Wednesday, May 14, 2008

How do you prioritize projects?

Being a former engineer and now a dedicated product manager, it really is tough for me to ask this question. At my prior gig, several of our products had been existence for more than a decade and still had large R&D investments in them beyond low cost maintainence projects and now you see maturing app on the web that have not changed visibly.

In reality, every product reaches a point in its lifecycle where the benefit of building new features significantly outweighs the cost. If you are one of the market leaders in your space, and that space is maturing it is best to take a step back from your day-to-day duties and think about where should we be five years from now. Building one off enhancements may delight a portion of your userbase, and generate some incremental revenue but once you are large enough the incremental revenue no longer matters in the grand scheme of things. Customer satisfaction is definitely priority #1, but there needs to be a good way of prioritizing requests from customers beyond focusing on how much have they spent with me already. The goal should be to keep them happy, but also ensure you are using your staff to keep thousands or millions of other customers happy. Focusing on the head of the tail is definitely profitable but at a certain point you maximize your reach.

With mature products, you should step back and think about changing the lives of people in a way they never thought about with your existing product set, or attacking whole new areas. Focusing on the same area repeatedly increases complaceny within an organization, frustrates the workforce, and ends up being detrimental to your customer base in the long run. Imagine how much easier it will be to motivate your R&D organization if your focus is always being the most innovative product, and for your sales team if your product is so different from anything else on the marketplace.

In the end, the more innovation are thought leadership you provide your customers the better off they are going to be.

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