We tried to put a process around describing our customer in my last post. Can we do something similar for products?
The tool that I like and use regularly is the product feature grid. No rocket science just basic common sense. Here is what it looks like
At the top of the grid we put in five basic elements used in evaluating a feature and deciding if that feature should go in a product release or not. We grade and rank each possible feature in our product on these elements. The elements are:
How important is the feature to our customer?
How easy is it to include this feature within our product offering?
Is the feature provided by our competition?
Can we charge a higher price by including this feature?
Will our cost structure change by including this feature?
For score we use a simple scale that goes from 0 – 10. Where 10 is good, 0 is not. For each question while the score is in the same range, the interpretation of the answer is slightly different.
How important is the feature to our customer? (10 very important, 0 not important)
How easy is it to include this feature within our product offering? (10 very easy, 0 not easy at all)
Is the feature provided by our competition? (10 very well, 0 not at all)
Can we charge a higher price by including this feature? (10 absolutely, 0 not at all)
Will our cost structure change by including this feature? (10 no change in cost structure, 0 significant change in cost structure)
That is the easy part the difficult part is filling in the feature matrix. What are some of the possible sources of product features? Here is a starting list of questions that can help us dig. Before we proceed please remember that there is going to be a fair bit of overlap with customer, marketing and distribution elements. While you can make a case that some of the questions that follow are really not product questions, but please bear with me till the end.
The first and the easiest question that comes up is how is the product priced? Free, cheap, premium, expensive, high end or affordable?
We already have access to the voice of the customer so we close our eyes, take a deep breath and imagine him using the product. How does he or she use it? How often does he use it? When the product runs out, does he go out and buy it in tangible form or is there a more abstract refill mechanism in place? How frequently does he end up buying it? Where does he buy it? Can he order it online? Does he buy it on his way to work or on his way back? Is he in a rush or does he has time to look around? When he looks around, how is our product stocked and shelved it? Which aisle? Which shelf? If it is sold in a store, what product is next to it? How does our product stand out?
This is assuming that the customer already knows about our product and features. What if he doesn’t? How does he find out about us? In print, on TV, on air, an FM station, a brochure, a write up, or the web? In the morning, on his way to work, on his way home or just before he drops off to sleep? Irrespective of the medium when the customer finds us, what greets him? How do we describe and present our product. Do we need a one liner, or a paragraph? Will an image do or do we need a clip? When he sees the product for the first time does he understand it or do we need to train him to use it? Is the training intuitive or counter intuitive? Is the product experience addictive or abrasive? How do we prepare him for it? Given what we know of our customer, is this description going to be simple and summarized or complex and detailed?
If you have noticed we still haven’t described the core product. We started off with price, then usage, then distribution, then description then promotion, then medium and then back again to description. To this list we now start adding product functionality and tweaking it keeping in mind the above information.
Let’s give the above list a shot. Let’s assume that I am building a network of qualified house wives who are looking for free-lance contracts to do basic programming work part time. Something along the lines of E-lance and Odesk but for women who can’t commute and can only work part time. You can take a quick look and Odesk and create a list of about 300 features that Odesk provides that you need to provide at a bare minimum since that is now the acceptable standard. But is there anything that you can leverage but Odesk can’t.
For one you can restrict entry only to working women as far as the resource pool is concerned? Can you do that online? How about making it possible for the women in question to not just code but also sell items in their “things-I-need-to-get-rid-of” inventory. You could do two modes – garage sale (once a year dump) or outlet mall (regular inventory). But is that reason enough to switch from Odesk? How about throwing in a support network of mentors, facilitators and other working women who can help craft a great pitch as well as help you close your first deal? A peer group of similar women who are just as interested in seeing you succeed and making it big? Default stores, profiles and templates? Going rates for certain type of work? Direct debit settlement to your bank account so that you don’t have to worry about leaving home to deposit a check? Standard templates for work for hire contracts? Verified payment and settlement? Peer and 360 reviews? Seem less integration Social networking to build up your network? Do you build one from scratch or simply piggy back on Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter? Lead generation? Arbitration? Payment and code escrow? Support and maintenance services?
How easy or difficult is it to include each of the above features? Does it add value as far as the customer is concerned? Can you charge a little bit more? How does your timeline or costing change when you add any of the above?
The end result of all of the above questions is a simple grid that can be summed and sorted to give you a minimum acceptable feature set or if you flip the list on its head, a roadmap to a completely unique and differentiated product.
Jawwad Farid is a serial entrepreneur who is the author of Reboot and the founder of Alchemy Technologies (http://www.alchemya.com). He is also a regular contributor to the DesiBackToDesh blog (http://blog.alchemya.com ). This article is the second in a series of articles written for his entrepreneurship class at SP Jain, Dubai.