New product development is hard. The difficulty in new product development is not in addressing an unmet need with a new product, for unmet needs are limitless. The difficulty in new product development is committing to the discipline of patient discovery and in resisting the pressure to conform to delivery dates and top-down product cultures that prize the roadmap above innovation. Patient discovery requires a willingness to engage with customers as users of your product in an open dialogue with no aim in mind other than to truly and deeply understand what needs improving. And resisting pressure coming from above in product organizations is largely about walking the knife edge between ensuring new product concepts align with the larger business strategy while maintaining the autonomy to resist unrealistic launch dates and revenue estimates. Businesses like to plan, but planning a new product development process and schedule is a bit like planning a day of fishing; the fish will not reveal themselves according to your schedule nor the size of the meal you have in mind.
Learning, Succeeding, Failing, Again and Again
I had the good fortune early in my career to work for a product leader who cultivated my curiosity and provided me with endless opportunity to learn. He understood the value of my training as an anthropologist with a solid background in ethnographic research, which is all about participant observation. He sent me to study new product development at a top business school. He pushed me to work with some of the best higher education industry practitioners of the customer discovery process. And I still failed. My first new product launch, a textbook in business communications, was a big success. But my next product failed rather spectacularly. We launched a platform for faculty to exchange teaching assets on a disciplinary basis in what was essentially a very early social media platform. The concept was enticing, but we failed to develop sufficient incentives and rewards for contributing and sharing. The site had many visitors seeking resources, but very few visitors who contributed.
Business Expert Press
These experiences of success and failure, across my first seven years in content-based product management for learning and research, informed the launch of Business Expert Press: https://www.businessexpertpress.com/. As a library-first publishing start-up, the team at Business Expert Press engaged deeply with customers to design an eBook collection model for university libraries that featured many innovations now standard across publisher-direct library business models.
After Business Expert Press, I worked with product teams at Alexander Street to launch successive innovative products across our multi-media and video platform, each achieving meaningful results tied back to solving real customer problems. Along the way I developed eight steps that I use to create new products. I have borrowed from the language of stage-gate theory, agile product development and other schools of thought on product, so you the reader will find familiar concepts in this series. My focus is very specifically on supporting product managers tasked with building products that incorporate content, licensed or originally published, into learning and/or research solutions. My experience with bringing content and software and services together in solutions to support learners and researchers is the unique context and contribution of this series.
Product Development Thinking for Content-Based Learning and Research Solutions
This is an eight part series that will cover in succession:
- Understand Your Strategic, Technical and Go-To-Market Context
- Customer Discovery
- Publisher and Partner Discovery
- The Components of a Business Case
- The Management of the Road Map
- Product Market Fit and Minimally Viable Product
The Intangible “Tangible” Not Covered in this Series – Company Culture
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of culture. A product manager will only achieve innovation in a culture that embraces the customer and empowers the product manager. Great products do not come from senior management teams. Great products do not come from templates. Great products do not come from retreats and three-day company-wide trainings. Great products come from product teams invested in customer discovery, empowered by management to be bold and where humility, passion and curiosity exist in equal measure. These are intangibles, but if you have been in product management for even a year or two you know it when you see it in the culture and in the leadership.
Please subscribe to get a simple notification when new posts publish. I invite you to read the complete series here: New Product Development for Content-Based Products.