学习:如何创造伟大的产品?

伟大的产品

看到一篇文章,收获非常大,转载过来记录学习。作者是 RethinkDB 的联合创始人 Slava Akhmechet,作者写的2013年的这篇文章《How to build great products》,但是基本句句是干货。我转载过来,摘录觉得不错的地方作为记录。

伟大的产品
伟大的产品
  1. 创业的本质:在一个快速增长的市场上,如何在花光钱或者耗尽心力之前,创造出伟大的产品快速增长并站稳脚跟。
  2. 伟大的产品,要么来自于伟大的产品直觉,要么来自于正确的思考与有效的训练而形成的产品直觉。
  3. 产品的功能点分为三类,成功的产品一般来讲有一至三个 Gamechanger,一批 Showstoppers,很少的 Distractions 组成。
    1. Gamechanger,因为这个用户愿意用你的产品。
    2. Showstopper,没有它用户不会用,有它用户也不一定用。——我们常见的场景就是,我们一边用一边骂产品不好用,但是我们还在用这个产品。不是不想做好,而是没有时间将它做到更好,需要时间去做更重要的 Gamechanger。
    3. Distraction,有它没它对用户没有影响,但是对开发来说可就是太关键了,这里都是大坑。
  4. 时间是最宝贵的,时间越长,你越容易花光钱、耗尽心力、错过市场机会。
  5. 资源的分配原则就是要根据功能点的性质而定:
    1. 尽可能少的讲时间投入到 Distractions 上。
    2. 不要做太多的 Showstoppers,太多就意味着浪费资源,就意味着这个门槛过高而不适合。比如,iPhone 第一代,没有复制粘贴这个 Showstopper,但是苹果还是推出市场并取得成功。这说明,苹果判断很多用户不会因为复制粘贴而不买 iPhone 一代,所以没有延迟推向市场的时间进度。
    3. 不要做太好 Showstoppers,太好也是浪费资源。比如,iPhone 一代的通话质量确实有些差,但是作为大多数普通用户够用了。它能打电话,不算太差,即使再多耗费时间提升10%的通话质量,对产品与用户体验也没有太大的帮助。
    4. 不要超过三个 Gamechangers。
    5. 如果你没有倾注足够的精力、时间、资源到你的 Gamechanger 中,那绝对是在浪费时间。如果 Gamechanger 没有打动用户,它就是 Distractions。——要验证的就是这个东西,如果不行就要选择下一个 Gamechanger,直到在你死掉之前找到真正的 Gamechanger,就是做对一件事。
  6. 如何训练产品直觉:
    1. 最难的是:究竟这些功能如何分类,到底是属于哪一类?哪个分类里的功能已经足够多了?——就是你一眼就能看出来这个 Feature 是该做的不该做的,该做的应该做到什么程度,优先级如何安排,这是真正的实践应用,需要不断地提炼与验证。
    2. 最好的办法:跳到这个领域里,找到对的人聊!潜在用户,已经在这里领域里摸爬滚打的人,行业里的权威,大公司的技术人员,竞争对手等等。——这是一个对的思路,接触这个领域里的各种人,从各个角度去获取信息。你聊的越早越彻底,你越能够了解这个行业,越能够尽可能准确地找出自己产品的定位。
    3. 让自己成为自己产品最核心的用户,是训练产品直觉的唯一途径。
  7. 多个 Showstopers 组成一个 Gamechanger,这种现象也不少,但是这种类型的产品基本是靠时间堆出来的,非常不适合创业。你没有那么多的时间让你挥霍。
  8. 确定产品使命,让Team知道!明确你产品的突破点是什么、使用场景是什么,以这个Mission 来划分功能类型,确定资源分配原则。——专注使用场景,在场景得到充分验证与满足之前千万不要跨越既定场景追求更多的场景,切记切记!

原文如下:

 

How to build great products

26 Sep 2013

If you believe that sales fix everything, it follows that most startups fail because they don’t ship a great product in a growing market before they run out of money. Assuming you’ve picked an explosive market, how do you go about building a great product?1

Building great products is hard, but the difficulty is greatly exacerbated if you have no good model for analyzing products and features. Without a model you’re left with a never-ending stream of feature ideas and half-informed shots in the dark. Some people can pull this off because they start out with a phenomenal product intuition. But most people aren’t blessed with this superpower on day one.

I started out with terrible intuition (and didn’t even know it). Over the past three years I looked at our user metrics every day, creating a feedback loop to train my brain on what makes a good product. Eventually I got quite good at predicting the impact of any given feature, so I started thinking of a model that captures the essence of what I’ve learned.

The three bucket model

The most important aspect of product management is categorizing features into three buckets: gamechangers, showstoppers, and distractions. When I first started building products, all features looked roughly the same. Over time, I formed the three bucket model and now my mind automatically slots every feature into one of these buckets.

Here is an example. Suppose you are building a new mobile phone. It has to be able to call people, or no one will buy it since it wouldn’t be much of a phone. But the reverse isn’t true — having voice calls won’t make anybody buy your phone because every other phone already does that. So for your mobile phone product, voice calls are a showstopper.

