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No matter how awesome your product, without a well-conceived launch strategy, it will likely sputter off the launch pad. Great success demands careful planning.

What Is a Launch Strategy?

Your product launch strategy delineates the approach you plan to take in getting your product to market. You can start ruminating over what to include in your launch strategy as early as the conception phase. However, what you initially plan must evolve as a more details emerge in the later stages of product development.

Ultimately, your strategy needs to cover all assumptions about sales and marketing for the product launch. It should lead to creation of a solid estimate of the scope, resources needed, and budget required to give the product a strong start. When a new product is involved, launch costs can occasionally exceed the cost of product development.

When your strategy is complete, you should have a clear idea of all activities to pursue in launching the product, their costs, and the initial timeline for deployment.

Four Key Points to Include

1 – Who are your top priority audiences for the product?

2 – What are the main ways you will try to reach these priority audiences?

3 – What are the key messages you need to communicate?

4 – What are your objectives? What do you plan to achieve?

What Are the Specifics to Include in Your Launch Strategy?

• Targeted sales channels – Will you use TV, radio, word-of-mouth, demonstrations, Internet or something else?

• Marketing Collateral – What support materials will be needed?

• Sales tools, demos, and training requirements – How will you equip your sales force to clearly communicate your product’s value and uses?

• Advertising and demand generation activities – What will you use to create a desire to buy?

• Sales promotions – What initiatives will you launch to get the word out?

• Public relations, industry, and social media initiatives – What can you do to build buzz through press releases, industry buzz, and social media posts?

You’ll also want to consider tradeshow and event needs; your field testing strategy; your sales forecast by the various channels; your measurable launch objectives; and high-level timeline, milestones, and budget.

The Completed Launch Strategy

Please remember: your initial ideas aren’t cast in stone. Your assumptions and plans will morph through various stages. When you finally get to the point of crafting a solid launch strategy your document should have eight characteristics:

1 – It must identify the audience(s) and competitive targets

2 – Your messaging must be solidly developed

3 – Your launch plans must align with the overall product strategy and development plan

4 – You must prioritize go-to-market activities to focus on the most important

5 – Develop measureable short and long-term criteria for assessing the success of the launch

6 – Earmark any emerging activities or capabilities that must be sourced or developed

7 – Align your plan with your company’s marketing and distributions strengths

8 – Make sure the plan provides for input and support from targeted channels

A lot goes into creating a launch strategy that really delivers. Follow these ideas and you’ll be ready to make a strong start.

Advancing the Profession of Product Management
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A strong positioning statement is an important ingredient for success. In this post we share some tips for developing a well thought out positioning statement.

What is a Positioning Statement?

A well-crafted positioning statement brings together your overall value proposition with your positioning for a product. This is accomplished in a few concise statements. These are high-level statements. As you write them, don’t get down in the weeds about what you are planning.

You can think of it as kind of an elevator pitch you would be able to use to give a clear idea of your goals in just a snapshot. It’s quick, but it’s also comprehensive.

A Good Positioning Statement Framework

We can thank Geoffrey Moore and his book Crossing the Chasm for this useful template:

     Statement                                                              Description

FOR <target market>                      A concise definition of the market segment

WHO HAVE <this problem>     The problem statement indicating the underserved need or market gap

OUR PRODUCT IS <solution category>          A generic name to help categorize the solution to the market

THAT PROVIDES <key benefits>            Key benefit(s) and the value provided

UNLIKE <reference competition>         Defines the primary alternative market solution(s)

OUR SOLUTION <key advantages>       Identifies how this product differentiates from the competition in a way that creates value                                                                             

Four Essentials for a Useful Positioning Statement

You want your positioning statement to be as useful as possible, so make sure it contains these four elements:

  • Make sure it identifies the overall purpose of the product. What is the added value to be gained and what market gap does it fill? How is it better than current solutions?
  • Be sure it contains enough information that those unfamiliar with the product can “get it” in a brief conversation.
  • Use analogies to other existing solutions to further understanding and create an image for your reader.
  • Keep your focus on benefits and value. Don’t dwell on features and other specifics.
Other Forms for Your Positioning Statement

Two common forms that can help galvanize understanding are the Simile and the User-Story Format.

The Simile approach is probably the easiest way to telegraph your positioning statement. In essence, you compare your solution to another category of solution. For example, the Amazon Kindle does for reading what our <product> does for <category>.

