Product Managers and Product Teams face no shortage of ideas about how their product should change over time. From executives, to sales, marketing, and of course customers, everyone has an idea about how something could be added or updated to make the product better. Great Product Teams seek this feedback, but need a better, more systematic way to validate potential product updates before investing in building enhancements or new products.
This article describes moving away from an email and spreadsheet approach to using IdeaPlace for managing the flow of product ideas, thereby empowering Product Teams to build better products.
How it Works
People are not shy about suggesting ideas for product enhancements—the CEO has an idea about a new feature, Sales is hearing about a competitive feature that is being well-received by the market, Marketing wants to focus on features to attract new users, the Support Team listens to the biggest pain points, and customers voice (sometimes yell) their views about how the product should evolve.
If there’s one thing Product Teams are not lacking for, it's a constant flow of ideas about how their product should evolve to meet the needs of different constituents. However, without a systematic process, teams can struggle to ensure they're focusing scarce resources on the most impactful validated enhancements that customers and potential customers desire.
Managing this flow of information, validating potential product enhancements, and communicating openly and transparently to maintain an inclusive culture can be a constant challenge for Product Teams. And attempting to manage all of this over email and in spreadsheets alone is lossy and inefficient. In contrast, IdeaPlace provides a central, searchable platform for engaging all of these constituents in a long-running conversation about the design and evolution of a product.
Set a Context
A first, major difference between IdeaPlace and an email and spreadsheet approach to managing potential product ideas is context. Email is contextless—people can open up email and send the Product Team any idea on any topic they choose. In IdeaPlace, conversation are bound by context: product goals, a particular focus for the team, or a nagging question.
Casting a wide net is fine too. Set a very broad context if the goal is to capture any potential idea for consideration.
Context can be set to capture incremental ideas for small improvements or ideas for entirely new product lines, or anything in between. The important thing, though, is that the Product Team gets to set that context and pay the most attention to those ideas in the specific areas of focus.
Start with a current, realistic Challenge, and run it for a few weeks. This will introduce people to the new process, they'll see end-to-end decision-making, and you'll get great ideas to help with something real.
Choosing an Audience
There are many potential audiences that a Product Team might want to engage with to discuss, validate, and evaluate potential product ideas. They may engage the entire organization with a Challenge, or be more targeted by interacting with Sales and Marketing, or may want to speak directly to customers.
Once you're experienced with your workflow in IdeaPlace, invite your best customers to directly contribute with your team. Getting feedback through the support and sales organizations is great, but having a direct line of communication with customers allows you to hear directly from those using your product.
Once the audience is chosen, and the context launched, people will begin to suggest and discuss ideas. An active Product Team should view this as an opportunity—to hear directly from each constituency how they each think the product should evolve. And by engaging, centrally, in a conversation, the idea can begin to be validated.
All ideas are conversations, and having a centralized place for these conversations pays immediate dividends and provides long-term value.
Fill out your Product Team with people who like to engage with others, they'll view their interactions with the rest of the organization, and with partners and customers, as an essential part of their job.
Validation is Essential
Great Product Teams validate the impact of potential product changes before investing resources. Will the change drive additional usage? Will it help acquire new customers? Is the investment in resources required to execute the change worth it? Perhaps more than anyone, the Lean Startup movement has been an important voice in stressing how essential validated learning is:
When you focus on figuring the right thing to build—the thing customers want and will pay for—you need not spend months waiting for a product beta launch to change the company's direction.
By creating a systematic approach to validated learning, the Product Team is always maximizing the impact of their potential product changes.
With IdeaPlace at the front of the product development process, Product Teams have a place to track potential product changes from inception, through validation, learning, iteration, and ultimately rejection or inclusion in the product roadmap.
The more evidence your Product Team uses in their decision-making, and the more they share this with the organization, the less likely it will be that people feel like their ideas aren't being considered. Evidence and transparency build trust.
Product Management, at its core, is all about effective communication. From goal-setting, to idea submission, collaboration, consideration, validation, and ultimately decisions leading to inclusion on the product roadmap, the product management process is an exercise in communication. And the best Product Teams are often the best communicators.
Product Teams using IdeaPlace can leverage networks of people, inside and outside of the organization, to look for ideas, and to help evaluate those ideas. They can organize their conversations around goals for the product, and further organize conversations. And the entire scope of the product management process can be improved by communication with IdeaPlace, from goal-setting all the way through to release notes as ideas become real changes made to the product.
IdeaPlace at the front-end of the product management process enables Product Teams to listen across multiple channels for input, rigorously validate ideas for their potential impact on the organization’s goals, and communicate decisions back to the community. This creates a positive feedback loop, ensuring continued participation and excitement throughout the entire network of people who care about the product.
View the communication of a decision, not as tedious work, but as a marketing opportunity. Decisions become the ultimate moment to discuss why an idea did or did not make the roadmap, further educating the community about what types of ideas the Product Team is seeking.