All related (8)
Lizzy Masotta
Senior Product Lead, Shopify | Formerly Salesforce, Google, Nest, Cisco SystemsMarch 28

There are 2 exercises I use to evaluate bringing differentiation into the products I'm building.

  1. What sucks?
  2. User value mapping

Where they originated

I came up with these frameworks in collaboration with Paul Pedrazzi (SVP, Salesforce) while we were working on a 0 → 1 product for small business. We repeatedly re-visited the artifacts of these exercises throughout the product development lifecycle.

What sucks?

What the outcome will be

A list of the Top 3 issues for your target user.

How to do it

  1. It’s as simple and cathartic as it sounds: get in a room with a diverse group of stakeholders – Product Marketing, Support, Engineering, Sales, Product, Design, Solution Engineering, etc. You should not have more than 10 people participating.
  2. Have everyone individually brainstorm on sticky notes (or a Google Jam Board) “What sucks about _____?” In the Salesforce example, we brainstormed, “what sucks about being a small business owner”? In my current role at Shopify, I lead Product for Checkout. Our prompt would be “what sucks about checking out online?”
  3. Share 4 things with your group before they begin writing stickies (1) Remind them to put themselves in the shoes of the user (2) Share snippets from customers you’ve spoken to recently to get the juices flowing (3) Share an overview of the range of personas and industries you cover (4) Think big and broadly; do not think about specific issues created by our existing product or company.
    In the Salesforce example of “what sucks about being a small business owner” our stickies ranged from ‘finding new business’ to ‘not being able to take vacation easily’.
  4. Once everyone has created at least 5 stickies, begin a grouping exercise. Groups should be created based on similar dimensions and each group should be given a name. An example group could be ‘getting started’ or ‘finding new business.’ Seeing the quantity of stickies per group gives you a general sense of where the problems live. Groupings will also show you things like where other competitors are focused and where there are gaps in the market.
  5. Once groups are finalized, give each person in the group 3 votes. The 3 votes are used to mark what each person believes to be the 3 most important and impactful issues from the user’s POV. Votes can be cast by putting a dot next to a specific sticky.
  6. Bubble up the stickies with the most dots next to them. Facilitate a conversation around where the group thinks we could focus to have the most success in differentiation and providing user value. Example question prompts:
    -Which sticky is our company best positioned to deliver value against?
    -Where do we have the expertise to deliver value against?
    -What issue would users expect us to solve for them?
    -Where is there the least competition?
    -Where is there the most competition?
    -What issue, if solved, would be the most compelling to attract new business?
    -What issue, if solved, would be the most compelling for users to stick around?

User value mapping

You can do this exercise in conjunction with ‘What Sucks?’ or own its own.

What the outcome will be

A map of the most valuable, most unmet needs in the market. This can serve as your menu of options for where to focus on differentiating your product.

How to do it

Choose a grouping from the “What Sucks?” exercise. For example, ‘Finding New Business.’ If you’re doing this exercise on its own, select a ‘Job to Be Done’ category.

  1. Create a Kanban board in your tool of choice (Miro, Trello)
  2. The column headers should be steps in the user journey for that category (ex: ‘Finding New Business’ or ‘Checking Out Online’)
  3. The cards within each column should be desired outcomes for that step in the user journey (ex: ‘Successful purchase’)
  4. Cards within each column should be ordered based on highest priority to lowest priority. Priority as defined as what is the most valuable to the user.
  5. Cards should be color coded either red, yellow or green based on how unmet / met this need is in the market today. Red = no one in the market is solving this today. Yellow = some competitors address this. Green = Lots of people address this need today.
  6. At the end of the exercise, find the top 5 cards. These areas should be the highest in their column and color coded red or yellow. This is your biggest area of opportunity for differentiation.

Closing thoughts

Many teams do some version of these exercises early on in the product development lifecycle and then forget about them as they’re building the product. Timelines get tight, resources get shuffled and often the scope that can get cut is the differentiation you aimed to achieve.

