Our product innovation goals need to match our strategic goals – if we want to grow and best support our customer community, our product development needs to be a central component to our strategy. Strategic product innovation will focus on what ease of use or functionality blocks are needed to move us where we need to go. At the same time new customer sales and existing customer requirements can easily add tactical product development needs we consider and respond to. The bigger truth is, to ensure Tensoft’s success requires a successful melding of our strategic direction innovations combined with our tactical product requirements and continuous prioritization and commitment to focus. Our experience and vision for Tensoft is to build systems that fulfills the customers’ actual needs rather than dreams or perspectives – we have an internal mantra to avoid the Ivory Tower in development. All product innovation should be guided by customer perspective – something we can support with external or internal customers. Customers are always someone who can evaluate the real world value of the proposed new functionality and thus deem it relevant to our broader, target market.
An important philosophy to keep in mind is that innovation is broader than customer requests. Customers will always have tactical problems that need to be solved, but successful product innovation is broader than that. The company needs to take the customer’s problem and examine the situation from a broader perspective in order to ensure the solution fits with the overall vision and broader (multi-customer) experience. The solution is not to modify our products in a way that solves only one customer’s problem; it is to find an innovative and well thought out solution that will solve the customer’s immediate needs now, but to be designed and architected in a way that meets our customers’ future needs as well. A related note is we also work to maintain focus in our markets – so the types of customer feedback and requests we receive ideally lines up with our broader vision.
Choosing to focus on customer acquisition product priorities rather than seeing the broader picture can result in interruptions to developmental plans forcing changes or re-prioritizations away from the company’s core values. By focusing on the broader vision and system design and understanding a point is reached where customer need exists to deliver the best math.
Communicating and ensuring our balance in the development process is met by the 5 simple tactics below.
1. Weekly Steering Committee– where employees across functions (development, sales, engineering, training, and support) come together with the goal of making sure that any immediate customer pain points are addressed, all immediate term voices are heard, so that subtle shifts in prioritization can be agreed to.
2. Shorter Development Cycles– break functionality and enhancements into smaller blocks that allow for more rapid directional changes as well as support for the day to day use feedback loop.
3. Build Quality into the Process– the biggest deterrent of development plans as well as customer acquisition based development is unexpected or unplanned support and product issues, by ensuring quality during the entire process this can be prevented.
4. Involve Customers– for more significant functionality blocks it is important to involve customers in the acceptance and review process.
5. Semi-Annual Roadmap Meeting– this includes a broader audience (sales, marketing, customer care, support, platforms, development, and training) where the overall vision is revisited along with our market and customer views to set major or general functionality block goals.
By focusing on fulfilling the actual needs of customers a company can ensure a successful product innovation and customer acquisition. The two are meant to go hand-in-hand and the best way to communicate these priorities across the company is through meetings with team members and customers to ensure that everyone is on the same page, as seen in the five tactics listed above.