Product Development and the Importance of Data Driven Decisions
Product Development can be a long and intricate process, each step along the carefully plotted roadmap requires sharp judgement in order to be carried out successfully.
From the very start, you must understand what kind of consumer need your product will satisfy, what sort of market there is for similar products, and what exactly makes your product better than those of your competitors. Even after you’ve found your market fit, even after you’ve developed and released your product, you then have to determine what updates or new features you can implement down the line in order to ensure your product remains valuable to the consumers who bought it.
Such a process raises many questions as it progresses, with product managers being tasked with finding solutions and determining the best courses of action for project managers to take when unexpected issues arise. Their decisions can be the difference between what leads to a successful launch and what results in an absolute mess, which is why they must think carefully, using all resources available in order to make properly informed judgements.
Typically, product managers rely on their intuition when solving problems, tapping into what they’ve learned about customer needs and what they understand about workflow procedures. However, falling back on old information can leave a product manager unprepared for modern problems, especially in a market where options and opinions are changing so quickly. In order to keep their intuition up to date, product managers must be in touch with the latest information, this is what we call data driven decision making.
I know there are many who are under the impression that data is reactive, that such information can only be gained after the fact and used in response to decisions that have already been acted on. While it is true that plenty of insight can be gained from carefully monitoring and measuring the steps you take, it is also true that data can be proactive as well. Indeed, having verified information on your target demographics’ buying habits and aesthetic preferences is the kind of data you need before you can determine your marketing strategy and design direction.
Without data, product managers simply cannot plot a realistic roadmap for development. After all, you can’t determine whether a project was a success or a failure without first knowing what it was supposed to achieve and how to measure the results.
Granted, the way you measure your data, and the types of data you measure, is important as well.
For example, if you launched a product and found that sales were low but usage was high, then you can determine that the product is well received and functioning properly but is not being marketed as well as it could. See who it is that’s buying you product, as well as where they're buying it, then see what it is they like about the product, and use this information to adjust your marketing strategy. Perhaps demographics you were expecting to capitalize on aren’t as interested as you expected, or maybe features you didn’t consider very attractive turn out to be more popular than you originally assumed, and that’s okay. Now that you’re aware of the situation, you can refocus your advertising and highlight the popular qualities, thereby capitalizing on what actually resounds with consumers and boosting sales.
Likewise, when prioritizing updates and features to develop, use data to consider what kind of impact the respective updates and features will each have on the product, how you would measure such impacts, as well as costs and development time. By weighing the pros and cons of each group, you will be able to make an informed decision on which one to progress on, as well as have a means of measuring whether your decision paid off the way you projected it would. Sometimes that means features or updates you were attached to are revealed to not be as relevant as others, that the ideas you were looking forward to pursuing are actually not the wisest investments to make, and that’s okay. Now that you know the idea you were favoring isn’t in the product's best interest, you can shelve it or scrap it and focus on updates and features that will be better for the product’s value and consumers’ experience.
Understanding that ideas and intentions set at the start of the roadmap may need to change as development progresses isn’t always easy for product managers to accept, but it is critical to the success of the product. Using data will help product managers remain agile as you make efficient adjustments to optimize your progress, rather than sticking to an unrealistic plan and missing your goals in the end. That being said, a missed goal should not be looked at as a failure, but rather as a learning opportunity. Document your progress, record the results of your decisions, and use that information to avoid making the same mistakes.
The information you draw on can come from a variety of sources, such as tracking user habits or sending out customer surveys, but understanding it and organizing it will be essential to utilizing it. Keep the records in a single source of truth that can be easily referenced and updated, set a timetable for gathering and reviewing new information, the carefully compare and chart new data with old data. By cataloguing where you started from and the changes you made along the way, you will be able to make data driven decisions when planning the path forward.