“I want to create a product, write an article, give my team a vision, …” In short: You want to create value for someone. This is a tough and often very abstract topic. Here you can read about the product creation cycle from ideation over “first test” up to release for a small one-purpose tool. The product at hand is a small calculator which compares the cost of renting an object versus buying it. The product itself is not the focus of this post – the creation is.
The product at hand is a straight forward one – still, it has everything that a product of any scale needs:
- what is the need, market or idea the product will address?
- What is the value created for your audience by the product?
- What is the products end-result to fulfil that need?
- What does the product need to create this result?
Note that this does not include “iterate” or “work in sprints” or anything like this. In its core, all a product needs is to create value.
Ideation: What is the idea?
Identifying a need can be quite straight forward. From client requests over data crunching to competitor analysis, pretty much anything can be used to identify a need. For this example product, it was even more straight forward: Two podcasters described an issue which I was convinced could be addressed more convenient. The Moment of ideation can be pinpoint to a key experience:
A German finance podcast (“Der Finanzwesir rockt“) created an episode on why the German obsession with buying a house is not always financially sound. The two casters explained in detail the financial structures of buying, the dependencies that get created and a lot of other information very relevant to their target audience.
What was missing though was a comparison with the other side of the medal: How much would a tenant spend compared to a buyer? The idea itself was born: “A tool which allows a user to easily compare renting to buying and the financial implications as simple as possible”. The question (equals “need”!) this idea addresses is “Should I rent or should I buy?”.
The next question I had to answer is …
Who’s the audience? What value is created for them?
The next question in line is “who’s the audience?”. The reason this question is relevant for any product is important: Everything a product does it does for someone. The answer of this question is not only giving a clearer picture about the need the audience has. Identifying the audience gives a hint on how the product needs to communicate.
The audience gives you a frame, a direction and limitations. And as if this is not enough, a product needs to serve a second party as well: Its creator. Even if the motivation is purely altruistic, it still serves a purpose for the creator (“I give something (back) and that feels good!”).
For the example product, I identified three very different audiences – and as you’ll see only two of them share the products output as described.
Audience 1: People who ask themself the same question (“end-user”)
This one is straight forward. The value I create for this audience is simply “I safe you time and brainpower”. In return, I expand my potential audience, improve my skill set for small projects and have an example to write about for my second audience.
Audience 2: You
Creating a very small product with the focus on the process instead of the product itself (hopefully) turns out to be quite educational to you as a reader of a product-management blog. By creating this value for you, I increase blog loyalty and further improve my expert status.
Audience 3: The podcasters Albert & Daniel
When working on my audience definitions I realized that with little to no overhead I could expand my audience to the podcasters which gave birth to the idea as well: I create value for them by giving them a tool to use and to give to their audience. It is something for them to add to their newsletter or blog. This further increases their expert status and perception as valuable resource. The benefit from the creator point of view is significant as well:
- Give something back: This sounds cheesy but is a simple calculation: By creating value for them I encourage them to keep on posting and podcasting which I personally benefit from directly.
- Get in contact with experienced bloggers: I am aware that my knowledge about blogging and having a solo business is low – creating a network from scratch for this area could yield a high return on invest midterm.
Version 0.1a: The first step
Although this is a small tool which was created in an overall 8h timebox, I kept the process representative of bigger projects – the main difference is the size of the testing, the amount of loops and the effort put into validation.
- Identify which outcome the end-user needs
- The “total rent payed” and “total purchase price” were the first ones
- Research finance calculators: what information do they provide?
- Average and years were added because I felt that this was necessary information to understand the other two
- Create a path for the end-user to get to their desired outcome
- All other input and output fields were added except “Maintenance Cost” and “Monthly Rate” for buying (at this point in time, both rates were identical)
This is the foundation – no calculations, no fancy things. After inserting the first figures I realized that although the math checked out I had no valuable information created whatsoever. The time came for …
The Iteration Cycle: I
To re-iterate: The initial vision was “[…] easily compare renting to buying and the financial implications as simple as possible”. The first draft fulfilled the requirements “simple” but the implications did not become clear. The product needed expansion before it could be called an “MVP” for this vision.
I asked myself and a few others: “What do you think is the biggest difference between buying and renting?” – three answers stood out:
- “I pay more per month while still financing!”
- “You are responsible to maintain the object instead of your landlord.”
- “You need to have money to buy an object!
The calculator was therefore expanded:
- Now it was possible to add two different rates for renting vs buying
- The end-user could enter a % based maintenance cost, based on the initial object value
- The end-user could enter the amount of money which would be invested in year 0 – either into the object or to a given return on invest
The Iteration Cycle: II
The product received a very small visual touch-up and the time came for a first one-user user test. The tester was experienced in giving feedback and vocal about even small issues which made me comfortable with just going with one person. The feedback was clear and changed the product in many aspects:
- The order in which the data was asked for was completely revamped
- The maintenance cost was changed to an absolute value
- Two notes were added which explained the implications of the two options “buy” and “rent” on a very high level
The most dangerous time (for me!) in a small products life-cycle was there: No, not sending it out. It was the “Oh, I could!” phase. “Oh, I could add a calculation on how long you have to life rent-free for the return on invest on your original savings is taken over!” “Oh, I could add the savings quota into the rent calculation!”, “Oh, I could … shut up and let my audience decide what needs to be added.”.
As you might have guessed I decided to go with the last option. The only thing I added were explanatory texts and tooltips so that the calculator could be understood in a self-contained manner. The product was finished for target first audience. For the other two, this post is created and a description was sent to Albert and Daniel, asking them for input and whether the calculator is of value to them and their audience. The first release is made and if the calculator is of use to the two, I’m optimistic that it’ll soon find its way into one of their blog posts or newsletters.