Put your product to the test with these 6 simple hacks

Put your product to the test with these 6 simple hacks - the mobile spoon

Outbound activities are the best way to collect product feedback and validate your ideas, but external engagement is not always available or achievable within budget, timeline, or COVID. 

There are, however, some internal activities you can do at any given time, that will help you put your product (or idea) to the test, identify flaws, and help you evaluate your decisions. 

Here are a few simple hacks I used on various occasions; they helped me identify gaps in our products, and are all extremely easy to do - in-house. 

1. Turn your mockups into a teaser video

So let's assume you don't have a product yet, and instead, you have some fancy designs and some user stories.  

How do you guarantee that everything is covered? 
How do you make sure the story fits into place? 

Instead of using some mockups, try to visualize a complete story by turning your mockups into a quick, step-by-step video. 

Think about it as a teaser video (or a GIF), designed to be sent to your customers or potential investors, and tell the main story of the product in just a few seconds. 

What’s the message you want to emphasize? What are the highlights? Are there some missing features that are stopping you from being proud of the story? 

Marketing teams always make modifications when creating those videos: a small improvement here, a slight coverup there, but not you - you will use the real designs, and if something is missing, or just not good enough - then you'll notice it's not good enough, and make it better.

This simple exercise unveils functionality gaps, UI issues, and even missing workflows that need to be addressed. We recently tried it with a new product we're working on, and the very first step of the story helped us discover an important functionality gap. Boom!

2. Write a press release 

This is a known technique (typically credited to Amazon) where you work backward and create a future press release before the product is ready. 
The idea is simple, you start from the end, and come up with a compelling story. This reverse process can help you focus on the important stuff and fine-tune your priorities. 

Here’s a proposed format for your press release:
  1. Heading and sub-heading: the name of the feature, who the market is, and what benefits they get
  2. Summary paragraph: key product/feature and the benefits
  3. Problem and solution: describe the business problem and how the product/feature elegantly solves it
  4. Company quote: a quote from a spokesperson in your company (you)
  5. Customer quote: a quote from a hypothetical customer that describes their experience and the benefits they gained from using the product
  6. Closing and call to action: where should the readers go next

3. Create a demo 

I’m not talking about 2-3 steps demo with fake “aaa” and “bbb” values. 
I’m talking about a real demo. Real story. One that you can proudly deliver. 

Spend time working on your product, configuring stuff, thinking about how to demonstrate the strengths and benefits of the product and how it solves the core pains it was designed to solve. 

It requires a different mindset than the usual day to day discussions and reviews. 

When I worked at ClickSoftware (now Salesforce), I used to prepare my own demos before visiting customers or presenting at conferences. I enjoyed this “eat your own dog food” technique, although it often made me very frustrated with things that didn’t work as we planned them to.
Back then our product was so flexible and yet I always ran into unexpected issues: limitations, bugs we've missed, stuff that didn’t work exactly as they should. I used to drive my team crazy, they knew that every travel I plan, comes with a lot of preparations and requests, but it always ended up with a better understanding of our products, and some quick wins. 

4. Run an internal pilot

The great thing about internal pilots is that they are fun, and always produce a huge list of bugs and new ideas. 
For a pilot to succeed, you need to plan it properly: invite people outside of the team to eliminate biases, define a few scenarios, and different roles, but make sure to leave enough time for some freestyle work. 

Successful pilots turn into fun social events. People want to show they can help and can provide good insights, find issues, and come up with brilliant suggestions. 

It’s also a great way to introduce new staff internally and build product momentum.

5. Invent an internal competition

This one depends on the product, but with a bit of creativity - you can probably arrange a fun competition where the product plays a key role. Invite the entire company to participate: it can be a hackathon, an invitation to contribute ideas, or just compete while using certain features of the product. 
You’d be surprised to know how many great ideas are born in those fun activities. Some of them might end up becoming killer features in your product. Believe me, I saw it happen. 

6. Work with your product. For real. 

Eat your own dog food.
Seriously, it's good for you!

Back in my ClickSoftware days, we’ve developed a mobile solution for field-service personnel where they could manage their entire work without ever coming to the office (work orders, timesheets, spare-parts, assets, you name it). As the platform evolved, we decided to use it internally to manage our own teams. 
We’ve turned the product into a task management system and managed our ongoing tasks and weekly meetings with it. 

It was not the perfect fit, but the effort was worth it. 

The experience was invaluable; the time we spent with the product (as users) helped us feel the gaps and understand what's working well and what's not. 

So there you have it. 

6 simple hacks to put your product to the test, and examine it from different angles.
Those techniques are not designed to replace any of the ongoing activities, but they can add some significant layers to your work and discover gaps that are otherwise discovered by customers.  

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