Deciding What Not To Do

Every great product starts with a great idea. Unfortunately, many mediocre products and outright flops have also started with an idea that seemed great at the time. I would like to evoke a memory of the patron-saint of Product Managers and quote:

“Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do. That is true for the companies, and it’s true for products.” – Steve Jobs

Unfortunately, we fall in love with our great ideas all too often and tend to overvalue creativity at the expense of critical thinking. Let’s face it – we are paid to create great products, not to engage in “paralysis through analysis.” The cost and effort required to conduct market research is most frequently invested into finding evidence to support our great idea, not to challenge it; hence the survey questions and focus group discussions often default to a pro bias.

I do not believe that human beings are capable of processing information without a bias; however, customer bias is much more valuable than a company/product bias to support critical GO/NO GO decisions. Insights found in experience of consumers, who are most likely to become customers for your proposed product, are in my opinion the best information to help us make that decision.

Insight is a tricky concept that is often used without clear definition of its meaning. I would like to suggest a few ideas on how to define it:

Insight is…

• Penetrating understanding of consumers

• An undiscovered truth that suggests an unmet need

• Something that makes you go, “AHA!”

These came from member contributions to a Customer Intelligence LinkedIn Group discussion and do not pretend to be an exhaustive list. The classic example I have come across is:

“People don’t want quarter-inch drills. They want quarter-inch holes.” – Theodore Levitt, Harvard Business School

Here is a “best practice” used by some of our clients to make this decision:

  •  Identify and articulate a “job” the proposed product (or service) is going to be purchased by its customers to do. If you are not familiar with this product/job correlation concept, you want to learn about research of Clayton Christensen.
  • Identify the most successful products currently available on the market that people buy to do that “job.” These products may or may not have anything to do with the technology, features and specifications of your proposed product.

  • Find and aggregate customer-generated content describing their experience with products identified in the previous step.
  • Analyze this content to identify shortcomings or inadequacies of currently available products to fulfill customer needs from their experience and perspective. Our clients use Market Intelligence Analysis reporting service to save time and effort, but it can be done manually as well.


  • “Deep Dive” into those elements of customer experience that score below customer expectations as a group to generate an insight.

  • Ask yourself if your proposed product can improve customer experience based on the insights you have discovered in previous steps. If the answer is ‘No, but…’ follow the advice of Ron White who said, “If you have got an idea… let it go.” The best hope for this product is to become one of many options available to consumers “to-do-the-job” and no fancy marketing communications would be able to differentiate it in their mind.

The cost of error can be relatively low in an agile software development business, but it quickly escalates into millions if product has to be manufactured in volume and brought into consumer market to be tested. On that scale, even a small reduction of product failure ratio will generate outstanding return on investment in this methodology and effort.





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1 Response to Deciding What Not To Do

  1. carol says:

    Clayton Christensen puts it so well. We surely do “hire” products to do a “job” but often do not even articulate the specific jobs, or what makes it successful or unsuccessful in that job to ourselves. No wonder we are so often disappointed!

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