If your team is comfortable with Agile, it will likely respond well to the User-Story format. Your team members can write up a positioning statement like any user story, only this one will focus on the product level. You state the problem the persona needs to solve and how your solution meets that need.

No matter what format your positioning statement takes, make sure it is appealing to customers and helps focus the product development and marketing approach.

Looking Ahead

In my next post we’ll take a look at the launch strategy document and what it should contain in order to deliver the most benefit to your team.

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Moving Your Product Strategy Forward

When you begin developing your product roadmap, you start to envision how your product strategy will actually be accomplished. You tangibly define the phases or activities required to reach your aspiration goals. These set of activities will typically cover multiple product development cycles and define high-level deliverables. The form your roadmap takes is largely dependent upon the expectations of your organization. This can range from PowerPoint to more automated tools.

Purpose of the Product Roadmap

So what do you want to accomplish? Are you trying to attain internal and external alignment around a set of envisioned activities? Or are you also attempting to ensure an appropriate allocation of supporting resources so that your team can achieve its goals? Your organization likely has goals of its own. Organizations commonly use roadmap deliverables as a visible measure of how efficient your product team is. Make sure you not only understand what you and your team want to accomplish – but also what the organization’s expectations are. A disconnect between these two sets of expectations can spell trouble.

5 Things Normally Included

Every product roadmap needs to cover these items:

  • A timeline aligned with customer purchasing behaviors or business cycles.
  • Outline the market drivers that will drive deliverables on the roadmap. For instance, tradeshows, high sales seasons, or expected legislation that could impact the market, etc.
  • Define the business objectives or product themes that divide the overarching timeline into phases that align with the overall product strategy and support the long-term product vision.
  • Capture the high-level features being targeted for delivery in each phase.
  • Optionally, include an aligned technology roadmap that reveals specific technology platforms that will be impacted by each major phase and feature list. This can be a big help in proactively aligning product and technology groups.
Four Characteristics of a Top-Notch Product Roadmap

It should:

  • Be crafted in such a way that it can guide each of the planned phases and project priorities.
  • Align with your product vision and strategy and provide a plan for delivering on what these documents promise.
  • Include a plan around resource requirements that the executive team supports.
  • Is not so set in stone that it cannot be updated along the way as market changes occur and progress is made.

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Over the past few weeks we’ve considered a number of key product management tools. Today we will look at two of the most important: the Product Vision and Product Strategy documents. Each of these elements fulfills a distinct function, but are often presented together.

Defining a Product Vision Document

The Product Vision document looks into the future. It presents a 30,000-foot view of what you plan for the product to be in the future and its anticipated value.

The Role of the Product Strategy Document

Your Product Strategy document explains what high-level actions will need to take place in order for your product to live up to the anticipated deliverables in the Product Vision document. Just as important, the Product Strategy document sets boundaries for activities that should not be pursued.

It’s easy to understand why these two vital documents are often presented together.

Three Things Product Vision and Strategy Should Provide

A well conceived Product Vision and Strategy will:

  • Present a statement about what you envision the product will be in the future and how it will benefit its market.
  • Cover high-level actions that must be taken in order to fulfill the promise presented in your document.
  • Outline measurable objectives that include both short and long-term goals as they relate to the product.
Characteristics Specific to a Well Developed Product Vision
  • Present a clear view of where you see the product in one year or perhaps many years, depending on the product lifecycle.
  • Define your target customers and how the product will help them solve challenges. Clarify the value to be derived from the product.
  • Set a high bar that pushes product team innovation.
  • Make sure that the level you set is high enough that it won’t change every time there’s a shift in market dynamics.
Characteristics of an Excellent Product Strategy

A well thought out product strategy can set the stage for your product roadmap. Your Product Strategy needs to offer clearly defined phases that lead up to meeting the Product Vision. It should include the key activities your product team will undertake toward meeting the Product Vision. Your Product Vision acts as your north star guiding your decisions. However, your Product Strategy will evolve over time in response to changing market conditions.

Your Product Strategy should also be centered on objective time lines associated to business metrics related to customers, the competition, the market, or financials. You also need to include shorter-term milestones with specific deliverables. Make it clear all along the way what the next steps should be.

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Of all the documents you create while developing a new product or product extension the Market Requirements Document (MRD) is most important of all. First, the MRD defines the overall target market. It also captures the market expectations for product attributes. Meeting these expectations is critical to increasing the odds of success in the marketplace.

What Does an MRD Look Like?

