Agile · Innovation · New features · Problems · Product management

Learning by listening

Yogi Berra said it best: “You can observe a lot just by watching” (image from quotefancy). I had an opportunity last week to do some of that watching at a conference that brought together practitioners across the industry for which my team develops software. Working on product solutions in an Agile environment makes it vital to spend quality time gathering market feedback and I find attending industry conferences often provides very valuable insight into what problems people are wrestling with. Looking through the list of session offerings for the three-day conference, strolling through the vendor booths to observe how different companies were marketing their products and services, and talking with attendees over lunch and during breaks gave me a good sense of what our potential clients are trying to accomplish in their daily work lives. That kind of insight can be useful in a number of ways.

I heard some similar and overlapping concerns from different people about an issue that our product does not currently address; maybe we can start investigating this area further to decide either to develop our own solution, partner/integrate with existing solutions, or leave this alone because it doesn’t offer as much value for our clients as other things might.

I saw several competitors speaking about their products in ways that are similar to our own marketing message; maybe there are key ways we can differentiate our offering to rise above this noise, maybe these similar messages confirm that we are on to something valuable that will resonate across the broader market, and maybe the fact that several companies are talking about the same things we are means that we need to push deeper into our users’ workflows to get ahead of possible competition.

I heard a number of presentations about ethics in our field and about the ‘big picture’ things that our market worries about (changing regulatory standards, global instability in the financial and political arena, and uncertainty about technological changes); while our product doesn’t directly help with any of these issues maybe we can touch on them some in the ways we position ourselves in the market to show potential clients that we understand their core concerns.

Some companies build products and hope that they will find customers to buy and use them; we are attempting to discover real and pervasive market problems with an existing customer base ready to pay for a good solution. I find spending time observing at industry conferences can provide valuable food for thought as we look to develop and enhance our offerings. You can observe a lot just by watching but of course, in truth it’s not that simple.

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