Anyone who has been responsible for building a product, whether as a startup founder, a product manager or owner, or a change agent at a forward-thinking company, knows how hard it is to create one that is truly great. By definition, I like to think of a “truly great” product as one that improves the lives of its customers, is novel/innovative, and is viable as a business.
But just having an idea that checks all these boxes isn’t enough. To bring it to life, you need a strong handle on several elements that are critical at every stage of the product lifecycle. These include strong customer understanding, quantitative signals, and trust in your own intuition. Let’s break each of these down to better understand what they entail.
Qualitative data (customer research)
Superior products are rooted in a deep understanding of the customer. They enrich the lives of their users and address their needs and pain points. They change the way users interact and engage with the world. But the only way to produce a product like this is to have empathy for your customers and become familiar with how they see and engage with the world. You must understand what their day-to-day looks like and what difficulties they face before you understand where your product fits into their workflow.
The good news is that it doesn’t take much customer or user research to gain a lot of value. Even a handful of meaningful conversations with your users can reveal their intrinsic needs, aspirations, and challenges. This takes the guesswork and risks out of what you’re building. Also, it prevents you from building a product that is based on your own assumptions. As Jakob Nielsen once said, “One of usability’s most hard-earned lessons is that ‘you are not the user.’” This is a key point to remember.
Quantitative data (concrete insights)
When you pair a strong degree of customer understanding with quantitative data, the results are often incredibly powerful. This is especially true when testing and validating new features, introducing new user behaviors and/or key assumptions about your product, and identifying areas of opportunity to improve and iterate upon.
A balance between qualitative and quantitative data is crucial to have all possible context about your UX. Without both data sources, your team can’t make informed product changes. If you rely too heavily on qualitative data, your insight may be colored by user assumptions and personal beliefs. When you make product decisions based solely on what users say they want, rather than how they actually use your product, you risk being too myopic and missing deeper challenges and bigger opportunities. When you strike a balance between qualitative and quantitative data, you’ll see the bigger picture of the user’s motivations that ultimately drive behavior and usage.
At the end of the day, a product manager or owner has to make tough decisions about the direction of the product. And while customer insights and quantitative data provide a solid basis for making decisions, as a product professional, you will never have all the information you want. There will always be times when you will have to call the shots with incomplete information. This is when instinct, intuition, and courage kick in.
While intuition is a bit of a nebulous term, it’s something we all possess. It’s that hunch or gut feeling you have that can’t always be explained. You learn to trust and harness this feeling in the same way you may trust the data or customer feedback. Over time, intuition can become as powerful a differentiator as any. It’s what allows great product managers to buck conventional wisdom to follow a hunch about something that just may work. It lets them make decisions amid uncertainty and gives their teams confidence even when the path is murky. And it encourages the best product leaders to be fast, bold, and proactive, rather than slow and reactive.
For those of you building the next great product, remember you have three powerful allies at your disposal: qualitative data, quantitative data, and your very own intuition. Learning to harness all three will not only ensure your success, but it will also keep your product moving toward the greatness you know it deserves.