Discovering needs

This blog is an edited version of my earlier blog post ‘Customer focus vs market focus‘. Explicit focus on market and customer is primarily from the purpose of discovering all possible needs. So i left it appropriate to change the title and made some additions to make the article relevant to discovering of needs.

Since the blog posts belong to a series of articles on ‘A pragmatic guide for product roadmapping’, i am providing links to previous blogs on the series:

1st part – A practical guide to product roadmap – What is product roadmap?

2nd part – Why product roadmap?

3rd part – Pragmatic purpose of product roadmap

Discovering needs

Roadmap is not just a discreet collection of product requirements; it is indeed an entire gamut of unmet/untold/underserved needs translated into product requirements. The foundation for evolving product that would be embraced by the target market and does not decline prematurely rests on effectively formulating product roadmap with right set of requirements prioritized at right time intervals. Well-orchestrated discovery of all possible needs through understanding and anticipating customer business challenges, pain points and outcomes, later converting those needs into product requirements is the ideal starting point for a well-crafted product roadmap.

Discover of customer focused needs

Product Manager should be all ears while talking with customers to grasp their business challenges and pain points. ‘Listen to your customers’ is age old adage that is followed by every business and I am not advocating doing anything differently. I am just trying to emphasis that Product Manager should both listen and understand customer needs, but (s)he do not let customers decide the contents of their product roadmap. In the sense, Product Manager do not let customer dictate what features to develop, instead Product Manager will let customers focus on their business challenges (needs) and the Product Manager (in collaboration with development team) should derive the optimal solution that would address business challenges of customers. Otherwise customers do not think twice to dump the product that contains exactly what they asked for the product that optimally addresses their business challenges (needs). Even in case of customer outlining the expected outcome, Product Manager has to thoroughly analyze the outcome and propose other viable alternatives on need basis.

On the related context, I want to quote the words of Henry Ford “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Ford while listening to his customers understood their innate needs of travelling quickly from A à B. Please read the related earlier blog post (Requirements has to be understood, not queried). So understanding customer untold/unmet needs along with explicit needs is critical to evolve the product roadmap. Yet does listening and understanding customer needs alone would suffice? Before I go any further let me clarify my definition of customer focus, “CUSTOMER FOCUS embodies everything that product attempts to understand and address unmet/untold/underserved needs of existing customers of the product”.

Discovery of market focused needs

I believe I talked about it umpteen times in my earlier blog posts that most of the customer business challenges are short term and could only trigger incremental changes to the product. The pitfalls of listening and understanding the customer is that someone might suddenly pop-up disrupting the entire market with new technology or new offering and customers might not think twice to switch sides. While it is required to keep focused on existing customers, it is also essential listening to the market to dodge strategic inflection point by understanding the factors that might cause product decline. Market is no different from customers and indeed market is a generic representation of broader segment of customers. So when I insist on market focus, I was looking forward to construct generic representation of the entire customer segment and start assessing how their needs will evolves with changes in dependent macro factor.

At tactical level, it always augur well to look at every individual customer needs to ensure steady flow of revenue but at strategic level while Product Manager has to envision how the product will evolve, (s)he has to create a mental map of how the generic needs of the broader segment of customer evolves and how they will probably respond to new technology innovations or any products in adjacency space that can address the needs of customers. Sometimes the idea is to go beyond the boundaries of the existing product, and customer to identify or grasp what is changing outside and build a mental map of how those changes might alter the customer behavior. To be more precise, in case of market focus, I was rather thinking more strategically to ponder over the long term evolution of the market needs or long term relevance of the product due to changes in market/technology or customer behaviors through explicitly pondering over the following

