Why you shouldFind the ONE THING and Guard it

We use products for no more than one or two reasons. Think about your toothbrush, your phone, even your breakfast this morning or lack thereof. If you were asked what factors influenced those purchasing or non-purchasing decisions, you’d likely mention only one or two reasons.

People are busy. They don’t have time to compare 20 product features across multiple competing products. But they can prioritise what matters most to them. And they do. And perhaps they aren’t choosing your product. Your Product Owner can help you fix this. 

Product Owners define and build what matters most:

A Product Owner literally owns the entirety of the product life cycle in order to create the most value for users and your business. It’s their job to find out what is most important to your users when looking for a product to solve a problem. They need to find what your users need most and what they are willing to pay for. What users need and are prepared to pay for isn’t obvious. If it was, we wouldn't see so many businesses fail to achieve product-market fit.

Working with user research, user behaviour data and gathering insights from other stakeholders, your product owner will be able to identify the ONE THING, and use that insight to get your Product Backlog in shape to deliver it. 

Be the ONE THING even if it is part of a wider workflow:

Your users might need your product to slot into their current workflow - as they might have other tools they know, or their task may be too complex for you to solve in isolation. For example, let’s say you animate text brilliantly. A videographer might use you for their music video to add the lyrics in. That one thing, is to animate text brilliantly.

Let your product owner prioritise user stories to ensure you do that ONE THING better, whether that’s faster, cheaper, more creatively or more visually appealing than they would have done with your competitors. Even if users have to plug you into their existing workflow, the benefit you would provide would outweigh the inconvenience. If your product is worth it. 

It’s easier to make what users need, than it is to convince users they need what you’ve made.

The ONE THING is not always obvious: 

Here’s where a good user researcher is the product owners side kick. We need to consider, not what users say they prioritise when choosing a product, but why they actually chose products in the past.

A few examples spring to mind:
Starbucks - It is well reported that Starbucks does not serve the best coffee. However, people choose Starbucks because of the experience of ordering their coffee and the vibe created with the decor. Starbucks served differently, without the seating and decor, would fall flat. With the same coffee. 

Empower your Product Owner to Own the Product:

If a product owner is only responsible for the platform, or one feature, one component, or the product requirement details, how can you be sure that your product will deliver that ONE THING cohesively and do it well? Some companies employ different product owners to work under one senior product owner - but this still allows one product owner to pull it all together. You can end up with a bloated product that does many things, some well, some not, but not ONE THING brilliantly.

It’s a bit like giving a very talented designer the ability to choose only the shirt in an outfit. Just like an entire outfit needs to look good, your product needs to speak to users as a whole. Does it deliver value where they need it most? The person to bring all the different elements together is your Product Owner. 

You might think this is too much responsibility for one person. Let the metrics speak and guide whether the product is on course. Which metrics - these metrics! When trying something new with a product, no single person has all the answers. However, a good product owner won’t work in isolation but will take insights in from stakeholders, users and your data.

Let’s look at Google Chrome. By far the most popular browser with around 64% of search taking place on its platform according to StatCounter

What matters to users when searching? 

Speed and accuracy. 

The usage stats show that privacy isn’t yet the top priority for the majority of users as their privacy-centered rivals lag behind. As it stands, Chrome is believed to be one of one of the fastest browsers, and it most certainly was years ago when users opted for Chrome as it regularly outpaced Firefox. Even though the two browsers are now neck and neck, Chrome and I would go a step further. Were Chrome to become a slow browser tomorrow, people would abandon it in droves regardless of all their connected Google accounts, and despite Google being synonymous with search. 

Finding the ONE THING can be ridiculously difficult. But we don’t really have a choice but to do the user research, pull all the data together so we can find that most important differentiator. It might not be unique to your product either, which is why I’m not calling it your USP. Fast search is not unique to Chrome but they better be faster than the rest. Not knowing why people use your product instead of your competitor, or why users prefer your competitors is costly. Not just in terms of lost business, but in lost time and lost motivation, as different features are prioritised, built, released, not used and technical debt piles up.

Here is where your product owner comes in. This person doesn’t just help keep your teams productive by building the next thing, it is their job to find the ONE THING your product needs to offer users and then to guard it in the backlog prioritisation. Despite higher ups later steering the product elsewhere if something happens in the industry. 

What about being agile? Shouldn’t we be quick to change course. If your product direction is based on solid qualitative and quantitative user research, that ONE THING should still be relevant in three months, six months, one year. The job the user has hired your product for, should still be the main reason they use your product. If that job becomes obsolete, then this fundamental shift will no doubt require a major pivot - however these scenarios are rare.

If you're Chrome, people hire your product to get answers, and as long as you’re fast and accurate, they will continue to hire you. How you deliver it, the technology you use to build it, how it looks, how it works - all of that can change as you test your output. But the direction is still the same.

How do you distill all the potential product differentiators and find the ONE THING that your customers value most about your product? This is core to the role of your Product Owner. Structuring the Product Backlog in such a way as to ensure what is most important and what is complementary to that, is prioritised and built first.

Many Product Owners struggle with this because they don’t have the much-needed backing of their executives to fulfill their role to the full. Instead the Product Owner role can be diluted to simply shuffling JIRA tickets in order to keep product teams sufficiently busy. And here our metrics come to the rescue as they show us whether we’re on the right track. Metrics such as Monthly Active Users, Churn Rate and Intercom’s brilliant take on NPS, “How disappointed would you be if …”

Building the most important thing why you need to trust that they’ll do the job and do so much more than manage the backlog. They need to regularly meet with stakeholders to gather their product insights, they need to regularly connect with user research findings and be asking new questions in order to distinguish between hypothesis and verified data. 

And so much time and money is often spent on extensive features lists that users might not even mention if asked about a product. Don't let that happen to your product.

Article by Ange Tonge - user researcher, product owner and music producer.

Ange Tonge

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