The gut is under assault.
We’re not talking about the Weight Watchers, expanding-waistlines version here. We’re talking about the region of the gut that resides in the brain of executive leadership – the gut often cited for instinctive decisions that resulted because someone thought, or felt, that millions should be spent on their idea.
Today, virtually every B2C and B2B marketplace has become uber-competitive – fueled by technologies that have all but ruled out the gut as a deciding factor in product development decisions – replaced by data-driven research, Agile processes – and a need to deliver what is promised, WHEN it is promised.
Nowhere is this reality more real than in the world of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), where misguided strategies, scope creep – and an unhealthy and unwelcome dose of “gut” – can be fatal to the product development process.
Let’s take a closer look at common challenges that have, in the past, derailed well-intentioned SaaS product development processes, and how the experts would get the
Problem: “Feature-Creep” – product development drifts off course from its original objectives, threatening the integrity of the product.
Solution: A top-down approach to development, as ascribed by Jim Semick, the founder and chief strategist at ProductPlan. His suggestion is to invest in a vision and strategic process for your product that involves executive leadership and stakeholders from the beginning. This will help connect product goals with future initiatives and vision.
Problem: Being too specific about future plans, which leads to a premature commitment to features and dates in the roadmap deliverable.
Solution: Instead of prematurely committing to specific monthly releases, product managers would be well advised to create a 3/6/12 month plan, which will help boost confidence as short-term feature enhancements are delivered. One such roadmap strategy is outlined by Steven R. Jones in this LinkedIn article.
Problem: The expectation that service delivery should occur in real time while being distributed for feedback across multiple locations.
Solution: Use of a feedback platform, like that offered by Qualtrics, which helps engineers incorporate real-time customer feedback into product enhancements and design. A Qualtrics case study illustrated how one company was able to significantly improve its product roadmap using the Qualtrics product.
Problem: How to prioritize features on your SaaS product roadmap.
Solution: Consider instituting a Weighted Score model or Kano model to help prioritize your roadmap. The aim of both is to introduce a more objective approach to the roadmap prioritization process. The Kano model, writes Jim Semick, “tries to focus more on the intangible benefits that specific features or initiatives will bring to customers,” while the weighted model is more analytics and data-point driven.
Some other techniques that experts recommend you can use to keep your SaaS product development process on track:
- Keep critical information at your fingertips, instead of waiting until the last minute to comb through emails, spreadsheets, scraps of paper and the like.
- Reprioritize your roadmap for each release, taking into account new information, consumer insights, and feedback from internal and external stakeholders.
- Find opportunities to reuse and synchronize projects, items, and components as a means of saving time and reducing risk.
- Strive to maintain a focus on new innovation more than incremental enhancements.
- Make sure you are getting consistency from across your entire product management organization.
One last point to bear in mind: Even with the best of intentions, and the best product development process, you may still struggle to envision what your product will look like in the next six months. Keep a keen focus on market forces, and ensure your senior leadership team is dialed into a “lean canvas” process (or similar) where you are constantly iterating until you find the right business model.
With such rapid changes in the marketplace, now is the time to put your best foot forward – and to relegate your “gut” to digestion only.