On the other hand, suppose your phone could project videos onto a surface. No other phone does that, so this feature could be a gamechanger that excites a lot of consumers. Alternatively, it’s possible that most people won’t care about it at all, in which case it’s just a distraction.

This example gives you three buckets to categorize any given feature:

  • A gamechanger. People will want to buy your product because of this feature.
  • A showstopper. People won’t buy your product if you’re missing this feature, but adding it won’t generate demand.
  • A distraction. This feature will make no measurable impact on adoption.

Empirically, successful products have one to three gamechanging features, dozens of features that neutralize showstoppers, and very few features that are distractions. Your job is to build an intuition about your space to be able to tell these categories apart. That’s still pretty subtle (is a built-in phone projector a gamechanger or a distraction?), but at least this model gives you a plan of attack.

Resource allocation

If you had infinite time, you could ignore these categories and blindly iterate on the product until it resonates with the market. But your time is finite. The longer you take to find a great product, the more likely you are to run out of cash, squander morale, or miss the market moving under your feet. Modeling product management in terms of the three categories is extremely valuable because it allows you to treat product management as a resource allocation problem.

If you put any effort into distractions, you’re wasting resources. That much is obvious.

If you’re doing more showstopper features than you absolutely need to, you’re wasting resources. Lack of copy-pasting on the first iPhone might have been a showstopper for some people, but Apple correctly determined that enough consumers would still buy the phone. There was no need to delay.

If you put more effort into any given showstopper than the absolute minimum you can get away with, you’re wasting resources. The first iPhone had pretty bad voice quality, but it was good enough. Most people were willing to live with it. It made calls, and it wasn’t terrible. Improving the voice quality by another 10% would have made little measurable impact on adoption.

If you’re doing more than three gamechanging features, you’re wasting resources. Empirically, few disruptive products are good at a dozen things. Shipping gamechanging features is hard. Three is probably the most you can get away with, and even that is a stretch.

Finally, if you don’t pour enough creative energy into any given gamechanging feature, you’re wasting resources. If a gamechanging feature doesn’t absolutely blow people away, it’s not much of a gamechanger — it’s just a distraction. In this category you can’t go half way.

You can get away with making some mistakes. Very few products absolutely nail this on launch. But most first time product managers break all of these rules all the time, probably because they’re not aware of them. Break these rules at your own peril. The fewer mistakes you make relative to your competition, the better. Every mistake can be incredibly costly. Make too many and someone else will run circles around you.

Craftsmanship

The trickiest part of building products is learning how to tell the difference between the categories and knowing when a given category is full. Is a built-in phone projector a gamechanger or a distraction? If it’s a gamechanger, is it big enough to attract sufficient demand, or do you need another gamechanger? If you invented the technology to increase voice quality by 50%, does that become a gamechanger or is it still just a showstopping feature? How about 200%? How many showstoppers do you have to neutralize to build a compelling phone?

I have no idea what the answers are for the mobile phone market, but in my area, unstructured data, I can look at any given feature and tell which category it falls into quite easily. Sometimes I’m wrong, but that’s ok. I just have to be wrong less often than my competitors.

The best way to build this intuition is to talk to a lot of people. Talk to potential users. What do they think? Talk to people who tried to build a product in your space and failed. What can you learn from their failure? Talk to competitors. How do they approach the problem? Talk to engineers in big companies. What can they tell you about the state of technology? Talk to other entrepreneurs in adjacent spaces, investors, journalists, grad students, professors, even the naysayers. The best way to get a sense of taste in a given space is to inject yourself into the industry and talk to as many people as you can.

Buyers, stakeholders, and pundits

The sooner you can learn about the history of the space, the state of the technology, the opinions of potential users, and the direction of your competition, the sooner you can form a coherent view of the space and develop a unique vision for your product. But be careful. It’s easy to start taking advice from the wrong people.

Suppose you’ve decided to design your mobile phone in a form factor of a walkie talkie for construction workers, and you’ve determined that the best way to sell it is to construction managers top-down. If you talk to construction workers, they might be enamored by beautiful icons and an unusual color scheme. You might determine that the unique design of your phone is a gamechanger. But ultimately, it’s the construction manager who’s writing the check. For the construction manager, a beautiful design is nice, but it isn’t a gamechanger. It doesn’t help him run the business any better than he did before.

For complex business sales, you have to pay attention to all the parties and make sure all the stakeholders are satisfied. Are the construction workers strong influencers on the manager’s decision? If so, spending time on a unique design might not be a bad idea. If not, you might be wasting your time.

It’s true even for consumer products. If you’re designing a luxury phone and pricing it above every other phone on the market, do your customers have to convince their spouse? Do most families make shared decisions about buying luxury items, or do people splurge on luxury items independently? If they have to convince their spouse, can you add a feature to make it easier? Find out!

