The Product Envisioning Process Is About Risk Mitigation
The success of a product or service in this modern day and age is largely seen as a random event – presented as the culmination of skill and technological excellence, delivered with adroit adherence to marketing strategy, and a solid dose of sheer luck. What many experts take for granted and largely ignore are the underlying factors of success, namely the arduous task of developing the vision surrounding a new product or service, and the creation of an execution strategy. 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 definition.
The 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. Before you build, you must first envision what it is you are going to build. This needn’t be an overly burdensome process — depending on the complexity of the problem to be solved, or the skill and maturity of the individual or team to tackle the problem, you might quickly move from “ideation” to execution rather quickly.
One key component of the envisioning stage is to first explore and identify the many “actors” participating in the system, which are the atomic components abstracted within the 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 fairly straight-forward concepts are simply tools to help you flesh out your ideas and align them with your overall product or service vision and goals, and are the crucial first steps in the process of product development. Without going through these exercises and attempting to clarify your vision, your team may not come together quickly to execute on that vision (or be able to move forward at all). 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? The mistake is the assumption that people bring to the table a good idea — and where they need help is with their execution planning, or in building their go-to-market strategy. As companies have shown again and again with failed product after failed product, this is a mistake.
My perspective is consistent with much of my technical project management experience: its about risk mitigation. By having a more clear picture of your idea, ratified by team and community input, and benefiting from iterations of actor, use case, and scenario reviews, your risks of failure are greatly diminished. Even if your idea is that “diamond in the rough,” with inherent value, 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 likely become pointed in the wrong direction. And even if your idea is a clear winner but your trajectory is off, 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.