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.

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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?!

Product Managers Should Choose Service Over Product

As a product manager, often we are faced with the question. Is the customer always right? If we are honest, the answer, probably not. However, the customer expects and requires good service. Assuming you want to keep them as a customer.

Loyal customers gravitate to the products we build for various reasons. Some is due to clever marketing, some is the different feature or service we provide and sometimes its a bit of dumb luck. Regardless, however we capture that loyalty, we need to keep it. Here is a brief story of where loyalty was lost.

I am a big fan of wireless headphones. Between airplane rides, endless conference calls and running, you can expect to find a pair of headphones around my neck. Another observation that you could make is that I am brand loyal. I find something I like and I am loyal, almost to a fault. I’m finding, there is a connection between loyalty and service.

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Two years ago, I purchased a mid-priced set of wireless headphones that I wore all the time. After about a year, they stopped working. I was moderately happy with the quality, but for the price, I was fairly content. Being frustrated that they stopped working, I called tech support, which is out of character in itself. You know, to actually call someone. The experience was reasonable and they replaced the broken headset free of charge, no questions asked.

About a year later, same thing. The replacement pair stopped working. At this point, I have grown less satisfied with the quality, in general. This time, I logged in to their support “chat” and the experience was much different than the phone call. It took entirely too long for them to take all of my information and various emails back and forth to provide proof of purchase. Eventually 3-4 emails later, I received a confirmation email to ship my defective set back and approximately 10 days later they would send a new pair. What?! Keep in mind, this whole time, I am on the road and shipping anything was a hassle. Not to mention, I am now roughly two weeks without a pair of wireless headphones. First world problems, I know.

One week later, I am still carrying the defective headset around in my bag. Just annoyed at the whole process. Low and behold, yesterday I receive an email from a competitive product announcing brand new, high end, wireless headphones. Was this a sign? Not sure. Needless to say, I bought two brand new pair of the competitors product in lieu of a free replacement pair from my former loyal brand.

The morale of the story. As product leaders, ensure you are providing great service. All the time, no questions asked. Is the customer always right? Not sure, but this customer is waiting on UPS to try out his two brand new pair of headphones.