Reading Between the Lines

By Deane Barker on July 12, 2007

Promises, Problems and Product Development: Josh Clark has written a stunner of a post on product development.

It came out of a conversation he and I had during the lead-up to this post on Gadgetopia. The conversation apparently convinced him to put versioning into Big Medium. His customers have never explicitly asked for it, so he had never bothered doing it before.

Big Medium’s promise is to manage content. It has to store it, protect it, make it easy to retrieve, format it in useful ways, relate it to other content. That’s the whole thing. Big Medium does a swell job at most of this, but I realized that outside of its permission and workflow features, the app was a little weak on the “protection” angle of its promise. It does need version control.

This point here is what really got me:

That’s where the opportunity lies to surprise and delight: Find the way to solve a problem that the customer has absorbed as a fact of life, a pain they’ve borne so long they don’t even realize it’s there anymore. Those opportunities rarely present themselves as feature requests

Companies like 37 Signals have embraced the “simpler is better” and “no is the default answer to new features” approach. That’s great and they’ve been very successful at it, but here’s another point from a Business Week article which kind of rocks you back on your heels:

The problem is when you say “listen to your customers,” your customers are only going to lead you in a direction that they want to go in. Generally, that will never lead you to disruptive growth.

Absolutely. Don’t listen to just what they say, read between the lines. There’s fine line between predicting what your customers want and bloating the product. You need to walk this line as closely as possible. If you step over, back off, but toe it as closely as you can.

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