Beware of noise. Learn the difference between your users and people who are just commenting. Everyone you talk to will have an opinion. Early on it can be tempting to design a product based on feedback from industry pundits. But a feature is only a gamechanger if the person signing the proverbial check recognizes it as one. Otherwise, it’s a distraction. Industry pundits can be extremely useful for understanding the state of your field, but they’re rarely the ones to buy your product. If you design your product around their feedback, you’ll find that there is nobody to buy it in the end.

A corollary of this is that you can’t design a great product unless you live, eat, and breathe like your users do. You need to know exactly who your user is, what their problems are, how theyperceive your product, and who helps them make buying decisions. Your intuition has to mirror how the customers will perceive your product. Categorizing features is only useful if it’s a good predictor of your actual users’s response. Otherwise, you’re just wasting time.

Aggregate gamechangers

There is a subtlety to the model we haven’t discussed so far. Some features aren’t sufficiently impressive on their own, but become gamechangers in aggregate. For example, suppose you design a unique set of icons for your phone. Is that a gamechanger? Probably not. What about a unique color scheme? It doesn’t seem like a gamechanger either. How about a unique family of phone cases? It’s hard to imagine people buying a phone because of a pretty case.2 But what if you put these features together? A unique design direction that combines a novel icon set, color scheme, and family of phone cases sounds like it might be a sufficient gamechanger to attract consumers.

Features that become gamechangers in aggregate are dangerous for three reasons. Firstly, it becomes harder to tell what combination of individual features is and isn’t a gamechanger. Secondly, aggregate gamechangers are expensive — instead of making a couple of good decisions on a feature, you have to make dozens or hundreds of good decisions for a whole family of features. Thirdly, it makes it easier to convince yourself that if you add just one more feature, you’ll strike a gamechanger. Building great products is already difficult. Introducing a subtlety like this makes it even harder.

Many products do succeed in exactly this way, but if possible, try to avoid it. If you have no choice but to resort to aggregate gamechangers, it probably means you’re working in a relatively mature market. Often, that’s ok, but it should prompt you to do some soul searching. Is it really worth being in this market, or does it make sense to find another one where you can innovate more easily?

Product mission

Suppose you’ve developed product intuition to apply the three bucket model to your field. You can easily (and correctly) categorize features. You’re now ahead of most product managers. But you’re still not quite done. There are a few problems with this approach:

  • If you’re categorizing features ad-hoc, it’s easy to make mistakes and then construct a rhetoric in your mind to convince yourself that you’ve done the right thing.
  • While you’re building the product, you’ll have to be a part of every single decision because other people have no guidance.
  • Your engineers will get frustrated, because they’ll think you’re pulling decisions out of thin air.
  • Before the product is done you’ll have to convince many other people to help you — journalists, investors, potential hires, and customers. Convincing people is hard if you’re making decisions ad-hoc.

A great way to get around these problems is to write down a product mission. Think of it as a function that accepts a given feature as an argument, and returns one of the three categories above. A good function definition is concise, understandable, and repeatable. Ideally after reading it, most people on your team will be able to categorize features themselves in the same way you would.

Here is a humorous product mission we came up with for RethinkDB that worked surprisingly well:

Database tools should be indistinguishable from magic
Surprise and amaze people with developer tools for building real-time, data-driven web applications they could only dream of building, and bring sheer joy and simplicity to the process of building great software.

On the surface these two sentences don’t say very much, but if you dig in a little, this product mission has surprisingly high information density. It tells people we’re building a database. It tells people we treat the product as a developer tool first. This resolves the tension between developer features (like the query language) and operations features (like monitoring). All of our gamechanging features revolve around developers. We treat operations as a showstopper. It explains what we expect our users to do with RethinkDB (build real-time, data-driven web applications). It gives people a sense of how far we’ll go on certain features (surprise and amaze). Being good enough for developers isn’t enough. These people spend many hours a day using our software — we want to make the experience pleasant. It suggests that we are willing to accept more complex implementations to make our users’s lives easier. It guides us to build features that let developers build new types of applications, not just the ones that already exist. It’s self-aware and leaks a healthy sense of humor we have as a team. This gives people a sense of who we are. We can test feature proposals against this product mission, and with a bit of additional shared knowledge it lets our team members independently categorize features in roughly the same way.

It took us three years to understand what we’re doing well enough to come up with this product mission. If we’d had it on day one, it would probably have cut development time in half — maybe more. When you’re building a product, the mission should be the first thing you work on. If your mental model is good enough to write a product mission that inspires everyone in your company, everything else will fall into place.
1 I don’t mean to imply that picking a good market is easier than building a great product. In fact, the opposite is true. It’s far easier to get a handle on product management, so I decided to tackle this subject first. Aside from great products and market growth, there are also questions of distribution, economics, regulated markets, and other subtleties. But the number of early stage software startups that fail for these reasons pales in comparison to the number of startups that pick small markets or don’t manage to deliver great products on time.
2 In practice it often turns out that people do buy phones because of unique colors or cases. But I’m ignoring this subtlety to focus on a larger point.
Thanks to Michael Glukhovsky and Michael Lucy for reviewing this post.