Agile · Development Effort · Effectiveness · Features · podcasts · Problems · Product management

Problems, Outcomes, and Impact

This morning I was listening to a podcast from Inside Intercom

By the way, if you’re interested in product development at any level – if you’re a designer, a marketer, a developer, a product manager, a tester – and you are not listening to the weekly podcast from Inside Intercom then I strongly encourage you to put it in your podcast feed. Each episode is 20-30 minutes and I am always glad I listened. Some episodes and interviews are powerfully helpful, some simply interesting, but all of them give me at least one thought to ponder. Here’s a link to got you to their site (https://www.intercom.com/blog/podcasts/) and here’s one for the specific episode from this week that inspired my thoughts below (https://www.intercom.com/blog/podcasts/josh-seiden-on-why-product-teams-should-focus-on-outcome-vs-output/). Now back to what I was saying…

So I was listening to a podcast with an interview of one of the authors of Lean UX and he described three levels of thinking about what to work on for a product and how to measure the success of those development efforts.

  1. Problems to solve. What specific problem does a user face (or what aspiration are they pursuing) and how can our product help overcome that problem or attain that aspiration.
  2. Customer outcomes. What will change for a user if they adopt this feature, or how can we observe and measure the difference in a user’s life.
  3. Business impact. What business benefit will we gain by seeing adoption of this feature and this product in the marketplace we serve.

What struck me most in hearing this podcast – and what drove me from listening to it in my car to sitting at my computer to immediately compose this blog entry – is the fact that my team and I focus most fully on solving problems (the first level) and as a result we do not always generate the outcomes or attain the impact that we would like.

Now solving problems is, I believe, crucial for creating valuable software; we don’t want to build something just because we can or because we have a cool idea. We want to develop products and features that we know solve a real and pressing problem that customers face. And the development team I work with is really good at both understanding and solving problems. When I look back at things we have built over the past 12 months I can see the process we followed to discover a true business need, iterate through designs to find a workable solution, build and test that solution with input from both internal users and external customers, and roll the feature into our production environment.

But some of these “great features” have seen only minor adoption and thus have sparked only minimal outcomes for our clients or impact to our business. I can trace some of that to ways we as a team need to partner better with marketing and business development, but I also know (thanks to this podcast) that some of the issue lies in my own focus as a product manager. I too often stop my efforts with level one – knowing we have “solved the problem” we identified – instead of continuing to look past that to measuring the customer outcome and the business impact. If I want our team and our product to be more fully successful, then I need to think about more than simply solving problems.

This podcast from Inside Intercom kicked off other thoughts in my mind as well, but this week I want to focus my efforts on learning to think more broadly. I need to ask our wider team to start thinking past solving problems and into promoting customer outcomes and business impact. All three of these areas are important to think about. Hopefully raising my sights beyond just solving problems will drive more effective partnership across our business and deeper success for our clients, but in truth it’s not that simple.

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