Photo by Karolina, courtesy of Kaboompics / Pexels

Focus on the User, not the Product!

Published on 7th March 2012

Getting lost in the product details and struggling to decide if a feature should be implemented is a common challenge for product owners. This post helps you focus on what really counts: creating value for the people using the product and the organisation developing it.

Means to an End

Some product owners I work with worry too much about how to write a certain user story or what the detailed design of a screen should look like. Whenever this happens, I find it helpful to step back and ask the following questions: Why would anybody want to use the functionality? Why would a certain design be helpful?

Exploring how a story or design idea benefits the users means viewing the product as a means to an end: to serve the users as well as the organisation creating it. As marketing guru Theodore Levitt famously put it, “People don’t want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.” What really matters are the benefits the product provides.

What is a digital product?

While serving the user should be the primary purpose of your product, you shouldn’t forget about the value the product has to create for your organisation. To do so, reflect on its business goals. A product typically generates revenue directly like Microsoft Office, indirectly by helping sell other products and services, think of the Amazon website and mobile app, or by saving cost, for example by automating business processes–many in-house built digital products fall in this category.

Additionally, Consider the business model required in order to meet the business goals. This includes identifying the revenue streams, the sales channels, and the cost structure. Be aware that your business model can have an impact on the product functionality: For instance, if you plan to generate revenue through online ads, then this requires the capability to place ads. As a consequence, an ad epic will appear in your product backlog.

The Extended Product Vision Board

To capture your ideas about user needs, the product, and the value created for the company, you may want to try my Product Vision Board. The extended version of the board shown below captures assumptions about the target group, the user needs, the top three features, and the key business model elements.

The Extended Porduct Vision Board

If you find it difficult to balance meeting the user needs and creating value for your organisation, then focus on the user. If your product is desirable, you are likely to find a way to make money. Users should come first, money second.

Next time when you get stuck in the product details, zoom out. Ask yourself how a feature adds value for the users and your organisation. Then implement it, gather the relevant data, and check if the benefit has been realised.

Post a Comment or Ask a Question


  • Olaf Kowalik says:

    Great post! Keeping the focus on people is also more rewarding because it builds relationships. The conversations that happen between people drive more value than just building technology. I’ll keep this one in mind in the future. Thanks!

    • Roman Pichler Roman Pichler says:

      Thanks for your feedback, Olaf. You make a great point about building relationships: Focussing on the relationship helps developing a successful brand.

  • Vivek Vijayan says:

    Most often building new features means lack of focus. Improving the existing features is what users want. If focus is lost we want the marketing leaflet to look good and forget about the ultimate aim – to get the satisfied smile on our user’s face.

    • Roman Pichler Roman Pichler says:

      Thanks for your comment, Vivek. I love the way you put it: make the users smile. If little is known about how the users employ the product and how the product addresses their needs, you may want to try the folioing: Product owner and team formulate a hypothesis about the value the next product version should add for the users. They then quickly build a first prototype or product increment, expose it to the users, and analyse the feedback. This should help decide if new features are required or existing ones should be improved.

  • Vin D'Amico says:

    I see many projects lacking a “vision statement”. That usually means there is none. The team is building a set of features that may fit together nicely but what is the central goal? What is most important to the business and the end users? If unexpected events occur and compromises need to be made, what will guide the decisions?

    It’s good to step back on occasion, gather the team’s thoughts, and be sure that everyone is on track. Features don’t sell. Solutions do.

    • Roman Pichler Roman Pichler says:

      Hi Vin, Thanks for sharing your thoughts. An overarching vision is valuable to guide teams and create a meaningful context for making detailed decisions.

  • Luke W says:

    It’s always useful to take a step back, a deep breath and make a minute to get some perspective on the what and why of your situation and process. Thanks for sharing an eloquent and concise reminder to come back up for air now and again Roman.

    Luke W
    Community Manager

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