Your MRD can take many forms. It can be a simple document, a wiki, a spreadsheet, a unique software tool, or something else you devise to fulfill this important step in your process. The potential of the project will dictate the form your MRD should take.

The Core of the Market Requirements Document

There are essentially two things at the core of your MRD:

1 – A clear definition of your target market. This is basically a vivid picture of your potential buyer and user profiles. What are the key reasons someone would use the product?

2 – Defined problem scenarios – What are the main challenges your users face that will cause them to turn to your product. These likely will vary between buyers and end users. You’ll want to develop problem scenarios for each.

Functional and Non-Functional Requirements

Requirements that must be dealt with in the Market Requirements Document fall into two categories: function and non-functional. Here’s the difference.

Functional requirements cover capabilities that have interactivity with the user. They deal with specific high-level functions a user may want to perform.

Non-functional requirements are concerned with design restrictions and performance factors involved with the product. Performance factors cover how well a product must perform. Design restrictions revolve around how much a product must support.

Common Non-Functional Requirement Categories

There are many different categories of non-functional requirements including many that are industry specific. Here are some of the most common categories:

  • Physical requirement – Maximum and minimum dimensions, weight, packaging, sturdiness, etc.
  • Environmental requirements – the environment in which a product must be operated or stored.
  • Performance requirements – This category can include such things as expected speed for specific operations, what are the lifetime expectations for use, etc.
  • International requirements – where the product will be sold and used. What are the language, currency, power supply, and specific localized needs?
  • Compatibility Requirements – How does the product need to work with other products?
  • Documentation requirements – What are the types, formats, and delivery methods for documentation?
  • Support requirements – What must be available to customers to help them with installation, repairs, operation, payments, maintenance, and disposal of the product?
  • Legal, Regulatory, and Compliance requirements – What laws, rules, and government or agency-related requirements impact the product?
  • Distribution and Packaging – What is required to distribute the product and how does it need to be packaged?
What to Include in a Successful MRD

There are essentially six key elements of a successful MRD.

  1. As mentioned above: You must include a definition of your target market, a vivid picture of your potential buyer and user profiles.
  2. A comprehensive list of market requirements the solution will need to fulfill.
  3. Suggested quantitative measures of success for each requirement.
  4. A prioritized list of requirements from your market’s point of view.
  5. A clear focus on the market problem you are trying to solve, not on your planned solution.
  6. A timeframe for product introduction and a supporting rationale.

Advancing the Profession of Product Management
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How to Use a Competitive Analysis Matrix

Recently we’ve discussed the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis. Today, we’re going to consider a tool that drills down to the product feature level and allows the product team to compare competitors’ products to your solution. This tool is the Competitive Analysis Matrix. A Competitive Analysis Matrix is usually presented in a spreadsheet format. However, many such charts include 8 or more features. Complex products can include twice that many feature comparisons.

How the Competitive Analysis Matrix Works

The purpose of the Competitive Analysis Matrix is to identify gaps in your competitors’ offerings. Your matrix should include a row for each feature to be considered. It should also include a column for each competitor with qualitative rankings of each feature in the competitors’ products. This means a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ ranking won’t cut it. Your team needs to become as familiar with the competitive products as possible so you’ll feel comfortable evaluating each.

Market Importance

The market importance column is particularly significant. It is likely that your competitors have added some features to their products to meet the needs of a particularly important customer. These will not necessarily have overall appeal in the marketplace. By assigning a high, medium, or low ranking to each feature, you will be able to identify those features which you can probably cut from your product. This can help you save valuable resources and money. Every feature adds cost. The Competitive Analysis Matrix will help you hone in on the features that are most important. Once these are covered in your budget, you can start adding on other items that will appeal to the market as resources permit. Features should be added according to their ability to help your customers meet their goals.

Four Things a Basic Competitive Analysis Matrix Will Include:

1 – High-level Feature Sets – Group the features that are related together to simplify the matrix. It is easy for your team to get bogged down if huge individual features are considered separately.

2 – End-to-End Customer View – Don’t get off track by including just characteristics of the physical product. Include attributes that impact the entire user experience. This can cover such things as how the product is purchase, delivered, installed, supported, and maintained. By evaluating these items you may open avenues for product differentiation.

3 – Measure How Well Features Perform – Don’t allow yes or no answers. Remember this is a qualitative comparison.

4 – Measure of the Market’s Importance – Most likely your competitors have included features that are not highly valued by most customers. There is no need to match competitors feature for feature. Build the product the market wants no matter what you see competitors doing.