  • Attacking growth – If it is a growing market, there should be conscious effort to identify who is contributing to the growth and lay plans to capture it?
  • Capitalizing white space (aka demand generation) – Probably same product but new use-case and new target segment, Product Manager has to look out for such possibility. Otherwise Product Manager has to spot customers trying to use the product differently from its intended use and check if the variation of the product could be built to generate additional demand for the product.
  • Is there any product in the adjoining segment that has the potential to make the current product irrelevant (what Mobiles did to Pager, what Smartphones did to Camera and Navigation Devices)
  • Who are the customers of tomorrow – ISPs were long perceived to be the customers of networking devices not until Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft started buying more networking hardware than anyone else. Not many vendors looked at the later as potential customers. In case of consumer products, the buying patterns or behaviors of Millennials that might constitute significant portion of the target market had to be ascertained and acted accordingly. Their choices might not be the same as existing customers.
  • What are the customer needs of tomorrow – Can we anticipate those needs.
  • Is there any new technology or trends that when not accommodated might cause the product to be irrelevant For instance, impact of virtualization (NFV/SDN) on physical appliance in networking industry or Impact of IoT on industrial products

Anticipate emerging needs

In case of market focus, Product Manager do not merely understand customer needs, (s)he should also anticipate how customer needs will evolve or what new needs will emerge with possible changes to dependent macro factors. Once Product Managers understands the dependent macro factors (such as economy, regulation, internet, technology etc) that can directly or indirectly impact the products, there are 2 kinds of possibilities.

  1. Needs of tomorrow
    • With increased adoption of multiple devices (smartphones, tablets etc) by each user or family, will users start demanding new plans from ISPs?
    • With increased adoption of mobile devices in rural segment and with possibility of decrease in internet connectivity costs, what new needs could emerge (mobile banking? sharing latest farming know-how techniques? sell directly to consumers – eliminate middle?).
    • With the advent of IoT and wide spread adoption of IoT technologies to create smarter homes, what will be the impact to ISPs that provide pipes to carry data (specifically M2M)? How ISPs could monetize the data?
  1. Customers of tomorrow
    • With potential increase in disposable income of millennials, they can be possible target customers for real estate, luxury cars etc. Product Manager has to ascertain whether their needs will be the same as existing customers?

What I have stressed so far is that certain needs will emerge and new customers will also get added to the target segment in future with changes in economy, technology, regulation etc and it is the responsibility of the Product Manager to anticipate both emerging needs and emerging customers.

How far to look into the future

First and foremost, why should Product Manager anticipate, why not address the needs or target new customers after they emerge. Whether to anticipate or just wait until the need emerges primarily rests upon one factor – What is the time frame taken to address the need. If it is really long, then Product Manager has the responsibility to anticipate the needs to get the 1st mover advantage and excite the customers before the competition does. In case of automobile sector where the development cycles are really BIG, Product Manager cannot wait to understand the needs and aspirations of millennials until they start buying cars. It would really tough to answer how far should Product Manager look into the future, I would only insist on the starting point. The starting point is the sum of the time taken to research, develop and validate the product. Since it would be really tough to predict the future, Product Manager could better anticipate possible outcomes of the future through scenario analysis and use lean technique of product development to validate and ascertain which outcome is most likely to occur.

Final thoughts

Guess I have dropped sufficient hints on what I am trying to conclude, the contents of Product Roadmap should be a combination of both market and customer focused needs translated into product requirements. If I had to rephrase my earlier definition of roadmap – “Product Roadmap is indeed a collection of customer and market business challenges, pain points and outcomes translated into product requirements addressed through incremental product enhancements, or incorporating new technology, or building new platform or new product lines”. Ideally product roadmap should focus on both short and long term evolution of the product.

If any of my readers feel that my definition of ‘Market’ and ‘Customer’ is not appropriate, they are utmost welcome to drop me some suggestion at murali.erraguntala@gmail.com. I am definitely in favor of much better alternate terms.

Contents of product roadmap – market focus vs customer focus

This article is a 4th part in the series of blog post on ‘A practical guide to product roadmapping’. In this blog, i am focusing on the contents of product roadmap.

1st part – A practical guide to product roadmap – What is product roadmap?

