So you want to make a hit product. How do you know if your plan is a good one? How do you maximize your chances of success?
Releasing a new hit product is the best thing any company can do to grow and attract investment. A hit product can grow revenue and users exponentially with very little (or no) marketing investment and can be the rocket fuel behind a company’s ascent for years (think iPhone).
And yet very few products succeed at being the rocket boosters they could be. Most new products either produce only incremental gains that don’t justify the time and expense of getting them to market, or actually turn out worse than the current product, or never ship at all.
Building something users don't want to use is the number one reason start-ups fail. I believe this is entirely avoidable.
In helping companies improve their products, I’ve developed a framework to understand if a new product is headed for success or failure. This framework is useful when working with product departments and executives to get them to think about product development in what I believe to be the right way.
The framework classifies product inputs, processes, outputs, feelings, and results as being either Primary, Secondary, or Tertiary
- Primary inputs and processes produce Primary products, which is to say, Powerful products.
- Secondary inputs and processes produce Secondary, or just So-So products.
- And Tertiary inputs and processes produce Tertiary, or Terrible products.
I call this the PST (Primary-Secondary-Tertiary or Powerful-SoSo-Terrible) Product Framework. Or “Psst!" for short.
Here’s how Psst! works: take any product process and run it through the following table. Answer the following questions:
- Is your vision for the product Primary, Secondary, or Tertiary?
- Is your process to develop the product Primary, Secondary, or Tertiary?
- Are the inputs being used for the product process Primary, Secondary, or Tertiary?
- Is the feeling among the team Primary, Secondary, or Tertiary?
|Primary or Powerful Products||Secondary or So-So Products||Tertiary or Terrible Products|
|Vision||Exponential growth in one or more key metrics important to the company.||Incremental improvement in one or more metrics important to the company.||Incremental improvement in one or more metrics important to the company.|
|Feeling||The internal feeling of building and shipping a Primary Product is likely to be nervous excitement. The product team is more excited than nervous. Executives and board are more nervous than excited, but trust in the product team.||The internal feeling of shipping a Secondary Product is likely to be dull excitement. Everyone has a gut feeling that the product isn’t going to be a hit but also that it isn’t going to flop||The internal feeling of shipping a Tertiary Product is likely to be nervous excitement. Product team is more nervous (and aggravated) than excited. Executives and board are more excited than nervous, having intervened to make sure the product team “got it right”.|
So now that you’ve run your vision, processes, inputs and feelings through the table, are they mostly Primary, Secondary, or Tertiary?
Based on the answer to this question, you’ll be able to tell if you’re headed for Primary, Secondary or Tertiary outputs and results as displayed in this second table:
|Primary or Powerful Products||Secondary or So-So Products||Secondary or So-So Products|
|Outputs||Primary products are:
||Secondary or So-So products are:
||Tertiary or Terrible products are:
|Results||The likely results of shipping a Primary product are:
1. An exponential boost in one or more key metrics, valuing the company to a new level of success
2. Vastly improved customer ratings or Net Promoter Score
3. New kinds of people start to become customers of the company. Growth accelerates.
4. Favorable reviews in the press. Product makes a good story
5. Company morale is sky high. Everyone feels like a hot shot.
|The likely results of shipping a Secondary product are:
1. An incremental boost in one or more key metrics, arguably enough to justify the investment.
2. Customer ratings or NPS remains about the same or slightly higher
3. Current customers are happier but there aren’t many more of them
4. No real press pick-up or mentions
5. Company morale takes a hit. People wonder why they spent so much time working on the product to get middling results
|The likely results of shipping a Tertiary product are:
1. An incremental boost in one or more metrics, but not enough to justify the investment
2. Customer ratings or NPS unchanged or slightly lower
3. Subset of current customers are happier but growth remains unchanged
4. No real press pick-up or mentions
5. Company morale takes a hit. People involved leave the company.
The Psst! Framework can be really useful to revisit from time to time through the product development process to keep everything aligned and headed towards success.
Conversely, it’s sad to watch a group of talented people fall into using a tertiary process and tertiary inputs and then be surprised when they end up with tertiary outputs and results.
Remember it’s never too late to switch over to primary inputs and a primary process. Use the feeling of the team as a gauge to tell if you’re onto something visionary, or spending time and effort on something unremarkable.
What To Do If You’re Headed For A Secondary or Tertiary Result?
If you notice your team is using a secondary or tertiary process or inputs when you're after a primary result, here’s what I recommend:
1. Sound the alarm. Send this article to either the product lead, or the CEO or a board member and start a conversation about the likely result of the product development process and how to improve it.
2. Get a new product lead. Typically top-notch product leads won’t stand for anything other than a primary process using primary inputs, so if this isn’t what’s happening you need to question the leadership of the product team. Placing a skilled, experienced person in charge of the project is the fastest way to turn it around.
3. Conduct a 5 Why’s process for the product to get back to the root goals of the new product. Why does it deserve to exist. Why Why Why.
4. Use the tables above to identify all the places that secondary or tertiary processes and inputs are being used, and brainstorm ways they can be replaced with primary processes and inputs.
5. Revisit the long term company vision. ie. how will the future be different and in what unique way will we add value? Write it on the board. Then brainstorm ideas around how the new version of the product could significantly realize this vision.
6. Take a 48 hour “Creative Pause” where the project stops for 48 hours. Use this time for everyone on the product team to come up with 5 ways the process and product could be improved using Primary processes and inputs. Have a meeting at the end of the pause and work out a plan to incorporate the best into the project going forward.
And if these don’t get the project back on track, there’s always the bold option to:
7. Start over. Use what’s been done already as a learning opportunity and part of an iterative process, and start the product development process over from the beginning. Often this can go faster and smoother than trying to rehab a product that is too far along to be saved. Remember the seed of great products is the creativity and vision of the product team coupled to a well-run iterative process that involves customer research and a clear company vision. If these things were missing at the beginning, it might be a better use of everyone’s time to just start over with them in place.
Leadership Leadership Leadership:
In closing I want to mention the team element one more time: Product development is an artistic, technical process. A good analogy is of building a building: Just as you would expect only an architect to be able to design and produce a top-notch skyscraper, great products require the technical and creative expertise of a skilled product lead. Many companies miss this, and dive into product development with a team that doesn’t know what they don’t know about the discipline. It’s sad and wastes time and money and is completely avoidable.
Getting your product right is the best investment you can make in your business and I hope the Psst! Product Framework helps you get there.