Every Product Manager should call out and protect differentiation. It doesn’t need to be available in the first release of your product, but you should always be working towards some differentiation that can help you acquire new customers, a new market or retain existing customers.

Kara Gillis
Sr. Director of Product Management, SplunkMay 31

While I don't use an existing framework specifically for product differentiation, I do use a variety of inputs to determine what lever to pull or what decision to make. These inputs can be found in the answer to the question, "What are the most important inputs to take into consideration when thinking through product differentiation?"

Other frameworks I do use: 

  1. Geoffrey Moore's Positioning Statement Template in his book, Crossing the Chasm: "For (target customer) who (statement of the need or opportunity), the (product name) is a (product category) that (statement of key benefit – that is, compelling reason to buy)."
  2. Gokul's SPADE Decision Making Matrix (thank you to a former Square employee for introducing this to me at a recent networking event): https://coda.io/@gokulrajaram/gokuls-spade-toolkit

Kara Gillis
Sr. Director of Product Management, Splunk
While it is important to care about your competitors to understand your own market position, DO NOT MAKE THEM THE FOCUS. What should be your focus? Your customers. Their problems. Their needs, their asks, their feedback.  Think of your roadmap like a budget of your resources, the way you would a household budget. Break down the budget by importance.  For a product that has been out in the market a bit, I break down my ideal roadmap budget into the following percentages: 50% feature enhancements 20% net new features 15% compliance/security improvements 15% tech debt improvemen...
Wade G. Morgan
Product Strategy & Operations Lead, Airtable
For us, product strategy stems from company strategy, so it's first important to have a firm grasp on where the company strategy is headed holistacally, and why. Additionally, we serve as a partner function for the entire ProdDev org, so rather than owning a specific segment of the product, we're responsible for helping the company zoom out a bit to identify key areas that could make sense to invest in.  As a result, when working with our exec team it's critical to understand both the company strategy & priorities, functional strategy & priorities, as well as the audience we're communicati...
Sandeep Rajan
Product Lead, Member Experience, Patreon
First, define "right" by establishing clear goals – is it product-market fit? Is it growing an existing product to a certain milestone? These will help you determine the right form of validation to apply to each stage.  For products that haven't yet achieved market fit, early & rapid customer feedback cycles are the best form of validation I've seen – push your target users to tell you over & over again in surveys & interviews that what you're building is something they must have, ideally by getting them to sign up or even pay you before you've even built it.  Once you have a clear sense ...
Lizzy Masotta
Senior Product Lead, Shopify | Formerly Salesforce, Google, Nest, Cisco Systems
I love this question. Through my work at both Salesforce and Shopify this is something that comes up regularly because of our platform and healthy partner ecosystem.  1. Do the majority of my users need this? 2. Are there problems with the partner meeting the needs of users today? 3. Do we have the expertise and staffing to build this? 4. Would building this natively unlock new value, new opportunity or a new market? If the answers to questions 1-3 are yes, then it warrants a discussion with your team. The key question that decides the outcome here is #4.  Is it worthwhile for ...
Bhaskar Krishnan
Product Leadership, Meta | Formerly Stripe, Flipkart, Yahoo
* Hybrid products are exponentially harder to build than pure software products. Software can be updated via the cloud, at any time and with any frequency but hardware cannot * The form factor, the physical functionality, etc of a hybrid product need way more thought, user testing and context than the software. For instance, the physical components of the Tesla 3, the sensors, cameras, etc are paramount compared to the Maps, Apple Carplay integration or self-driving updates that can be done through the cloud  * Context, background and living with the problem are the key...
Sriram Iyer
GM / Head of Products and Partnerships, Adobe DVA, Adobe | Formerly Salesforce, Deloitte
Metrics are absolutely necessary when building your vision board. As you think of metrics, think of what will really define success? And how will we as a team measure success? Here are a few examples of key questions teams try to answer as they think of crafting metrics for their vision canvas -  1. What KPIs will you use to define success? 2. What are your product goals and outcomes? 3. What are your quality goals and outcomes? (Performance and Stability goals for example) 4. How will you measure progress toward these goals? 5. How will you communicate progress towards these goals? ...