Product managers constantly need to find a way to balance progress and perfection. While perfection can lead to delays and missed opportunities, progress keeps us agile. To gain a competitive advantage, one can expedite the delivery of a functional solution instead of gunning for a perfect one. This quick solution needs to be combined with a feedback loop to ensure that the continuous evolution of the product meets the ever-shifting needs of the users.
While the pursuit of perfection may be admirable in some things, in product development, it can unwittingly become a roadblock resulting in increased costs, prolonged development cycles, and missed market opportunities.
It is paramount to figure out the balance between progress and perfection, otherwise your product sprints can lose direction in the rapid development cycles (which are key to ensuring progress).
Luckily, there is a seven-pillar framework that dives into the interplay of progress and perfection:
In this article, we’ll discuss the strategic advantages of prioritizing progress and possible snags of perfectionism, as well as walk through this framework that underscores delivering value quickly. I hope that you’ll find this guide useful and actionable. Now, let’s deep dive into each of them.
If there’s a pressing market demand for a feature or product, prioritizing progress is crucial.
Speed to market can be a competitive advantage, and a functional solution can garner valuable feedback to improve over time. The only core job of a product team is to be able to design systems to find opportunities for product growth. Time-to-market becomes an important tool to deliver that. Especially if you’re a new entrant in the market, your focus needs to be on evaluating demand for your product and what kind of a head start you can get by reading, analyzing, and designing a product solution that speaks to the demand while others catch up with you.
If you’ve hit the mark, you also leverage strong brand loyalty from early adopters while competitors have to now work harder to surpass the benchmarks set by your product. You can quickly capture a significant market share due to the lack of direct competitors with a comparable product at the time of the feature/product launch.
Constant iteration is the lifeblood of any growth-focused product team.
One of the biggest blockers for a product team’s growth is when the team stops speaking to the customer. Look around and evaluate how often you read through that voice of the customer report. Take an active part in a focus-group discussion or partner with your customer success team and talk to your user directly. If you can’t empathize with your users, how will you develop a lens for spotting opportunities?
The more you talk to your users, the better control you have over the emotional journey of the user flow. Evaluate why are they happy during a flow or why are they sad during onboarding. Is your product making the job to be done easier for the user or is it complicating it further by adding five more steps?
Once you start talking to users, you’ll have much better control over the problem space. The more time you spend on the problem space, the better articulation will be of the solution space. The correct direction from thereon will be to run experiments — run A/B tests with as many variants as you want depending on the traffic you have on the product. Gather user feedback directly or indirectly and keep improving that NPS score or any other relevant metric.
Perfection comes at a cost. Always evaluate the opportunity cost of pursuing perfection.
Evaluate the opportunity cost of pursuing perfection. If the effort to achieve perfection in one area hinders progress in other critical areas, consider prioritizing progress for overall growth. Many times, striving for perfection is time-consuming, resource-intensive, and repetitive, while striving for progress can lead to iterative development based on data analysis and is often more effective.
Opportunity cost is the potential benefits lost when one alternative is chosen over another. In product development, the opportunity cost is often associated with the time and resources spent on perfecting a feature or product instead of delivering it to the market sooner.
To lay the foundation, assess the features that are critical to the core functionality (it will ensure that the product meets the basic needs and expectations of users) and value proposition of the product. Then, create a priority list. This priority list can help you choose the key features that will have the most impactful improvements rather than trying to perfect the nitty-gritty of the product.
It works beautifully to decide on allocation of resources and the negotiation with your engineering team becomes much easier with this clarity. What will you choose — addressing critical needs based on user insights or sharpening every element of the product (which may not yield proportional benefits)?
If the market is highly competitive and other players are making strides, prioritize progress to stay relevant.
Incremental improvements can create differentiation and position the product ahead of the competition. It’s key to gather inputs on the level of desire or need for a particular product or feature in the target audience. Understanding market demand involves:
Pressing market demand indicates a high level of urgency or the immediate need for a solution to a specific problem. One can only maintain a competitive edge if the teams can adapt speedily and incorporate new changes into their products.
In the world of products, rapid progress means that delaying the release of a new feature of the product can result in losing a market opportunity. Teams often choose to release products with some imperfections knowing that they can address them through updates after the initial launch. The entire Tesla autopilot and self-driving stack is a great example of this — beta users are constantly helping train the software to learn more and improve over time.
If data indicates that additional iterations will not significantly impact user experience or business outcomes, consider moving forward with progress.
To begin, identify and define key metrics that align with the goals and objectives of the products. Metrics could include user engagement, conversion rates, customer satisfaction, or any other relevant indicators that align with your OKRs. Regularly analyze the data to understand user behavior, identify patterns, and measure the impact of changes.
For a complete picture, combine quantitative data with qualitative insights from user feedback and surveys. Gather feedback directly from users to understand their preferences, pain points, and suggestions for improvement. An online streaming service might use surveys to collect qualitative data on user preferences for content recommendations. Google Discover and YouTube Shorts are great examples where a constant feedback loop is activated asking if the content is relevant to them.
A project management tool might initially focus on enhancing task collaboration features based on user feedback and data indicating a high demand for such improvements. Think of any productivity tool from Jira to Slack and you’ll find the same pattern. By relying on data to guide choices, product development teams can make informed decisions about when to prioritize progress over perfection.
If perfection entails a high level of complexity and there are uncertainties, it might be more prudent to focus on progress and learn from real-world usage.
Recognizing when perfection introduces high levels of complexity and uncertainty allows teams to make informed decisions about prioritizing progress and learning from real-world usage. Unknowns multiply the complexity of your work because you are chasing a backend architecture (which may not even bring perfection and may not be needed by the user at all).
If the risk is higher and complexity is low, ask yourself what kinds of risks am I taking — would I be able to mitigate these risks with some quick changes before or after the initial launch, would it cause deeper risks to reputation and credibility, or would it land the product in a complete roadblock in the future? If not, then it may be better to take that risk.
Deep diving into a solution that is not clear, needs more brainstorming, and, hence, needs more time is a tougher problem to break down. If launching means higher complexity, avoid falling into this trap. Low risk is better than high complexity in this type of situation.
It is essential to be aware of the same to not lose big. Assess the level of complexity involved in achieving perfection — consider technical intricacies, dependencies, and potential complications. Recognize that high complexity can lead to longer development cycles and an increased likelihood of unforeseen challenges.
If the product or feature shows early signs of adoption and positive traction, capitalize on this momentum. Prioritizing progress to take on the market’s interest.
Embrace an iterative development process that involves releasing minimum viable products (MVPs) with essential features to meet the basic needs of users and observe how users interact with the core functionalities. Use feedback to make continuous improvements, adding features and refining existing ones based on actual user experiences.
A startup building an ecommerce platform might release a basic version with essential features such as product listings, shopping carts, and checkout. User feedback on this MVP can guide subsequent iterations, allowing the team to prioritize and enhance the most valuable features to users.
Monitor user onboarding processes and engagement metrics to understand how easily users adopt the product and how frequently they interact with it, and if there are any bottlenecks or challenges users face in getting started. If there are issues, you’ll see low engagement rates in the early stages. The team can then focus on improving onboarding processes and enhancing the user experience. Analyze the feedback to identify areas of improvement and understand user preferences and pain points.
We’ve navigated the delicate balance between the pursuit of continuous improvement and the allure of perfection! In summary, here are the seven pillars that will guide us in making a sound decision:
Remember, embracing progress doesn’t imply a compromise in quality. Instead, it champions the strategic release of value to users quickly and then iteratively refining based on real-world usage.
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