We’re Not Inherently Wired to Build Great Products

People aren’t inherently wired to build great products. The more time we spend creating products and collaborating with others during the development process, we realize to do product well goes against human nature.

People are wired to solve problems. Someone presents us with a problem — or we identify a problem worth solving — and we get to offering, building, and implementing the solution. This feels like progress. It feels like success. We are awesome. Until…

We realize we don’t truly understand the problem, and the time, energy, and money spent to implement the solution only partially solves the problem.

There are also other flawed perspectives inside this lack of understanding. We offer solutions too early and build too soon. To prevent missing the mark — or perhaps to feed our own egos by demonstrating our ability to create ‘impressive’ products — we tend to overbuild. This manifests into a self-absorbed perspective that we have the answers and know what is best for the problem-holder (customer, user, etc.). See how this whole thing begins to spiral out of control before we even know what is happening and how we got there?

Because we are like this as individuals, it only worsens inside a team, department, or organization. Instead of having one flawed perspective, we have many. Making matters worse, all of the flawed perspectives act competitively to solve and build faster in an effort to be the best problem-solver and producer. After all, being great problem-solvers and producers is why many people get hired and how many get promoted.

So, how can you overcome human nature to give yourself a chance at creating great products? Here are 10 things to pay close attention to:

1. Be User Centric: If you aren’t putting customers or users first and at the center of everything you are doing, you fundamentally have the wrong perspective on what matters most.

2. Solve a High-Volume Problem People Care About: It takes the same time and energy to solve a low-value problem as a high-value one. Additionally, one of the primary differences between a good product and a successful product is the validation that people actually care about the problem you are solving to a level that makes the effort worthwhile for them and you.

3. Truly Understand the Problem: We’re wired to be problem-solvers. Unfortunately, this instinct causes us to offer and build solutions before we truly understand the problem. Taking the time to understand a problem to an almost expert level is worth it.

4. Validate Everything: The capability exists to validate every aspect of a new product. Moving forward on assumptions is ego, laziness, or both.

5. Seek No: When engaging with customers or users, give them permission to say no and explain why they don’t like or agree with something. Too often we approach them with questions framed positively and for the most part, people want to please other people. So, we get false feedback. Instead of asking what they like about a product or idea, ask what they don’t like about it. Using this technique alone will get you better and truer feedback.

6. More is Less: A first version of a product that does 113 things okay, is never as good as a product that does 3 things uniquely and world-class. (By the way, it doesn’t matter what you call it…MVP, alpha, V1. What matters is whether you have the intent to solve a high-value problem that customers or users care about as simply and elegantly as possible).

7. User Action Drives Your Action: Customers or users don’t know what they don’t know. They will tell you what they think you want to hear and what they perceive the correct answer to be around a product’s UX. If you’ve built enough products, you realize that what customers or users do is often inconsistent with what they say. Because of this, you need to have analytics built into the product from the moment you give the first user access to it. User actions should drive your actions once you have users in the product, not what they say.

8. Avoid Crutches: Processes, methodologies, and tools can easily become crutches. None of them make you great at product. Your culture and discipline are what give processes, methodologies, and tools their power and value. Without the right culture and discipline, they are elixirs to deeper, unresolved challenges.

9. Fear Drives, Not Shipping: Early versions of products are going to be far from where you want the product to be and where it will be. Get it front of customers or users anyway. The only way to truly validate is by getting users in the product. We don’t get products in front of customers or users early enough because of our own egos and the fear the product will not be well-liked and received.

10. Strive for Progress, Not Perfection: Creating anything is hard. The creation process is an exercise in progress, not perfection. This is especially true with digital products because we can continually evolve them. There is never a finish line with a digital product, only the next version.

Creating great and successful products is counter-intuitive to our nature and is one of the core reasons it is hard. Be mindful of this and take steps to think about and approach the process counter to some of your instincts to build great products.

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