If there is something that startups, small business and big companies have in common is that they all need to develop products all the time, but products also need to perform as promised. Efficiency in product development depends on going quickly from pilot I to pilot II, adapting, iterating on, and improving initial ideas while continually learning from customers. That is, failing fast is better that finding the “perfect” product that your customer will not want any more.

I have my own business and know very well that you only survive if customers buy and recommend what you sell. My 3 best advises would be:

  • Be intuitive enough to build your first pilot
  • Be hard enough to test your pilot based on customer requirements
  • Be stubborn enough to never stop trying

#1 Be intuitive enough to build your pilot

In order to develop better products first you need to focus on the voice of your customer. There are many ways of doing it: look at your customer while using your current products or the ones from the competition, check customer surveys and gather customer complaints. Try to imagine what would make your customer feel better, what they like, what they don’t like and which extra features they would love.Some years ago tea was just tea and coffee was just coffee. A simple and affordable drink.

Nowadays there are Starbucks all around the globe, offering different types of coffee with many additional toppings like cream, chocolate, vanilla, cinnamon, salt (yes, salt!), comfortable sofas that make you feel like home, nice music, you name it. Since then drinking a coffee is an entire experience for the customer. The same with tea, you don’t have to travel to India anymore to experience a typical chai, now you can shop it online, why waiting to travel if you can get it today?

There are many products that can be updated (old clothes are sold again as vintage clothes), can move from one place to another (you can also drink good black coffee in the US), can be sold differently (on-line, B2B in local markets, direct sales, Facebook shops) or can be used differently. Like editors write about what the readers ask about, you have to design products based on how they will be satisfying your customer needs, so you need to figure out what those needs are.

#2 Be hard enough to test your pilot based on customer requirements

Testing your pilot is key to understand if your intuition works well or you need to keep trying. The only reason for you to think of a pilot is to give it to your customers and get their feedback. The way you get their feedback and organize it will help you find the right product or not.  Just “get out of the building” to ask potential users, purchasers, partners, suppliers and even employees for feedback on all elements of the business model, including product features, pricing, distribution channels, and affordable customer acquisition strategies.There are many tools to analyze the information you get from your customers to develop products more accurately:

  • Check sheet: if you are a small business you can start gathering data about how customers are using or could be using the product or service. These data come from interviews, questionnaires, observation of the customer’s process in action. Use the 5W+1H: Who uses it, for what, when, where, why and How.
  • QFD: Quality Function Deployment is a structured way to create operational definitions of the requirements, which may be vague when first expressed. It prioritizes each product or service characteristic while simultaneously setting development targets for the product or service.
  • Design for Six Sigma: Six Sigma is a method to determining the needs of customers and the business, and driving those needs into the product solution through define – measure – analyze – design – verify (DMADV).

#3 Be stubborn enough to never stop trying new things

The key word here is tryingDon’t look for perfection in your lab, just keep trying so that the customer tells you what perfection is exactly.

Don’t look for perfection in your lab, just keep trying

Agile development, was originated in the software industry but can be applied to any other product industry, is just that you will test your products differently. Agile development works hand-in-hand with customer development. Unlike typical yearlong product development cycles that presuppose knowledge of customers’ problems and product needs, agile development eliminates wasted time and resources by developing the product iteratively and incrementally.

Some years ago I developed an 8 step model for helping my clients develop their business plan. I never stop changing it since then, with every new client I learn new things that help me perform better with the new ones. So either you offer a product or a service, you can always improve it or replace it for something totally new. As long as you are the one replacing your product instead of the competition, your finances will look great.

Following these three advises may seem risky, you may feel that someone could steal your ideas while you are testing. Actually in most industries customer feedback matters more than secrecy nowadays. You will discover that the key is not secrecy but speed in testing and offering new products.

Always remember that a quality product is not a perfect product, but a product that your customer will want to buy.

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