The Value of Asking ‘Why?’

Don’t just start… first start asking the right questions.

When looking at a product have you ever heard yourself saying “why would anyone buy this?” or “why would people use this?” – I have. Unfortunately, there have been many times when I look at products and experience the “I don’t get it moment”. I mean, I understand the functions being demonstrated but I don’t understand what problem the product team is trying to solve. So we put our doubts aside and start working on the product anyway as you know at some point you can help simplify, redesign and make usability improvements. But something still niggles at you. What is missing?

Understanding value

The problem is we don’t spend enough time up front on projects discussing, assessing, defining and refining the value of what we make. We jump too quickly into design and build before applying rigor to what we make. Its easy to get lost in the product detail: a screen, code and forget what the product’s value is and who you are building it for. Everything we do should be to help move the product a little closer to success. Every question we ask, every piece of research we do, every design or sketch we make, every product walk through we have with stakeholders, should all help iterate towards understanding the product value – the copy, a widget, a function, a screen, the product framework, the product, the product line and where that product line lives in and around other products in the company and the marketplace should say something about its value.

we don’t spend enough time up front on projects discussing, assessing, defining and refining the value of what we make.

Stop and assess

We must dedicate more time up front, at the start of any project or before we jump into developing a new feature, feature set or redesign effort to better assess the value of stuff we make. What makes people want something in the first place, use it, continue to use it, buy more of the same, treasure it and keep it? The following list is by no means exhaustive, rather it attempts to get to the heart of why something is valuable:

We should…

  • do our homework and investigate how product decisions are made;
  • show how we can help the team make better product decisions;
  • provide research methods to test assumptions along the way;
  • ask: what does this product do? (what makes this product tick?);
  • ask: what do you love about the product? (why would you buy it?);
  • ask: what does the product team love about the product? (are they passionate about what they are working on?);
  • ask: what does sales love about the product? (are we helping them sell more?);
  • ask: could you sell the product? (if you were tasked to sell the product could you? Would you want to face customers with the product you have today?);
  • ask: what features would you sell? (any stand out features? any useless features? any features you would lead with when selling?);
  • ask: what are customers saying about the product? (does it really help them?);
  • ask: at what point would you want to throw the product away? (at what point does the product lose its value?);
  • ask: at what point would you want to upgrade? (what would you base your decision on?);
  • ask: how do you want the product to shine in the market place? (what would make it stand out?).

By asking questions about the product and its value you are by doing this in fact demonstrating value. Your role is to test assumptions and ensure that you provide clear value for users and determine what deeper research is needed. That is the sweet spot – providing ways for us to manage, facilitate, guide and educate product teams to take the necessary time up front and at every stage to deliver value as we drive towards product success. We don’t do this enough and the product team often does not have a shared set of design principles, philosophies or design tenets to hold onto as the product develops.

Dont Ask Permission

Ask yourself, is there general agreement on the team about the product’s value? Is this ever defined? Don’t ask for permission. You are all in the right position now to question the value of what you work on and to help improve stuff. Questioning, improving upon and nailing down the value of something helps set our strategy in the right direction, helps us focus on building the right stuff and helps avoid storms ahead. So get clarity around:

  1. Understanding the value of what we do
  2. Understanding the value of the stuff we work on
  3. Showing the value of what we do to others
  4. Appreciating the value of the people who end up using the products we make
  5. Appreciating and leveraging on the value of the product team skills available to help make better stuff
  6. Assessing and finding value up front before we start making stuff

So what stuff do you value in your life and why?

I look forward to an ongoing discussion with you and to learn from your successes and failures.

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