Purpose, not Features

October 28, 2014 — Posted by Al Shalloway

I keep hearing people ask about how to improve agile requirements. I agree that mere decomposition of epics into features into stories into right sized stories into tasks is not enough. In fact, it misses the point. In fact, most of the time customers don't know what they want. Henry Ford said - "If I had asked people what they wanted they would have said 'faster horses'".  So how can we find out what they really want.  It's not as hard as you might think. But it takes looking in a different place than we normally do.

Before describing how to do this, let's look at 3 innovative products of the last several decades - the Sony Walkman, the Konica Automatic Camera and the Apple iPhone..

The Sony Walkman. It is an interesting and insightful story about how Akia Morita got the idea of the Sony Walkman.  Mr. Morita was very fond of classical music.  But he traveled a great deal and often had to do without it.  One day he was in his hotel overlooking Central Park and watching people walking with boom-boxes and several others running without them.  Those with boom-boxes had an obvious commitment to their enjoyment of music.  Those without them had an obvious commitment to their health. If someone was running with a boom box, given this was New York City, there was likely another thing going on.  Mr. Morita was well familiar with his commitment to travel and music and his inability to enjoy both at the same time.  It occurred to him that many people, such as himself, had pairs of commitments - for example, music and health; music and travel - where one commitment precluded the other.  Mr. Morita surmised that many people would want a product that could enable them to manifest both of their commitments.  A tape player that was small enough to easily carry would allow for this.

The Konica Automatic Camera.

Excerpt from Mary and Tom Poppendieck:

Konica Camera had a problem: They wanted to develop a breakthrough product but the feedback from their customers would lead to only minor improvements.

In one meeting when Konica’s managers were discussing the problem, Mr. Takanori Yoneyama, the chairman of Konica, offered this observation: “Perhaps we are asking the wrong questions.  We ask for feedback on our camera. But people don’t purchase our camera in order to own a camera.  They buy a camera in order to take pictures.  We see ourselves as manufacturing and selling cameras.  Customers see us as a source for acquiring the capability to take photographs.  Perhaps we should start seeking feedback on the pictures.”

Sitting down the customers’ photographs was a revelation.  The pictures were pretty bad: out of focus, too light, too dark, one superimposed upon another.  In each case the customer blamed not the camera, but themselves.   “You have a very good camera.  I am simply not a very good photographer.”

From this feedback Konica was able to invent the error-proof camera: automatic focusing, lens opening, adjustment, film forwarding, flash, etc.  Now customers love both the camera and their photographs.

This is a perfect example of looking at the purpose of a product.  People were not committed to being good photographers, they were committed to having good photographs.   Being a good photographer was one route - but not the best one for Konica's customers.

The Apple iPhone. Not much else needs to be said.  The pattern is clear - provide customers with a way to manifest their commitment by overcoming their challenges or creating new opportunities.  The iPhone enabled people to do more of what they wanted in an easier, more convenient manner.  Apple has a legacy of creating opportunities for people - one's they've never voiced, but which, when one looks at their commitments and challenges, can be seen.

Look for your customers commitments and the challenges to them or the opportunities you can create for them.

While this may be simple, it isn't necessarily easy.  But it at least has you looking in the right place.  It takes guts to do though.  Because it's so much easier to just give customers what they say they want.  But give them what makes a difference in their lives and you will have a truly great product.


Al Shalloway
CEO, Net Objectives

 

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About the author | Al Shalloway

Al Shalloway is the founder and CEO of Net Objectives. With over 40 years of experience, Alan is an industry thought leader in Lean, Kanban, product portfolio management, SAFe, Scrum and agile design.



        

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