Customer needs are always changing and we saw that accelerate greatly in 2020. Today’s most successful businesses are able to adapt quickly because they have figured out how to keep up with the pace of customers’ evolving needs. It requires constant effort to align a solution with customer needs. This is true regardless of industry or scale.
Organizations that do this well have established a consistent cycle of iterating on a solution with customer feedback to keep it aligned with customers’ ever-changing needs.
We see plenty of organizations analyzing the success of a product or feature after it’s launched. This is certainly important, but it’s much more efficient to iterate in the design process than trying to make changes once a product is launched (or in development). In “Software Engineering: A Practitioner’s Approach,” Roger Pressman calculates that it is ten times more costly to make a change to a product in development than in design. Once it is released, it is 100 times more expensive.
Most product leaders are familiar with Marty Cagan’s excellent book, Inspired, where he outlines four types of discovery testing that can be incorporated into the design process. They are:
- Usability Test Can the customer figure out how to use it?
- Feasibility Test Can we build it?
- Viability Test Is the solution viable for the business?
- Value Test Will the customer get value from the solution?
Most companies have methods in place to validate usability, feasibility, and viability. What we see missing most often is testing the actual value of the product to the customer and making sure they will actually respond to the new feature being released.
There is a dangerous trend of overconfidence among companies when it comes to meeting customer needs. For instance, the recent 2020 Product Excellence report by Productboard and Product Collective, found that:
- 52% of teams report that their product and feature ideas are primarily inspired by customer feedback.
- 53% of teams report that everyone has a shared understanding of customer needs.
- 10% of teams successfully capture customer feedback from all available sources.
- 43% of teams have any process for capturing customer feedback.
It can be tempting for product leaders to release new features based on their own vision for the product or based on what competitors are doing. But without actually testing the value it’s creating for the customer, spending hundreds or thousands of developer hours on a new feature it is an unnecessarily expensive bet.
Oftentimes, there are two reasons this kind of testing is neglected. The first is when product leaders are driven by output instead of outcomes. If a company is more concerned about releasing features “on time” than they are about creating successful outcomes, then product teams are incentivized to ship more code more quickly, rather than more quickly meet customer needs.
The second reason value testing gets neglected is because product leaders aren’t always aware that it’s possible to do value testing rapidly. It doesn’t need to be expensive or especially time-consuming.
As an example, we recently helped InterSystems run a value test for a new feature that would allow developers to see the superior speed of their data platform firsthand. The InterSystems team knew that they could build this feature and that their customers would be able to use it, but they didn’t know if it would have enough of an impact to justify spending the time to develop it. So, we set out to see if developers would find it useful and if they would trust the results of the speed test. We did this by designing a high-fidelity clickable prototype, recruiting developers that matched the target audience criteria, and asking them a series of questions relating to the prototype to gauge the value they were getting out of it. Ultimately, the test revealed that InterSystems didn’t need to build out the full infrastructure. They simply needed the front end experience to show example results, which saved them significant time and cost.
Our goal at Studio Science is to provide people with better experiences. Whether we’re designing a new product or reinventing an existing experience, success comes down to understanding the customer’s needs. More specifically, we need to understand that those needs and expectations change over time. Prototyping and testing is an incredibly powerful way to stay attuned to these shifts, and to make sure what a product team delivers to market is actually going to provide the value that it hopes to. Value testing in the design process will not only save time and money in the long run, but will help ensure the success and longevity of a product. It’s something that product teams can’t afford to neglect.