Create Successful Products by 'Getting in the Van'7 Comments Latest comment by: Gokul Seshan
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I was going to write an article titled "The Soul of a Product" this week emphasizing the importance of design. But then, my plans changed as I went to an event organized by the Silicon Valley Product Management Association this past week.
The best way I can think of to summarize his speech is: "Get everybody in the van, and do a DILO"! Actually I can think of better ways - but this is a pretty catchy way (I think!) to get you to read further so you can understand what the heck that means.
It is well worth it, so let us get going.
Getting Everybody in the Van
Michael's speech was focused on how things have changed dramatically from the beginning of his career at companies that made packaged software, to now - where he is managing a hosted software product (TypePad).
Michael talked about how much many of the product practices have changed - such as 24-month release cycle vs 2-week release cycle, extensive specification documents vs lightweight specifications using wikis, building a product vs iterating a service, etc. He said the one thing that hasn't changed at all is "Getting everybody in the van". What did he mean by that?
When he started his career in a successful financial software company, one of the key lessons he learned was the importance of understanding customer needs. The way that company did this is by visiting customers at their offices and observing them work. They would get the product manager, engineering manager, and other relevant personnel into a van and drive to the customer sites.
Once there, they would watch them work and ask them questions to understand what needs they have - which ones are being met by their products and which ones are not. This practice enabled them to constantly enhance their products to keep their market lead, as well as create successful new products by unearthing unmet needs.
When they had a new idea, Michael said (I'm paraphrasing):
When we had a new idea, we had to call and set up meetings with 30 prospects. If you don't get 30 prospects to agree to a meeting about a product idea, you don't have much of a product idea.
Well said Michael! All high-tech companies would be well advised to practice this.
I've seen many high-tech companies, both startups and large companies, first create a product because a VP or founder thought it was cool ("I want to do something that uses AJAX"), and then start looking for a problem it happens to solve! Then many of their competitors copy it and pretty soon all of them have got a product looking for a problem.
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What is a DILO?
Now to the bonus part of this article, where you will be learning a cool new thing called DILO. What is it, you ask?
Well, it is a totally cool sounding FLA (which itself stands for 'Four Letter Acronym'!) guaranteed to impress your friends! And if you happen to be in consulting, it is guaranteed to pull in 2X hourly rates. I'm so confident about this that I'll refund 100% of your subscription fee to my free blog if you don't get this result, okay?!
DILO = Day In the Life Of
It refers to understanding the "Day in the life of" a customer. The best way to do this is to "get everybody in the van" - and observe customers using your product in context, and asking them questions.
Get the Van Started
Now that you know what "Getting everybody in the van" means, start implementing this into your own product practices. Those of you in product management and product marketing should especially spearhead this. Check out this earlier article for some concrete steps you can take, and get the ball rolling.
As Thomas Huxley, the 19th century British biologist wrote:
The great end of life is not knowledge but action.
Here is to better products, happy customers and more success...
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About the Author: I'm your author, Michael Shrivathsan, an expert in product management and product marketing with successful experience spanning two decades. I live in Silicon Valley, USA. For my day job, I manage the product management & marketing teams at Accompa, makers of requirements management software and product management tools.