The Chicken or the Egg?

I have been in this situation several times. If you work in product management, I am sure you have found yourself struggling to answer this – What comes first the Product or the Client? Let me elaborate – you have an innovative idea to create a new product or may be just to enhance the current offerings. Being a smart product manager (that you are) you have got a business case with cost-benefit analysis approved by key stakeholders. However, now you face the big dilemma where the technology resources who will be buidling your product are not available. And they won’t be available for next 3 months as they are working on other “high priority” projects that can be capitalized to bring in revenue. What do you do then? Do you put your awesome plan on hold or do you try to capitalize this product so that you can then secure resources for this product? Scary, right? Well, there is no right or wrong answer and hence the analogy!

If you are a creative problem solver (that’s what I like to call smart product managers) you would attack this problem pragmatically. Eventually, you and only you will have to make a business decision based on your current situation whether you want to put your grand plan on hold or not. I recently faced this challenge at my work place for one of the products that we were trying to launch…Half way through the development, we realized that the project can’t be completed because some of the key developers who work on that internal system required to finish the development have been pulled into another client project. Now since, this product that I am working on is a new idea with an NO active client(s) attached, it was put to hold. There was no way to avoid this issue entirely and we had to make a business decision that made sense for the company. I thought it might be helpful to share my thoughts on this, so that we can all learn to plan for the worst and hope for best.

There are really a few ways to develop your product plan so that you can handle the resource allocation better. Following are two key approaches that I use heavily-

PROTOTYPING – Based on the industry you work for this approach might not be applicable. If you work for a software company that follows rapid development framework you will jump at the sound of this word. Prototypes are simply a tiny working sample(s) of the final product or service at that  ‘point in time’. You get a prototype approved and move to the next level. If there are changes you introduce the changes in the prototype (and not the final product) to make it perfect. The benefits as you can imagine are that you reduce business risk, require lesser development resources, adopt a show & learn iterative approach to solve problems efficiently. Just make sure, you know where to STOP. There has to be an end of prototyping and start of actual product development.

(Image Courtesy : http://www.boxesandarrows.com)

CHARTER CLIENTS – The product management team can also enter a charter program with clients or new prospect that might be an ideal candidate for your product (pending development aka incomplete). Following this approach -you actively work with your sales team to speak with these interested clients and have them sign up for this product in development.  The benefit for the end client is that they will get a discounted price point and some kind of limited time mutually exclusive rights for this product (such as AT&T – iPhone?) The benefit is that you immediately attach a revenue to your product hence becomes a lot easier to get technical resources to get the final product market ready.

Few other things to keep in mind when you make this decision to understand the impact of the following key factors:

– How time sensitive is your product roll-out? If you don’t do that in X days would that mean you will lose business to competition?

– Can you launch in modules? It gives you prototyping-like-flexibility but still keeps you in market with REAL product roll-outs.

– Are there some easy clients out there who experience the challenges that your product would solve? If yes, then go after these clients first. they might be your best bet for an easy sign-up…

I guess the Chicken or egg analogy is so apt here just because there is no definite answer…depends on what you are trying to do? what problem are you trying to solve? Over the last few years I have seen many good ideas pop up and disappear due to lack of planning. But then at the same time, over thinking can also introduce unwanted roadblocks and drag product development. It’s important to understand that no one buys a half-baked-cookie. The beauty of product management lies in “Coming up with an idea that solves a real problem- executing the plan & creating a product- then finally getting customers to buy it”! There has to be a balance.

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