Foreword to Digital Product Management

Digital Product Management: Design websites and mobile apps that exceed expectations written by Kristofer Layon was published by New Riders earlier this year. It’s a wonderful book on the product management process, from understanding the market and defining your value, to prioritizing features and creating a roadmap, to testing an MVP and measuring your success. My gratitude goes to Kris for asking me to write the book’s forward and inviting me to reprint it here. I hope you enjoy!

Forward to Digital Product Management
Written by Whitney Hess
September 25, 2013

It was 2008 and Garrett Camp’s arm was tired. The entrepreneur had spent way too long trying to hail a cab on the streets of San Francisco. His big idea was to start a limo timeshare service. Who wouldn’t want to show up to their next appointment in style?

Camp saw a clear problem and set out to solve it with a mobile app that lets you order a car anywhere anytime. Today it’s a billion-dollar multi-national business called Uber.

Don’t know exactly where you are? Your phone’s GPS will tell you. Don’t have enough cash? Pay and tip automatically with your saved credit card. Don’t want to spend the money on a black car? Uber now offers traditional cabs and hybrids at lower rates. Uncomfortable about getting in the car with a stranger? Check the driver’s rating before accepting the ride — you’ll be required to rate him afterward, and he’ll rate you too, improving the experience for everyone.

An Uber driver recently told me that his marriage had been saved ever since working for them (“Now I can make my own hours, drive a beautiful car, and not worry about who’s getting in my back seat.”) Several drivers credit Uber for increasing their earnings by 30%.

A great product solves a problem for the buyer and the seller. It might start with a wild idea, but over time it can be developed to revolutionize an entire industry worldwide and change people’s behavior forever.

Our lives are filled with products that give us superhuman abilities: bringing 5,000 of our favorite songs with us everywhere we go; tracking the exact speed and distance of our morning run; reading the audience’s inner thoughts on whatever the conference presenter just said. We quickly turn a block of cheese into a pile of shreds, perfectly divide an apple into 8 equal slices, surprisingly remove a stain with a magic pen.

Take a moment to look around you and count the number of products that you use on a daily basis. I stopped counting at 50. Inventions are everywhere and we simply couldn’t live without them. The living room, the office, the bathroom, the boardroom — all of these places contain the brilliance and hard work of someone who once said: people could do this better.

We all collect new toys and tools that make us faster, smarter, stronger, cleaner, funner, superior in some way, shape or form. For as long as humans have existed, we’ve been filling our surroundings with tangible products. For the last decade, we’ve been filling our pockets and purses with virtual ones.

But one thing is true whether they’re physical or digital: products occupy space. And space is finite. That means every time we decide to bring a new product into our lives, we’re making the space unavailable for something else.

Consider it: you’re as unlikely to put two lamps on the night stand as you are to wear two activity trackers on your wrist. Products force us to make decisions about what we really want, what we really need, and what we’re really willing to spend (in time, money and effort). We make a sophisticated cost-benefit analysis whenever considering something new, and many times again for as long as we choose to keep it.

As people who make products, our goal is to make the decision to buy and use our creations easy and obvious. And regardless of industry, form, culture, target audience or price point, there is one universal factor that determines our success: purpose.

Purpose is the why, the reason something exists, the problem it is trying to solve. It is the intended use, the intended benefit and the intended significance all wrapped into one. Purpose is value — its worthiness to be owned and used. Without intrinsic value, how can we expect our products to stand the test of time?

Product Management is the art and science of crafting a product with purpose. It combines the creativity of design with the analytics of business. It crystalizes our goals, defines our strategy, prioritizes our features, focuses our design, coordinates our development, optimizes our testing, and expedites our time to market.

So how do we find our purpose? How do we ensure our products will have value? By not guessing. Wait, isn’t all product management a bit of guess work? That’s how a lot of organizations run, but it doesn’t have to be that way. The teams of the most beloved products, physical and digital, have one dominant quality in common: empathy.

Empathy is the ability to feel the feelings of someone else. By putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes, we’re able to see the world from their point-of-view — what they want, what they need, what they’re willing to spend to make their lives better. Developing empathy for our customer allows us to create a product they can’t live without, not just the one we feel like making.

From Ben Franklin to Steve Jobs, the process has always been the same, and so have the blood, sweat and tears. Know your purpose, understand your customer, and solve the tough problems to make a better world.

[This is the forward for Digital Product Management by Kristofer Layon. Check it out!]

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