2nd part – Why product roadmap?

3rd part – Pragmatic purpose of product roadmap

Contents of Product Roadmap

Roadmap is not just a discreet collection of product requirements; it is indeed a collection of customer business challenges and unmet/untold/underserved needs translated into product requirements. Product Manager should be all ears while talking with customers to grasp their business challenges and problems. ‘Listen to your customers’ is age old adage that is followed by every business and I am not advocating doing anything differently. I am just trying to emphasis that Product Manager should both listen and understand customer needs, but (s)he do not let customers decide the contents of their product roadmap. In the sense, Product Manager do not let customer dictate what features to develop, instead Product Manager will let customers focus on their business challenges (needs) and the Product Manager (in collaboration with development team) should derive the optimal solution that would address business challenges of customers. Otherwise customers do not think twice to dump the product that contains exactly what they asked for the product that optimally addresses their business challenges (needs).

Customer focused product

On the related context, I want to quote the words of Henry Ford “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Ford while listening to his customers understood their innate needs of travelling quickly from A –> B. Please read the related earlier blog post (Requirements has to be understood, not queried). So understanding customer untold/unmet needs along with explicit needs is critical to evolve the product roadmap. Yet does listening and understanding customer needs alone would suffice? Before I go any further let me clarify my definition of customer focus, “CUSTOMER FOCUS embodies everything that product attempts to understand and address unmet/untold/underserved needs of existing customers of the product”.

Market focused product

I believe I talked about it umpteen times in my earlier blog posts that most of the customer business challenges are short term and could only trigger incremental changes to the product. The pitfalls of listening and understanding the customer is that someone might suddenly pop-up disrupting the entire market with new technology or new offering and customers might not think twice to switch sides. While it is required to keep focused on  existing customers, it is also essential listening to the market to dodge strategic inflection point by  understanding the factors that might cause product decline. Market is no different from customers and indeed market is a generic representation of broader set of customers. So when I insist on market focus, I was rather thinking more strategically to ponder over the long term evolution of the market needs or long term relevance of the product due to changes in technology/market or customer behaviors. To be more precise, in case of market focus, I am advocating to ponder over the following

  • Is there any product in the adjoining segment that has the potential to make the current product irrelevant (what Mobiles did to Pager, what Smartphones did to Camera and Navigation Devices)
  • Is there any new technology or trends that when not accommodated might cause the product to be irrelevant For instance, impact of virtualization (NFV/SDN) on physical appliance in networking industry or Impact of IoT on industrial products
  • Who are the customers of tomorrow – ISPs were long perceived to be the customers of networking devices not until Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft started buying more networking hardware than anyone else. Not many vendors looked at the later as potential customers. In case of consumer products, the buying patterns or behaviors of Millennials that might constitute significant portion of the target market had to be ascertained and acted accordingly. Their choices might not be the same as existing customers.
  • Capitalizing white space (aka demand generation) – Probably same product but new use-case and new target segment, Product Manager has to look out for such possibility. Otherwise Product Manager has to spot customers trying to use the product differently from its intended use and check if the variation of the product could be built to generate additional demand for the product.
  • Attacking growth – If it is a growing market, there should be conscious effort to identify who is contributing to the growth and lay plans to capture it?
  • What are the customer needs of tomorrow – Can we anticipate those needs.

Anticipate emerging needs

In case of market focus, Product Manager do not merely understand customer needs, (s)he should also anticipate how customer needs will evolve or what new needs will emerge with possible changes to dependent macro factors. Once Product Managers understands the dependent macro factors (such as economy, regulation, internet, technology etc) that can directly or indirectly impact the products, there are 2 kinds of possibilities.

