Before we go down the rabbit hole of value, one thing to consider, value delivery is key to product development, it is not everything. In fact we can sometimes go too far in our quest for value. As a foil to my thoughts below, go read this article on another way to think about value in product. My friend Eric wrote it, and it is one of the best things I've read in a long time. With that caveat, let’s dive in.
A key focus of product and technology is delivering value to customers. We seek to understand their problems and build solutions to these problems. These solutions do away with the pain customers feel in their jobs and daily lives. They also allow customers to redirect their attention to activities with higher ROIs. In turn customers compensate us for helping them make that shift. That difference in the pain customers feel and the relief we bring can be termed value. If this all plays out as we expect, customers will be incentivized to return to us for help. And we will be incentivized to continue building on their behalf. The cycle can then be repeated over and over again, we deliver more value and they reward us for making their lives easier.
The overall concept is straightforward. But things get tough in actually delivering value. This is because we have to cope with the reality. Things like time and technical feasibility get in our way. To really win over a customer you want to show them right away that you can deliver. But most often you start working with customers before you fully understand what they are looking for or before you know what you are going to build. Delivering value builds trust with customers, but you are trying to earn their trust before you have delivered anything.
In a perfect world where time, technology and bandwidth were not barriers; new value delivery would look something like this:
You deliver a huge amount of value quickly with small increments of value to follow. This allows for us to deliver impactful levels of improvement to a client. In turn we build trust with clients quickly. And they compensate us in return, which can fuel future development.
The (probably) obvious issue here is the above is not how technology development typically goes. Product discovery takes time, hands on keyboards building takes time, integration and implementation take time. Also once we do have something built, it is unlikely that we got it right the first time, so we spend more time iterating. It is easy to draw a chart like the above on paper, but much harder to execute anything like it in real life.
While not perfect, Uber is the best example of this model in recent memory. When they launched their original product they brought instant value, by bringing order and ease to the disjointed black car industry. This value delivery then allowed them to begin a new cycle and disrupt the taxi market with UberX. Which then let them do the same thing again in the food ordering and delivery space with Uber Eats.
I spent a lot of time racking my brain for a real-world example of this delivery model. It took me way longer than I wanted. The reason being most companies don’t deliver value in this manner. In fact most aren’t even setup to deliver value like this, so they couldn’t if they tried. Usually when companies start they face a litany of challenges that get in their way of delivering value: their offering is not yet defined, their customers are not yet known, they are short on time and resources, etc.
With the above factors in mind, you often instead see companies delivering in a manner like this:
Unlike Uber, it is easy to think of examples in this case. One is every company in the VR/AR/Mixed Reality space. All putting out small products, experiences, and features that (may or may not) deliver a small amount of value now. All while promising that one day, real, big-time value is coming. They are all betting that one day, they will finally (after 40 or so years) find the killer use case for this technology and bring real value to customers. What is more likely to happen is that they will continue to create experiences that spark interest in the short-term, but solve no actual problems in the long-term, until they fade away.
So how do you actually deliver value? Both in a timeframe that works for customers? But also in increments that keep them satisfied? The key is to step back and rather then focus on “this feature” or “that solution”, take a strategic approach. We all know we are not going to deliver all value at once, or find product market fit right away. So the key is to chart a course that helps to ensure we get there one day. The path to value is discovered as you go. Start where you are now and anchor your sights on your Vision and North Star metrics. Using those as your guide you plot a course to get there. The key being that you deliver as much incremental value as possible to customers along the way. And the quicker you deliver that value the better. Doing this will lead to feedback from customers. Which will allow you to tweak and adjust your path. Which will help to ensure that customers are with you on the entire journey and you reach your final value destination together.
This is vastly different from the example above where you tease customers with small features or flashes and hope to keep them around until something big happens. This is all about walking the path to value with your customer and discovering value together along the way. How you actually take that journey could fill up countless pages and much has already been written on the topic by people much smarter than me. Rather than trying to lay it out here, I’ll point you to some of the key skills needed to walk the path, with resources from experts.
The path to value requires among other things:
Hopefully this gives you a high-level view for how to think about value delivery. It’s not perfect and I still have more to learn but this is the framework I turn to as I think about how to create value on behalf of customers. Would love to hear your thoughts on delivering value and how I can fine tune my thinking.