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Faster Horses or a Better Product?
Gaurav Passi
EVP, Product Management-Five9 Inc.
Monday, June 1, 2015
Building a winning product is like painting a beautiful work of art. To paint a masterpiece, you need to start with a clean piece of canvas, with all the colors and brushes within arms' reach, and no restrictions. In building a winning product (especially a new one), you also start with no limitations. A clean canvas and all your tools personas, competitive analysis, validation, prototyping, scrum teams, beta programs at hand to channel the voice of the customer into a masterpiece.

Of course, there are differences between paintings and products. Unlike a masterpiece hanging in a gallery, you deliver products to millions of users. Not only are you painting for that audience, you are on a constant journey of challenging every brushstroke of your vision, at any time throughout the product lifecycle.

The products I'm responsible for developing begin with the voice of the customer. However, to paraphrase Henry Ford, if I simply built what customers told me to build, I would have built faster horses. My product managers are empowered to make great products a reality by both channeling and challenging every voice at every step through an agile canvas.

What is this canvas? It is clear, concise, and before any line of code is created, you paint answers to the following:

Who's the enemy? What is the compelling unmet need? After all, "slow horses" weren't the problem
Is that problem truly worth solving? Is there a clear sizing and market for it that you and only you can solve?
What are your "wow" factors? What core things not done well by today's solutions will you do differently and what is the measurable benefit
What end do you have in mind? A simple concept visualization that a five-year old can understand, or a mock press release announcing how your product
revolutionized business

The answers to the above are not bluster spread across hundreds of slides or pages. They are reminders that we need to be ready to write and re-write hundreds of times. Once you have them on the canvas, you are built to iterate. Whether your canvas contains a simple visualization or alpha product ready for limited production, a canvas must be:

Built to share. It is always in your back pocket, ready for the shark tank (your stakeholders) to showcase your key assertions
Built to fail fast. You aren't looking for rubberstamps you're looking to disprove and re-vector the key assertions underpinning the product
Built to win. Not only do you fail fast you pivot faster in the right direction, at every step because you are not over-engineering against false assertions
Built to wow. Don't be shy. You are built to earn an audience, and win ownership.

This may seem labor intensive at first glance, but if you are too eager to rubberstamp a product, then your product will fail. Your goal isn't to trace over the outlines of what someone else previously designed. Your role isn't to by paint-by-numbers. Your purpose is to listen to customers, and deliver a masterpiece.

It will be dirty work at times. By the time the canvas has evolved from vision to actual product content, every member of the product chain will be covered in paint. At any point during development, you should be able to challenge the team. If what is being built isn't on that canvas you need to act.

The action continues not just with development but also in a succession of friendly reviews, internal trials, and limited releases. You will be taking that canvas away from the comfort of your studio, bringing it to select audiences in THEIR environment. You will prove that your product not only can win, but will hit the market speaking the voice of the customer and those customers will reply in a chorus of references, rave reviews, and revenues.

Finally, the product is released. Done right, that canvas becomes a product masterpiece that resonates uniquely to each customer, and is showcased through millions of customer experiences all over the world. But your product, the painting, is never finished. There's always another fresh canvas to frame, with voices to hear and masterpieces to make real.

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