your opinion doesn’t matter

dogfood.jpgIf you’ve worked with me for any length of time you have probably heard my “focus group of one” disclaimer. Normally I use this phrase just prior to adding my personal opinion of how I might use this or that new product. My point is that “here’s my opinion” but it’s just one of many for us to consider in our decision making process.

Not to lament the point but focus groups are simply data points. I would also argue they are really too often bad data at that. Finding a dozen random people with a free weekday evening, putting them in a room with a facilitator to explain a new concept idea and then having them react to the information is in my view the most artificial data collection methodology known to humankind. Most potential buyers never, ever get this upfront information in the purchase decision making process.

Deciding to buy a product (or not) is a pretty complicated process. In a perfect world, a person has to feel some pain, decide to do something about it, research potential options and ultimately make a purchase decision. Of course most buyers also have to work day jobs, clean up the kitchen, take out the trash, put the kids to bed and – some – have to also write blog posts well into the night. These together can not only slow down but likely more often than not stall or forever delay action.

Far, far too often I see product teams make poor decisions because of the falsehood of the focus group of one. If you are not a living, breathing customer in the target market, with the right demographics your opinion of how you might use this or that feature doesn’t matter. Why? You’re not a customer. And even if you are, you have already drank the Kool-Aid .. you already know too much. How might you avoid the focus group of one dilemma?

Only develop products you would actually use. It seems to me that folks that have to “eat their own dog food” are the best when it comes to finding the right mix of features for a product. Think of yourself as “customer zero”; the first person to buy the product. Make yourself happy first and then go looking for customers.

Decentralize decision making. It seems that in organizations where you have to “run the idea up the flag pole” you risk getting lots of focus group data to cloud the product feature set and plan. Let the front-line product teams make the call. Hold them to the metrics that make sense for the business and let them get the product done.

Travel and see the world. If 25% of your forecast comes from Asia better get on a plane during the market requirement phase of your project. Too often we hide in our office complexes and forget about the real world. Visit the stores you expect to find your product, eat lunch where your target customer will likely dine and drive/walk through neighborhoods where you customers will actually live. My first trip to Tokyo absolutely blew me completely away. My “field teams” could tell me all they wanted but seeing for myself was the only way I would have ever believed them.

Slip dates not features. If something was important for the product to be successful two months ago it probably still is. One obvious caveat would be a new unforeseen competitor or the like but time-to-market is not an unforeseen force. Compromises make great products good, good products average and average products bad. And I’ve worked on a few bad ones. It seems that too often when we drop features late in the game to make a date we make arbitrary compromises that ultimately frustrate the customer and too often the choices are made by folks not on the core project team.

Lots to think about but of course this blog is just another example of a focus group of one. Good luck.