Earning the “Right to Build” Products & Features

Whether you are a Product Manager, Developer, UX or another member of a product team, you should always be able to answer a simple question. Why? Why are you working on this particular project/feature/product and why is it more important than anything else?

Regardless of the methodology, agile or lean or whatever, we are all striving to deliver the most value to our customers in the most efficient way possible. In addition, we are looking to become more scalable and more predictable. Interestingly, in the days of enterprise desktop software, we measured ourselves by the number of new features in the “What’s New” press release. More was better. So, how do you remain agile and predictable and deliver a bucket of features? Quickly.


With the change in platforms and business models the thinking is changing. SaaS and subscription are both changing the way customers use and interact with software. More importantly, the biggest change is their expectations. They expect that things will work and that they will work great. If its broken, customers expect that it will be fixed soon, really soon.
What does this mean for product teams? It means that prioritization, data analytics, intimate customer relationships are critical. We really need to know why we are building what we are building and be as confident as possible that it matters. We need to be accountable.

All of this leads to a philosophy I like to call the “Right to Build”. Teams need to be totally bought in on their plan and should be willing to sell or pitch their viewpoint both to customers and internal stakeholders. It’s more of a mental shift than anything else. It’s about checks and balances. We need to consistently ask ourselves whether we are working on the right things and are we working on them in the right way. We, as product people, owe it to our customers and our stakeholders to earn the right to build. Thoughts?!

Building Emotional Products

Today’s product leaders are obsessed with the idea of innovation. It’s in every presentation, at every conference and in every strategic planning meeting. Every company wants “the next iPhone”. Companies  want to significantly differentiate themselves from their competitors. Or so they say. I question whether they are really looking to differentiate. When in fact, they are really looking for quick, near term growth?!

I’m often heard saying – if you have to tell people you are innovating than…likely, you aren’t. Innovation isn’t a project. Innovation isn’t an initiative. Innovation is an emotion. It’s the world”s view on how you tackled a particular challenge. It’s the emotion that you generate within your products.


Companies can develop new business model, like Uber. They can create beautiful products, like Apple. Or they can leverage new platforms, like Amazon. Each of these companies leveraged innovative ideas and technologies to catapult themselves into leadership positions. They not only disrupted existing markets, they in the process defined a new market and became the sole player and instant leader. Begs the question, do you think there was a planning meeting that kicked off with “how can we be innovative”? I doubt it.

Likely someone had a brilliant instinct, bit of luck and some good timing. They pitched an idea to a group of friends/co-workers, many laughed, some didn’t get it and enough supported it to take it further.

What do all of these examples have in common? They created a product that has created an undeniable emotion within their customers. Their customers, literally, love their products. They are willing to pay a premium and without batting an eye are willing to evangelize the value that they see in the product.

My suggestion, next time you are summoned to brainstorm innovation, decline it. It will be a waste if time. Rather, consider approaching your next brainstorming with emotions in mind. Think like your customers. What would they love? What far fetched idea would make people love what you’ve built?



Focus on asking why IoT rather than how…

I just spent a week with customers discussing different topics around IoT. Everything ranging from their specific products, to sensors, to mobile carriers to data lakes to mobile access to the information.

As with these things, we took deep dives into the technology. Looked at a variety of ways one could implement IoT into their portfolio. Often, we dug in deep, really deep. When we did come up for air, consistently, everyone had a puzzled look on their face. I think everyone got the general concept, in theory, but many struggled to connect the dots on exactly how they could implement the technology into their existing businesses.


We spent a good portion of our time exploring the how? How could they leverage it? After understanding what IoT was about, we continued to drill into how… how could they leverage it.

I hate playing devil’s advocate, but felt it was necessary to ask… why? Why should you invest in IoT? What pervasive near or long term problem would it solve? As engineers, we like to stay in the why not camp because we like to build and explore. I like to constantly ask…why?

This took us down the path of entertaining implementing IoT on new projects as opposed to retrofitting existing products. I believe this helped, but still resulted in the similar confusing look on their faces.

We started a great brainstorming exercise that consisted of listing problems.

  1. What are the biggest problems your business faces today?
  2. Is there anything you could do to improve that problem if you had more data?
  3. Are you or your company mentally prepared for change?
  4. Have you thought through the problem enough?
  5. So what?

More to come on this topic, but the morale of this – continue to ask why? Really know why before you jump in to an investment of new tech. The why might be to simply explore to learn. That is ok, but at least you will know and can plan/invest accordingly.