the product development teams just jump into building the product before understanding the problem. This is because to build the right solution you need a clear picture of the problem as the solution you build can only be as good as your understanding of the problem you are addressing.

The problem definition part might not seem exciting and you might even get bogged down in the process. It can be emotionally challenging and time-consuming. But, that is the first thing to do for building the right products, the right way.

Identifying users’ needs and existing demand for solving a problem is the common ingredient of most innovative successful products in the market. Understanding the customer problem drastically reduces the likelihood that you build something that turns out to be useless for people, rather than realizing it after you invest your time and money building the wrong product.

Obsessing on the problem understanding can definitely be productive and you can see how it gives you a clear view on what to build, and how to build, and finally see how customers value it because that’s something they wanted.

Hope this information helps you build successful products.