  1. Needs of tomorrow
    • With increased adoption of multiple devices (smartphones, tablets etc) by each user or family, will users start demanding new plans from ISPs?
    • With increased adoption of mobile devices in rural segment and with possibility of decrease in internet connectivity costs, what new needs could emerge (mobile banking? sharing latest farming know-how techniques? sell directly to consumers – eliminate middle?).
    • With the advent of IoT and wide spread adoption of IoT technologies to create smarter homes, what will be the impact to ISPs that provide pipes to carry data (specifically M2M)? How ISPs could monetize the data?
  2. Customers of tomorrow
    • With potential increase in disposable income of millennials, they can be possible target customers for real estate, luxury cars etc. Product Manager has to ascertain whether their needs will be the same as existing customers?

What I have stressed so far is that certain needs will emerge and new customers will also get added to the target segment in future with changes in economy, technology, regulation etc and it is the responsibility of the Product Manager to anticipate both emerging needs and emerging customers. Now, why should Product Manager anticipate, why not address the needs or target new customers after they emerge. Whether to anticipate or just wait until the need emerges clearly rests upon one primary factor – What is the time frame taken to address the need. If it is really long, then Product Manager has the responsibility to anticipate the needs to get the 1st mover advantage and excite the customers before the competition does. In case of automobile sector where the development cycles are really BIG, Product Manager cannot wait to understand the needs and aspirations of millennials until they start buying cars.

Final thoughts

Guess I have dropped sufficient hints on what I am trying to conclude, the contents of Product Roadmap should be a combination of both market and customer focused. If I had to rephrase my earlier definition of roadmap – “Product Roadmap is indeed a collection of customer and market business challenges, needs and problems translated into product needs addressed through incremental product enhancements, incorporating new technology, or building new platform or new product lines”. Ideally product roadmap should focus on both short and long term evolution of the product.

If any of my readers feel that my definition of ‘Market’ and ‘Customer’ is not appropriate, they are utmost welcome to drop me some suggestion at murali.erraguntala@gmail.com. I am definitely in favor of much better alternate terms.

Customer Innovations

This is an era of open innovation and unarguably everyone understands the fact. But whether we all have answers on how to create innovation beyond the walls of an organization is not yet clear. I am not an expert on “Open Innovation”, just trying to drop my thoughts on specific aspect of innovation by customers. More importantly, I am trying to focus on the innovation in configuration of existing products and technologies. When we release any product we provide configurations and possible use cases / solutions of the product as part of the marketing and sales collateral. We often do not know how our product will be used and real use cases are really too huge to capture in the collateral documents. So our list of use cases might be limited to solving the critical or most important pain points of the customer.

There are classic examples of using the product quite contrary to its intended use. So there are few innovative customers who are always step ahead of us in implementing either new use cases independently through innovative changes in configuration or new solutions through successfully aligning our product with other products. In products such as DPI, we provide the required infrastructure to perform two basic functionalities: cost reduction and revenue generation. Some of these innovative customers whom I would comfortably refer to as Innovators or Visionaries as explained by Geoffrey Moore in his book “Crossing the Chasm” do dare to exploit the full functionality of the product to resolve the challenges faced by them. In the process, they constantly identify innovative changes in configuration to use the DPI technology in its fullest form. Such customers constantly poses technical challenges and helps us to build better products which eventually puts us ahead of the competition. Personally it is good to have such customers and my opinion is that they are worthy of a million dollar customer.

Now the primary focus is to locate such customers capture their innovations and later communicate those innovations. The customer innovations should serve as a sufficient fodder for the engineering team to develop either new functionality that can leverage those innovations or enhance the capabilities of the existing product as to supplement the innovation. For instance, one of our customers was using our product at an insertion point in the network that was traditionally not the targeted insertion point of our product. However the customer was able identify an opportunity which we missed out. Later engineering team collaborated with the customer to add new functionality that customer can further leverage to fully exploit the opportunity. For marketing, it opened gateways for new way of positioning the product thereby generating additional demand. Hmmm… we are touching upon one of earlier topics of discussion ‘Attacking white spaces – Demand generation’.

