Recently, I spoke with a group of talented product managers, designers, and entrepreneurs. I wanted to understand the mindset that informs their work. What I learned was that purpose is everything. They need to understand why they’re doing what they’re doing before they begin to build.
To clarify their purpose, they ask themselves a set of simple, yet powerful, questions:
Do I need to improve it? Is their primary goal to make existing software or hardware perform better? If so, improvements could include removing steps. Amazon did this when they added their “one-click” option. Pinterest did it when they added the ability to drag and drop images. Improvements may also include adding options that didn’t exist before. Uber did this when they added options to provide more details for airport pickups.
Do I need to reimagine it? Are they taking a product or service that already exists and creating a similar yet wholly different option? Think of Elon Musk’s Tesla. It’s a shift from gas-powered to battery-powered. Or think of Uber’s reimagining taxis, or Airbnb rethinking hotels, or the iPhone rethinking what it means to us a phone.
Do I need to solve it? Are they working to solve a problem without a solution or with a solution that’s not working well or that’s too expensive for the average person? That’s where hacking or DIY approaches can come in. Not Impossible Founder, Mick Ebeling talks about this with the Eyewriter and the Brainwriter for drawing and communication, the Gait Walker for walking, and the Braille printer for reading. Each offers an effective and relatively inexpensive solution anyone can access.
Once they know their purpose, they may also ask: Will my product or service scale? Will it need to? What constraints exist when it comes to resources like money, time, and so on? What opportunities will I have to get feedback from actual users as I build?