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Build Requirements from Research, Not Opinions

Ben McCraw
Co-Founder - Accomplice

No matter how well you think you know your market, no one person within an organization should determine the future of a product. Too often, an industry veteran with a good idea transitions into an entrepreneur or CEO looking to build the product that was always missing from their time in the industry. They use their experience, relationships and now executive authority to produce product requirements. For some, it works. For most, their demagoguery leads to data-less decision making.

At one time I was involved with a newly acquired company, flush with financial backing and a team of bright-eyed developers, sales staff and product owners all ready to make these products the next paradigm shift in an immature marketplace. A perfect opportunity to create a product of real value.

Products should be the voice of your customers made manifest.

But, we made all of our product requirements from interactions between the CEO’s old Business Manager (now an advisor to the new owners) and a potential customer who wouldn’t be utilizing our full product range. The entire product was built around the opinions and hunches of one customer’s CTO and an industry insider’s casual understanding of our technically complicated products. The executive staff was reassured because these advisors are experts in this market, right?

After nearly a year of overtime-driven development, the entire team put forth a product that was the culmination of thousands of hours and millions of dollars of development. Our customer advisory board – comprised of actual users – was less than impressed. Nearly half of the product team and every developer with entrenched product knowledge left and left the sales department with a decision as to whether or not they were willing to try and brave the market with a sub-par product.

There are many examples like this out there, and for some reason the business world continues to reinforce this behavior. Experience is valid, and advisors and industry experts can help shape a product and company for the better. But an agnostic, data-driven strategy for product development is as important to the success of your product as a solid development team, strong leadership or financial stability.

Investing in market research and effective user requirements provides clear, unbiased guidance to those who will be building your organization’s future. Armed with the right data, your product and engineering teams can do amazing things. Product owners will have confidence in their interactions with development and development will be happy knowing that what they are building will help customers achieve their goals.

Wield your research well and the rest of the lifecycle will follow in turn.