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Where does your product suck? Where does it matter?

Co-founder & Chief Strategy Officer, Intercom

Des Traynor

@destraynor

A product roadmap is built out of hard decisions. The bugs you must fix will fight with the features you must finish, the features your customers want will compete with the ones they need.

If you focus only on new features you’ll build a product that is miles wide and inches deep. And if you focus only on repairs you’ll never innovate, thus becoming irrelevant. Hard decisions indeed.

When you are focusing on improving your product, a good question to ask is “Where do we suck, where does it matter?”

To improve a product you focus on the parts that are both important and disappointing to customers. Both are required otherwise you’ll end up working on areas that no one cares about, or over-serving areas where you’re already more than good enough.

In his popular article, Turning Customer Input into Innovation, Anthony Ullwick proposes an opportunity algorithm which offers a practical way to plan a roadmap, taking importance and satisfaction into account.

Where do the opportunities lie?

Ullwick’s simple opportunity algorithm cleanly identifies the shortcomings in a product, by getting customers to rank the jobs they need to do by how important they are, and how satisfied they are currently. The opportunity is then simply expressed as:

importance + (importance-satisfaction)

Note: the bracketed element bottoms out at zero, over-serving a job doesn’t reduce its opportunity.

Aside from the simplicity of the formula, another nice trait is how it often highlights opportunities that would otherwise have gone unnoticed. Regularly the biggest opportunities lie in areas the product manager regards as being “complete”, “bug free”, “good enough” etc. A minor improvement on an important task is almost always a larger opportunity than a big improvement on an ancillary one.

The 80/20 school of thought can lead product managers astray. The idea that 20% of the features will get you 80% of the value may well be correct, but it also means that on important tasks, you’re giving customers a B-grade experience where it matters most. This point was made by Mark Zuckerberg talking about the early days of Facebook…

There’s no right way to prioritize a roadmap, but there are plenty of wrong ones. If there’s opportunities in existing product areas, and your roadmap ignores them in favour of new features, then you’ll soon be that jack-of-all-jobs product.

Address your product’s shortcomings, or someone else will.