Training your product intuition

Product intuition is a skill: it is the observation of human behavior, trained by data, and applied to software.

Yes, product intuition is necessary to find product/market fit in early-stage companies and to develop successful product-led growth teams at expansion-stage companies. But before I expand on this further, I want to establish table stakes for developing product intuition: the product hierarchy.

The Product Hierarchy

The process of building product intuition starts with filling in your product hierarchy. I chose a hierarchy because you need the widest, deepest base of knowledge where it matters most: your customer. The behavior we associate with great product intuition is quickly intuiting how customers will react to software — you need to know a lot about how your customer thinks and their real life in order to get there.

The Product Upside Down

Methods for Building Product Intuition

You’ll apply different methods for training your product intuition depending on what stage of product/market fit your product or feature has reached. A growth stage company likely has enough volume to run multi-variant tests; a small pre-launch startup won’t.

Learning about your customer

Define who your customer is and be specific. Where do they live? Find and interview them, ideally in places outside the SF Bay Area. Read books about the demographic – social scientists and researchers like dana boyd, Sherry Turkle, and Rachel Sherman are your friends. Listen in on sales calls. Listen in on conversations in cafes. Watch youths on their phones or dig through Youtube. Buy or conduct market research. Run surveys. Write down the assumptions you’re making & try to disprove those. Above all else: keep an open mind.

Understanding their problems

Watch your customer using other software in the same space. Throw together quick mockups or low res prototypes and show them to people who fit your customer constraints. Interview those people about their lives, even if they’re not customers yet… especially if they’re not customers yet. If you have an existing product already, how are people patching the holes in your functionality? Give your data science team time to find correlated behaviors.

Articulating a use case

Implement analytics software to understand how people are using your product. Develop situational hypotheses & test them. Make device-specific guesses and try to test those, eg. how does this behavior change when it’s on a mobile device? Again, if you don’t have volume, put together a prototype or low-res mocks and show them to people. Surprisingly strong themes emerge from low fidelity testing.

Developing a solution

Scope down your solution so that you’re only testing the hypothesis you mean to test. Constrain your solution to just satisfy the needs or solve the problems of your customer, or you’ll muddy the waters.

Rinse & repeat

This process can take place week over week or even in the course of one day. Moving quickly at every stage is vital. Your company’s funding is not your runway or salary: funding represents the number of learning cycles you have time to execute. Make the most of it.

Some other resources

Amy Jo Kim’s new book Game Thinking is insanely good. It’s my new answer to product people who want to learn to build engaging products. If you want to get deeper into principles of game design and how they apply to products, Dan Cook’s Lost Garden blog is also awesome.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Merci Victoria Grace

Merci Victoria Grace

5.2K Followers

Advisor & angel investor. Former VC at Lightspeed, former Head of Growth at Slack. Happy to help.