The Product Definition Dilemma
The success of a product or service in this modern day and age is seen as an unpredictable event – presented as the culmination of skill and technological excellence, delivered with adroit adherence to the principles of marketing strategy (these being the four P’s: Product, Price, Placement, and Promotion) – with the obvious benefit of sheer luck. Product development and strategy “experts” take for granted and largely ignore the underlying factors of success, namely the arduous task of developing the vision surrounding a new product or service, and expanding that vision into a format that is ready for the application of some kind of strategy. As a result, product creation is often seen as a perfunctory step or function in the larger process – a step in a long list of things to accomplish – but without giving proper weight and respect to what is obviously the most critical step in the process: the product definition.
The eloquent deliberation of a product outline or definition is hardly the act of a magnanimous and altruistic creator, but rather is the necessary beginning to the product development process. The growing sentiment among software development professionals pays homage to this concept – before you build, you must understand the model. A sound model must first explore and identify the many “actors” participating in the system, which are the atomic components abstracted within that system, such as the computers doing the work or computations, the processes driving the business function, and the primary users working within the system. Next, “use cases” are developed, appropriately categorizing and subcategorizing activities within the model, helping the developer to understand the relationships between actors. And finally, there is the creation of use case “scenarios”, illustrating how all of the actors and use cases work together to solve business problems.
In this process, slowly but surely chaos becomes order, and random thoughts germinate into the possibility of a product.
These concepts are neither clandestine schemes for consulting gurus, nor apocryphal tools rejected by the marketing elite. These are the crucial first steps in the process of product development. Left untended, this step will empower disorder and eventually dysfunction of both your team and your product. So why do so few books and articles focus on this aspect of product development compared to the vast wealth of material available surrounding marketing? Conspiracy theories aside, the mistake is the assumption that the average reader already has some kind of product or service identified, clearly outlined, and ready for mass marketing.
My point is that if you do not properly scope your project up front, the trajectory of your development efforts – and possibly how your company positions itself to the marketplace – will be pointed in the wrong direction. The result is that outside groups, whether they are venture capitalists, technology partners, or customers, will sense that something is askew in your business model and direction. And if they can sense it, you may lose a sale, lose a partnership, or lose a funding opportunity.