Let me bring back our focus on how to locate innovative customers. In this particular instance, we accidentally hit upon configuration(s)/ usage of our product by one of our customer. But we have to make some genuine attempts to constantly locate such innovative customers. Only teams that are in direct touch with customers can help us do the job, IMO account managers/BDMs might be the right choice. I also recently hit upon this link: “Citrix Innovation Awards”. May be instituting such awards will helps us to consciously capture the user innovation. On the other hand there is other argument that the product should be flexible enough (often suggested API route) to facilitate innovative customers create sufficient value. My biggest hurdle appears to be capturing the customer innovation because we were never dearth of innovative customers though we have to be conscious of not losing them. To communicate the customer innovation to other stake holders (such as Sales, Account team, BDMs) we can effectively use monthly/quarterly newsletter. Our new letter will be refined to aid those stake holders to successfully use the information to generate additional demand for the product both with existing and new customers.

To be honest, I have not provided more ways to capture customer innovation. Guess, I am running short of ideas. I will possibly try to revisit this topic with more ideas on how to capture customer innovation. Since we are touching upon ‘Open Innovation’ it would only be appropriate to gather thoughts from others as well, so please drop your ideas at murali.erraguntala@gmail.com

Attacking White Space – Identifying Growth Opportunities

This post is continuation of my previous post ‘Attacking White Spaces’. IMHO, this is the least risky among all the three options as we will be focusing more on growth in existing market. As an initial step, I would definitely suggest taking the help of analyst or research firms such as Gartner, Light Reading etc to predict the market growth of your product. For instance, Standalone DPI market is predicted to reach 2$ billion by 2015. Now the real exercise is identifying the source of demand. Firstly we have to identify whether the additional growth is concentrated in a particular geographical region or it is equally distributed. We have to later evaluate our presence in those parts of the world where there is additional growth. By presence, I am referring to the presence of BDMs, Account team, Sales team. Most importantly sales teams connect in those parts of the world are more important as they do the actual selling.

Secondly we have to indentify which market segment(s) (higher-education, service provider and enterprise) will contribute to the overall growth. We have to later evaluate whether our product(s) is positioned to capture those market segment(s). If not, we have to take a quick decision whether to foray into those segment(s). Simultaneously we also have to evaluate our capabilities and competencies to effectively tackle the challenges posed by the new market segment(s).

Finally, we have to drill down our focus to understand how the DPI requirements would take shape in future. We have to make a possible assessment of what customer might require in 2-3 years from now. Here, the inputs obtained from different organization silos are critical in this phase to precisely understand the customer pain points and how their future needs or demands might take shape. To do so, we have to firstly understand the factors that drive the need for DPI and evaluate how those factors can change. We should also think of new factors that might drive the need for DPI. Evaluating all those factors should provide us an approximation of new features/solutions that customer might require in the future. We have to later evaluate the competencies and capabilities of our engineering team to deliver those new features/solutions. We might also have to align with 3rd party vendors to deliver additional solutions. In such cases we have to evaluate the capability of the organization to derive a long standing partnership with those 3rd party vendors.

In the first two cases, we have to factor all the assumptions that were made to forecast growth and later do some due diligence to validate those assumptions. For instance, analyst would have predicted that much of the growth will be contributed by the additional demand for standalone DPI product by service providers in African region. The primary task is to identify the assumptions behind such prediction and later validate those assumptions for their existence. This can be a parallel task done by a group of people as to be wary of such predictions and not to base our product revenue forecast purely on those predictions. We also have to be aware of all the factors (both external and internal to the target customers) that can positively/negatively influence those assumptions. In Telecom sector, regulation/economic growth of the region can be a probable external factor and cash flow of the target customer can be an internal factor as the industry is subjected to huge OPEX and CAPEX.

In forthcoming weeks, i will focus on the following aspects of ‘Attacking White Spaces’:
• Capabilities to create new market – Demand generation
• Unserved vs Overserved market segments