Monthly Archives: August 2010

Why Spice Girls are a poor choice for a new product focus group

Spice Girls

Here is how I imagine the conversation would go:

Me: So tell me what you want, what you really, really want?

Them: I’ll tell you what I want what I really, really want.*

A lot of your customers and users will be a lot like Spice Girls. I don’t mean cute and bubbly but rather fixated on their most obvious and most, ahem, basic needs, which means that they are unlikely to ponder far-fetched possibilities or to provide you with unanticipated insights on the spot. This is not because focus groups can’t brainstorm — they are just not primed to think out of the box like product designers are paid to do. The results of such a focus group exercise are bound to be predictable and boring, and they will most likely agree with what you already know about your potential users and market.

Now consider our effort to poll people about our future startup’s name (you can see how that went here). LikeWisely was my top choice, but the multiple levels of meaning and the play on words was not well-received, probably because these things are not on the surface as they are with just❤liked, which is much more literal. In the end we accepted that just❤liked was a decent choice appealing to a large segment of the audience but perhaps a choice lacking in imagination and finesse.

The point is not to offend Spice Girls in particular or focus groups in general. The point is that, despite your best intentions, good product ideas cannot be pried from any perfectly informed and sensible focus group. The good news is that you get to keep your job. The bad news is that you, the product designer, still have to come up with great ideas, convert them to hypotheses that can be validated on a set of flesh and blood users, and validate them. At no point should you suffer the illusion that what you get back will be informed by the audience’s imagination or their desire to find a solution to the problem.

You’d be lucky enough to get back another grumble about zig-ah-zig-ah*.

5 Steps to Escaping (Entrepreneurial) Mediocrity

This comment originally appeared in response to Ask HN: Does reading HN ever make you feel like shit? I got a few points for it, and I thought that it was worth reposting here. Here it is, extended and edited for style.

I know you are out there. You watch the improbable rise of a startup based on the same idea you’ve had for years. You ponder the immense paydays for founders which seem no more capable than you are. You obsessively follow them on Twitter (all the while putting up with their smug comments) somehow hoping to find something in what they say that would justify your own relative obscurity. You read the press coverage on TechCrunch detailing their startup’s next (naturally unprecedented) round of funding. And you wonder: “WHY THEM? WHY NOT ME?”

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I am guest posted

For a change I felt like commenting on a topic that is more closely related to what I do in my day job (namely manage a software product), so I sat down and wrote an article on applying agile practices to product management. The folks at On Product Management have kindly posted it on their blog. You can read the article here.