20/20 Vision

Goal: Understand Customer Priorities

Effective product teams not only understand which set of features must be present to justify a release, they have taken the time to carefully enumerate the ranking of each. They know which is “number 1”, which is “number 2”, and, which set of stakeholders care the most about number one, which cares the most about number two, and so on. They also know that different market segments may not agree among these rankings, so they seek to understand the differences among the market segments. The most effective product teams take this even further and can demonstrate how their prioritization supports larger business priorities (and when the business priorities aren’t clear, these teams clarify them!).


The Game

When you’re getting fitted for glasses, your optometrist will often ask you to compare between to potential lenses by alternately showing each of them (“which of these lenses is better… number 1 or number 2?”). Although it may take some time, eventually you’ll settle on the set of lenses that are best for your eyes. You can use a variant of this approach to help your customers see which priorities are best for them, as customers often have trouble “seeing” which features are the highest priority, especially if you’re asking them to compare several features at the same time.

Start by writing one feature each on large index cards. Shuffle the pile and put them face down. Take the first one from the top of the pile and put it on the wall. Take the next one and ask your customers if it is more or less important than the one on the wall. If it is more important, place it higher. If it is less important, put it lower. Repeat this process with all of your feature cards and you’ll develop 20/20 vision on what your market really wants!


Why It Works

While just about every customer knows chances are pretty good that they can’t have everything they want in a product, they also know that until you work with them to prioritize they have the upper hand in asking you for features. Perhaps more importantly, features of complex products are inter-related, and the product design and development team often faces a continuum of possible solutions that could meet customer needs. Asking your customers to prioritize a list of features without providing them the opportunity to explore design continuums or dependencies often results in misunderstanding. By facilitating discussions of feature priorities with several customers, you will give them the chance to explore design continuums and relationships that result in a better understanding of market needs.

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