As a product manager, you’ve pinpointed your customer’s real problem, and now you turn to your engineers to solve that problem. Right? Wrong! Engineers love problems because it means that they can devise complex and perfect technological solutions. Don’t blame them for this — that’s what they enjoy and that’s what they’re good at. Bring them any simple problem and they’ll find a complex solution, I always joke. Instead, ask your engineers to explain to you the technologies they have in store so that you, the product manager, can choose the right one to use.
Here are 4 things to do to create products or services that actually create value for customers.
1: Don’t be a mailbox
The role of a product manager is to understand their customers’ problems then find the right way to solve it — not to ask other people to solve your problems. This may sound like a nuance, but this is the fundamental difference between product leadership and a me-too product. That is the difference between a product manager and a mailbox.
Too many times I’ve seen product managers acting merely as mailboxes and compilers: they collect and compile their customers’ requests then they ask engineers to solve their problems. Engineers develop perfect but comprehensive (read expensive and long to develop) solutions that try to cater for every possible scenario.
2: A problem has different solutions
Each technology choice implies a set of conditions, limitations and consequences that you, as product manager, need to understand deeply.
Years ago I had a sore throat and stuffy nose, and had been coughing for days and days. So I went to the doctor to treat what turned out to be chronic sinusitis. Antibiotics would help me, he said. And indeed, they helped. But my symptoms came back. “That’s why it is called ‘chronic,’” he told me. Another doctor advised me to undergo surgery, so I did. It turned out to be a long, complex, invasive and uncomfortable procedure. It helped a lot, but the sinusitis still does come back from time to time.
Same problem, two solutions. How can that be? Each specialist looks at a problem through their own lenses. The engineers and all specialists in your company do the same.
So now go back to your engineers and ask them to show you around all the technologies they have in-house. Be inquisitive about the pros and cons of each solution. Don’t limit yourself to your engineers: go and ask different people about different solutions. Keep an eye on technologies outside your company, too, through your competitors, suppliers,… Challenge your engineers by inviting suppliers to demonstrate their technologies and seeing how they could help you solve your problem.
Do the same with your UI/UX designers, marketers, etc…
By now, you’ve found that there are several ways to solve each problem. I generally use three criteria to rate solutions, but these may vary depending on the situation:
– From the very efficient to the least efficient —“Is my problem completely or only partially solved?”
– From the very expensive/complex to the least expensive/complex.
– Finally, how does this match with your long-term vision? Some solutions will bring you limitations over time.
3: Your solution is perfect but does you customer care about perfection?
Solving a problem to reach 100% customer value may require 100 hours of engineering time at a cost of €1,000. Solving 80% of the customer’s problem with only 20 hours of engineering time for €200 could also be a very acceptable solution for your customer. It does not bring the best solution possible, but it offers a good-enough solution that you can bring to the market profitably, and for which the customer is willing to pay. You’d be surprised but more often than you think, the best solution doesn’t even involve a lot of technology! Rate each technology against these three3 criteria’s:
– efficiency at solving the problem
– long- term viability
4: test your customers’ willingness to pay early, very early.
In the vast majority of cases, product managers check the product-market fit. The price is usually left out of the discussion and days or week before the launch, comes the difficult question: what price will we charge?
The price (and the pricing model) is not an afterthought but is an integral part of your offering. When considering buying something, we gage all the time what benefits we’ll receive in exchange for our money.
So have the price discussion very early.
And voilà. Now you’ve built a product that improves your customers’ life and, importantly, one he is willing to pay for— and you’ve even had a lot of fun talking to a lot of people along the way.
By the way, I now treat my chronic sinusitis with inhalations. It does not solve 100% of my problem, but a good 80% of it, yes. It is a low-tech solution, very cost-effective, and much more flexible to implement.
Now tell me more about you. What are the things you do to create products or services that actually create value for customers?
Elithan Consultancy is a consultancy and interim management company that helps B2B technology
companies create, capture, position and launch customer value. Elithan Consultancy helps you make
informed and better decisions that lead to lower business risk and more positive outcomes.