Listen to your Navigator, not Mystic Meg

One of the most difficult decisions in product development is knowing which features you need and what is the priority of each. When you first define your  MVP scope, you’re ensuring the key flows of your USP exist to give your first customers the core of what you’re offering. But what comes next?

Inevitably you’ve got bunches of hunches and ideas of features that you ‘know’ will massively help your users and your business. You might start to filter those into your product roadmap as a basis of what to build next.

I’m not here to tell you you’re wrong BUT the statistics around features that remain unused by users is staggering. Some people point to Henry Ford and say if he’d asked people what they wanted it would have been a faster horse (although he apparently never actually said it, I still like it), and yes you can be right, but as the stats show a lot of people get this wrong.

It’s like if you’re on a ship and you’re not sure of your next heading, who should you listen to – the mystic you’ve brought along to keep the crew and passengers entertained with their visions and predictions, or the navigator and his maps?

When putting things into that context it seems almost a stupid question… I’d like to think most people would pick the navigator. But the visionary mystic may well be persuasive, while a data-driven navigator may seem slower and ultimately seem duller in comparison. 

In the startup world our mystics are the ‘visionaries’ or the founders who just go with their gut. Now I’m not saying these folks are always wrong. Some of the biggest companies exist because these sorts of founders, Steve Jobs said ‘never ask users, they don’t know what they want’ is just one example. But these mystics are once in a lifetime and for every genuine mystic, you always get a few charlatans.

And who/what is the navigator in the startup world? Well, that is more straightforward at least. The navigator is your customer, your maps are your interviews and feedback. It seems to be a recurring theme that I suggest getting out of the building and talking to your customers and potential customers, but I can’t stress how crucial it is, and folks such as Steve Blank have dived deep to help approach this.

Your sales calls should be learning experiences, whether it’s a current customer with feedback on what they feel the platform or app needs, or a potential customer offering objections, it is this feedback that should form the basis of your product roadmap. By taking the approach of build, measure and learn your roadmap of features can be prioritised with the most sought after features higher up. Then build them and repeat the process!

By taking all this data you accumulate through the grind of sales and customer feedback you can generate and sustain a roadmap that is easy to justify and should be a lower risk… especially if you can get a paying customer to share the development cost! 

But life is very rarely that easy. When emotion is involved and livelihoods are potentially on the line, it’s very easy to just batten down the hatches, stare into your crystal ball and crack on with your own ideas. Like I said above, this can work and there are many in the world who have defied the odds, look at Elon Musk as an example. But the statistics don’t lie: only 20% of features get used, the rest are used infrequently or never. By consulting your navigators and not relying on your crystal ball and tarot cards you give yourself the best chance to avoid wasted resources, whether than be money or time or effort.

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