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Over the past few weeks my posts have explored various tools to use in product concept investigation. This week we will continue by reviewing two additional problem scenario approaches. Each of these has its own strengths and weaknesses. Used in the right situation, both can help clarify how the product concept will work and get the team nearer its goals.

Before we drill down into Storyboarding and Flow Diagrams, let’s take a moment to think about the purpose of the problem scenario.

Purpose of the Problem Scenario in Product Concept Investigation

All problem scenarios must illustrate challenges faced by users while attempting to reach a specific goal. This includes exposing the limitations of current solutions in the marketplace.

An effective problem scenario promotes:

  • Clear understanding of the situation a user faces in trying to reach a goal
  • An accurate definition of the goal the user is seeking to achieve
  • A strong understanding of how consumers are currently reaching this goal
  • The frustrations felt by customers using current solutions
  • A revelation of the opportunity you have to flush out new ideas to reduce or eliminate frustrations with current solutions
  • A wide open path for the presentation of bold, fresh ideas that could dramatically improve the customer’s experience
Storyboarding as a Method of Product Concept Investigation

One of the great strengths of Storyboarding is its ability to make an idea instantly understandable to your team. In contrast, the simple story method of product concept investigation requires the audience to read through the whole written description. Only when the reading is complete will the team understand where you are going and what you are suggesting.

Storyboarding combines illustrations (ala comic books or cartoons) with individual written steps to deliver your concept. Your audience can quickly grasp where you are taking them with the storyboarding methodology. The one danger is that you can over simplify your ideas and therefore leave out critical details that would be clear in a fully written out concept (simple story).

Now, let’s consider another approach to the Problem Scenario, Flow Diagramming.

Flow Diagramming

If collaboration between individuals or departments is vital, the Flow Diagram is an excellent tool for sharing your ideas.

The Flow Diagram essentially shows how a solution would flow through your company’s various departments on its way to completion. Each handoff point and step will be clearly shown on the diagram so everyone can see exactly where their department fits into the overall sequence.

Looking Forward

Next week we’ll move away from the Problem Scenario approach to product concept investigation. We will take a close look at the Competitive Analysis Matrix and its uses, advantages, and disadvantages in the product development process.

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It’s imperative that your company thoroughly investigates a product concept before you dive in full force. There are several ways to do this. Today, we’re going to take a closer look at the value of using Personas in your product concept investigation.

What Is a Persona?

A Persona is a representation of a group of customers with similar characteristics. Personas help your team make decisions about the product during development. You gather data to create the Personas through primary research and also through Voice-of-the-Customer activities.

Personas can be minimal or fully blown out, giving an elaborate description of behaviors, activities, and motivations. They vary based on whether they are for a business-to-consumer or a business-to-business product or service.

What’s Included in a Persona?

Personas include information such as:

  • A fabricated descriptive name and optional photo or caricature
  • Demographic information such as age, gender, marital status, location
  • Level of education, work, income
  • Lifestyle or work factors and goals
  • Experience with the product category
  • A quote or slogan that captures personality or personal drivers
  • Activities that may influence the use of the product, particularly pain points
  • Other related products or solutions currently used
  • Values, attitudes, and motivators that influence the decision process
  • Other collaborators related to reaching goals
  • Frequency of activity toward goals
Buyer Personas

A Buyer Persona hones in on a specific type of buyer targeted by the sales channels. An end user or a purchasing manager is an example. The Buyer Persona informs the development of the components, functionality, and benefits of the value proposition.  They can also impact sales messages.

User Personas

A User Persona represents a specific type of buyer who will have a very specific use for your product or service. A good example is a manager who will set up a computer program for a team. This person is not an end user, but has interests and goals for the product that are different from the end user who is the employee who will actually use the product.

The main goal of developing Personas is to understand typical customers for your product. Personas that achieve the results intended share three characteristics:

  1. They provide information that gives insight into the customer’s world including their challenges and goals as related to the new product.
  2. They hone in on the primary buyers, something that is accomplished with only a few Personas.
  3. Persona development is driven by market research or Voice-of-the-Customer activities. A large enough number of customers are included to be able to spot trends and common tendencies.
Not a License for Creative Writing

It is unfortunately fairly common for a product team to build elaborate Personas out of thin air, with no research to back them up. This is not valid nor is it appropriate for a vital business document. Take the time and make the effort to actually do the background work.

