Product improvement: don’t get dragged into pointless discussions!

Lately, we had an intense discussion about how to improve our product (an application). The result was frustration and a feeling of wasted time. I asked myself why?

And then it clicked in my mind: I got dragged into a discussion that started all wrong!

Let me explain. The discussion started with someone suggesting an improvement with a technical focus, along the line of “this is the feature we need to add to our app”. Others proposed alternative features arguing the pros and cons of their solution. The discussion went from bad to worse as ever more features were put on the table.

With hindsight, we clearly had no chance of having a successful discussion because it started all so wrong! From experience, the best improvement ideas are generated by focusing on a concrete problem, exploring this problem space thoroughly before generating ideas to solve this problem. In other words, by following the design thinking principle. But not only do we need to start with the problem space, we also need to avoid a technical focus and start with a “high-level” view of the problem in the context of the customer experience / business processes.

My learning? I have created a simple model to illustrate my point.

model to guide product improvement
Model to guide the product improvement dialogue

To avoid useless discussions about product improvements, assess in which quadrant of the model the discussion is starting. If it’s not in the 1st quadrant, then reframe it to focus on the problems on the customer experience / business process level (quadrant 1). Once a common understanding is reached, then it’s time to assess how the current product relates to the problem (quadrant 2). From there, the team can formulate ideas that solve the problem on the customer experience / business process level (quadrant 3) and finally discuss what needs to be changed in the product to better support this solution (quadrant 4).

Do you also get dragged into discussion that start in the “technical-solution” space? – Joel Tendon


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