You are in control of your product and its evolution but you are being blinded by your own vision when you stop listening. Don’t let me discount your amazing talent and vision but if your cutting-edge product isn’t influenced by a user your product loses its value.
Having ongoing communication with customers is important for identifying potential new features. Sometimes the means of communication from user to development are to distant, this is when allowing your customers to speak through your team is your advantage. Throughout my career these are the ways I have seen features grow intentionally in an organic way.
1. Keeping lines of communication open with your support team.
The support team is in the trenches with the customers. They are empathetic and deeply care about customer success and satisfaction. One on one relationships with customers directly translate into a scenario of the customers pain is their pain. When they feel the same pain points in your product as the client it will affect/bother/move them to ease the pain. Eventually resulting in a discussion with the tech team about the customer experience.
Synergy to find a solution is done a few ways on our team.. First, we use our favorite communication tool, surprise…Slack, and have a room called “Friday Posts”. We keep this private among the support team, sales leads and tech leads. Having a place for support to bring up common requests and common issues they are seeing over-and-over again is a healthy way to bring issues to the table. It also allows everyone to add input for arriving at the core of the problem.
Secondly, it is important for as CTO, to connect weekly with the support leaders to dive into more details about hiccups they are experiencing. I also run ideas by them about what a new feature might look like. Really it is just important to listen and ask questions, I can’t emphasize listening enough.
Lastly, at Webconnex, I wholeheartedly view the support team as our most important customer and it is important for them to curate their own list of ideas. Think about that for a second. Product developers, designers and engineers are almost always looking at what is next. Support is spending 90% of their time looking at what is now. They are spending the most time of any person in the product on a daily basis. That comes with an understanding of the product’s use that most of the other team members will never get.
2. Getting on the same page
I’ll admit this is a relatively new practice for us. We have a relatively flat company and sometimes it is easy to take an idea and run with it all guerilla style. The problem with this approach is features often get developed that very few people on the team even know about. or importantly your team haven’t had a chance to give feedback on, IE. make it better. As our team grows we see this as a growing problem culturally speaking but have actively moved to change. Start open dialog with your team leads and get a regularly scheduled conversation going to discuss what features are on the table and what their value to the company might be.
3. Being Flexible
Flexibility can be one of the hardest tools for a company to implement. There is a fine-line between being able to product plan, hit deadlines and customer expectations, and at the same be flexible to new ideas and opportunities because they come up often. With any type of product roadmap, whether physical product or software, you naturally have a limited number of resources to work with and there are always trade-offs. Business 101, Engineering 101, Design 101, right?
A common thread of running a business is for different departments to be looking at different timelines in the process. This can be from concept design, to product testing and actively working with clients but they all end up looping around to each other. When the whole team is working together they will be your greatest resource. Open communication is a strength when implemented in a healthy way.
Also setting aside some resources for opportunity and the inevitable “holy crap… what were we thinking moments” because well… they happen and when they do, they will inevitably bring new features to your product.