In South Indian Classical music (i.e. Carnatic style), Mridangam is the primary percussion instrument used to keep the rhythm. It’s a 2 sided asymmetrical drum made of a single block of hollowed jackfruit wood with the sides covered with goatskin membranes. One side of the drum has a larger opening that produces lower pitch bass sounds while the narrower side opening produces higher pitch treble sounds.
A masterful Mridangam player uses a combination of fingers & palm to play the notes – on one side or the other. But, when both ends are played, you hear a beautifully balanced rhythm of bass and treble sounds.
What’s playing a 2 sided Mridangam got anything to do with 2 sided Product Innovation Model?
Typically product teams use feedback from different sources (customers, user research, sales & marketing, analysts, customer care, competition, etc.) to drive their innovation and roadmap. To me, that’s playing one side of the drum – delivering what’s being asked.
What about the unspoken customer needs (that can be addressed by applying a technology) – the other side of the drum? Are there any unspoken customer needs that can be fulfilled by bringing to bear technology enablers? Can the user experience be improved & refined above and beyond what users ask for?
Here are a few examples of such technology enablers:
- Twilio: What if you had a SaaS platform that provides you an easy way of sending & receiving SMS/calls as a part of your product user experience? From within your product, can users quickly text themselves names, phone numbers, urls, pictures, etc.?
- Zapier: What if you had a service that lets you stitch and automate workflows between your product and commonly used services like gmail, google sheets, slack, twitter, facebook, etc.? Does the free flow of information across your product & other services make it easy for your users to consume your product functionality?
- UserVoice: Every product team has one or more channels (email, web forms, etc.) to collect user feedback. What if the feedback volume is large? What if you had a structured feedback platform where your users can add ideas, vote on existing ideas etc. Check out Microsoft’s skypefeedback.com that uses UserVoice platform to manage its feedback loop for the Skype product. Can such a platform enable you to better manage your feedback loop and roadmap prioritization?
These are a few examples where the innovation conversation begins with a technology (and not a customer need) and teams figure out a way to meaningfully use that technology to solve a problem or improve a product experience – i.e. playing the drum from the other end.
So, how do you drive technology driven innovation to complement the customer need driven innovation? Here are a few ideas that worked for me:
- Imitate & Improve: When you use different products, services, apps & websites as you go about your life, pay close attention to details. You will see examples of how different technologies are used to enable & improve user experiences. You could think about how to do the same in your products. Heck, I even get ideas from spam emails that land in my inbox! This is a very common innovation model in the tech industry – giants like Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Samsung, Uber, Lyft, Snapchat etc. often borrow ideas from each other.
- Trade Shows: These are good places to learn about new & interesting technologies that can spark ideas on how you could use them.
- Platform/SDK Capabilities: This is arguably the nerdiest model for driving innovation. Most products are developed using an underlying OS/platform/SDK. These platforms come with SDK documentation outlining the capabilities. Developers are usually the ones that read such documentation when coding – and that can spark a few ideas. Recently my Android product team stumbled upon the Places API for Android. They came up with an idea of using this Places API to make it easy for the user to quickly search for a place and use its address to automatically fill the address fields in a form. This improved the user experience of filling a form in a certain part of our product flow! This is a classic example of technology driven innovation rather than a customer need driven innovation.
Summary: The end goal of every product team is to address customer needs, improve product experiences and drive KPI. To do that, driving product roadmaps using technology driven innovation to complement customer need driven innovation can lead to well-rounded product experiences!