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Last week we looked at Personas as a means of product concept investigation. This method focuses on the people who may use the products being considered for development. Problem scenarios focus on the various problems the product is intended to solve for these personas.

Problem scenarios are a good way to take a high level look at what an ordinary customer might encounter, the problems they need to solve, and the challenges they face in doing so.

A mother may need to provide a nutritious but easy to prepare meal for her busy family.  They need a quick meal, but not just any fast-food pickup. It needs to be healthy, quick to prepare within tight time constraints, and tasty.

Problem Scenarios – Different Types

A problem scenario can take different forms depending on the product concept under consideration and the level of detail you want captured in the scenario.

The first type of problem scenario is the Simple Story. This can include a few paragraphs or a few key bullets. Key elements to include in a Simple Story are:

  • Who is the primary persona in the scenario? Usually there is one, but sometimes there can be several, depending on the product.
  • What are the location and timeframe for the scenario? Does it occur at home, in the office, or somewhere else?
  • What is the goal of the persona? What is the high-level objective the persona is trying to achieve. For example: Provide a quick to prepare, tasty, and healthy meal, hear music on a patio, etc.
  • What are the common steps taken to achieve the goal? What are the most basic tasks a person will need to undertake to reach the goal? These should illustrate the challenges and frustrations the persona encounters in the quest. These also should encompass how the persona would proceed using current solutions and products available in the market. The result of this step will be a complete start-to-finish set of activities. It will give a bird’s eye view of the situation.
  • What major decisions must the persona make during the workflow? If the product is complex, such as software or services, there may be several paths that can be taken depending on decisions made. For example, let’s consider a product team attempting to create an online order form. Decisions the persona would need to make might include which credit card to use, do they want gift wrap, where will the item be sent, how much does the persona need to purchase in order to get free shipping, and that’s just the start of the possible decisions.
Looking Ahead

Next week we’ll take a look at another type of problem scenario you can use in your product concept investigation: Story Boarding.

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Whether your product team is large or small, you have a limited amount of resources. You must be thoughtful and careful in choose what product ideas and features to pursue and which to let fall by the wayside. It’s important to recognize that no team can pursue every initiative before them.

Choosing the Best Product Ideas and Features to Advance

Today, we’re going to look at a tool many organizations find useful in helping them determine how to proceed. This tool, the Prioritization Matrix helps product teams score the various product concept ideas under consideration so they can make well-reasoned decisions.

When myriad product ideas are floating around, this systematic matrix approach will help ideas with the most potential rise to the top so they can receive further study.

You can use this same Matrix approach to consider various features you may want to add to a product. The Prioritization Matrix pulls the cream of the ideas to the top and lets the sludge sink to the bottom and ultimately disappear.

Choosing Matrix Criteria

Your Prioritization Matrix can include any criteria that align with your organization’s goals and objectives. Some commonly used criteria are:

  • Is the market attractive?
  • Can you be competitive?
  • Is it a good time to enter the market?
  • What’s the market’s potential value?
  • Can you differentiate your product from others out there?
  • Is there a strong projected return on investment within a set period?
  • Does the proposed product align with your company’s goals and objectives?
  • How does the estimated cost of development compare to the size of the
    opportunity?

Here’s a virtual example of what a Prioritization Matrix might look like:

Using the scoring scale, each of the criteria earns a score of 1,2,or 3. For clarity and to avoid individual subjectivity, it’s smart to specifically define each measure. For example for Market Attractiveness high would equal market growth of greater than 5% along with a market size of over 2M potential customers. Once you’ve defined your ranking scale numbers, your team should rate each criteria and total up the scores for each idea under consideration.

Naturally, at this point the scoring will be fairly subjective. That’s ok because you are not at the point of constructing a financial forecast. You are simply considering which ideas are the most deserving of additional consideration.

Building in Automatic Stops

You need to build some automatic stops into your Matrix. For instance, if an idea does not strategically align with your company’s strategy or objectives, it must be dropped from further consideration. Additionally, at the outset you should agree that products that do not garner a predetermined minimum total points will be discarded.

The systematic Prioritization Matrix approach is an excellent way to increase effective use of your resources. Don’t become discouraged if a majority of ideas don’t measure up on the Matrix. This is a common occurrence that can often lead to a positive: your valuable resources not being wasted on lackluster ideas.

Looking Forward

Next week will take a look closer look at Product Concept Investigations, beginning with Personas.

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