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Newsletter sent on Tuesday, Nov 29, 2022

I was a teenager when I first heard about friction in a physics class. The teacher explained that it’s easy to think about this force as having only a negative effect, like making movement more difficult, but that’s not true. He gave tons of examples of how we use friction to our benefit. With this in mind, if enterprises and mechanical systems have something in common, friction is, without a doubt, one of those things.

It often arises when people with different roles, backgrounds and goals do things together and manifests in the wish for someone they depend on to “slow down and do things differently” or even “stop and do different things”. Of course, when you’re moving full-speed, this is the last thing you want to hear.

The solution that has proven effective sounds deceptively simple: administer the friction into the system to steer the conversation and agree on critical points before flooring the gas pedal. With relatively minimal effort, all participants can, to a large extent, decide on what’s important and create communication channels that will allow communicating and making micro-adjustments when things start moving fast. Many product development frameworks are rooted in this idea, but let’s dive into some details.

When starting a new product development process, the typical and most significant source of friction along the way is confusion about three things: the problem, the customer/user and the form of solution. Note: this comes far before talking about the features!

To give you a few examples of reasons for “bad” friction that I witnessed slowing teams down, almost to a complete stop:

  • Hesitation: Engineers lack a clear idea of where the new stuff will end up: an existing product or a new one;
  • Delayed requests: Last-moment involvement of either marketing, sales or engineering in the process;
  • Misalignment: The marketing narrative doesn’t match the product’s capabilities;
  • Wrong focus: Technically advanced (and complex) features that take a long time to develop yet solve the least important customer problems;
  • Premature optimisation: performance, architecture, usability, quality, etc.

Greenfield product development projects are super-exciting ventures and give all participants a colossal motivation and momentum boost. But if you don’t use friction to align in the beginning, the drift will keep getting bigger and almost surely will lead to a situation similar to the one above, and someone will have to pull the brake at full speed. If your team experienced such “emergency braking”, you will know that it’s impossible to regain the same momentum.

What to do? If you are launching a product, create a vision with marketing, sales and engineering! Among many assumptions that come about during new product development, product vision is the epitome of them all. At the same time, product vision is a statement that gives your business idea “legs” by connecting it, still on paper, though, to the market and business context. It does this by answering a few simple yet profound questions:

  • Who is your user?
  • What problem do they experience?
  • What solution can you offer?
  • How is this solution better than what’s already on the market?
  • How can the user access the solution?

Have you gathered enough data and conducted enough due diligence, which lets you answer these questions? Great! Practice alone, but only a little. Present your data, share the project context, lead, and motivate, but formulate the definitive answers: leave room for the team to be creative. You will get the most benefits when answering these questions with sales, marketing, engineering, and UX representatives and collaboratively writing the answers in a form similar to the prompt below.

Product Vision Prompt

We are making <Product name>
For <User segment>,
Who experience <Problem>,
It will be available as <Packaging type>.
It's better than <Closest competitor's stuff>,
Because it <Reason your product will kick ass>.

Again, agreeing on these things can take time and create much contention. It is trickier than it seems, but after a bit of massaging, the team comes up with exchanged insights and expert opinions, shared anxiety and scepticism, with a formula that resonates with each of them. That’s what creates the momentum for completing the quest to validate this assumption.

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Hi! I'm Mike Kotsur, a software consultant deeply passionate about technology and innovation. During the last decade I've helped many startups, innovation labs and product incubators to validate and develop business ideas from scratch into well-founded software systems valued by users and customers.

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