Product launches have historically required tremendous precision. You need to to get everything – the feature set, target market, pricing, branding, and go-to-market strategy – right in order to make a major splash. Most people assume that the amount of time it takes you to get to market is not as important if you go to market with the perfect product.
However, in today’s digital world, speed to market has become equally as important as, if not more important than, precision. This is because new technologies – such as artificial intelligence, the internet of things, virtual reality and more – are gaining user adoption and reshaping industries at an accelerating pace. As you can see in the chart below, it took far longer for telephones to reach 50% of households than it took for cell phones.
In this fast-paced world, consumer preferences are constantly changing. Their expectations increase as replace inferior products with superior products. A classic telephone is not as delightful when it’s compared to an iPhone that gives you access to the Internet at your fingertips.
The longer it takes you to get your product to market, the more likely it is that your assumptions about your prospective customer will be outdated, and the harder it will be to adapt to market needs. Increasing your speed to market allows you to validate your ideas, iterate, and ultimately build a better product because you’re interacting with real people.
Conference rooms are a great place for brainstorming ideas, but the market place is the best place to validate them.
Increasing your speed to market is not easy. Many companies are stuck operating with legacy waterfall development process that limit experimentation and iteration. In addition, bureaucratic organizational structures prevent teams from collaborating effectively and moving fast. Furthermore, few companies have adopted modern best practices for market and user research. Instead they rely on lengthy and expensive studies that in today’s world might be outdated by the time the report hits the desk of decision makers. This article covers three lessons from the guests of This is Product Management on decreasing your time to market.
1. Adopt modern market research best practices
Market research has been an integral part of most large research and development projects and product launches and it probably always will be. Market research provides mission-critical insights on market dynamics, opportunities for growth, and more.
In Episode 168, Gregg Archibald and Leonard Murphy, Partners at Gen2 Advisors, a premier market research consulting firm, and GreenBook, the leading media publication for the market research industry, shed light on how the practice of market research is evolving and how product managers can better collaborate with market research to increase their speed to market.
Market research studies traditionally take months and can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. If they’re not done at the right time and in the right way, they can significantly increase your time to market.
Gregg says that new technologies are helping researchers gain user insights faster than ever before, and as agile product development processes becomes more prevalent, it’s critical for product teams to have these insights so that they can make decisions quickly. Here’s what he said about this new dynamic:
“The speed of decisions is increasing within business all the time. We’re getting a number of clients calling us and saying, ‘Our market research department used to be world class and now we find that our product people or our brand people are going to…tools that get that information closer to the end user.’ So, market research has to be a part of getting information closer to the end user in a more iterative and faster way.”
While market research can provide “a big picture overview of what’s happening in the marketplace,” as Gregg says, which is critically important for identifying growth opportunities, he also acknowledges that there are areas where product managers need faster and more specific insights and that access to real people is a major advantage:
“It’s hard to get consumers to articulate it in a way that the market research team can provide feedback to the product development team. When people are shown a choice between ‘option a’ and ‘option b,’ then it becomes a lot easier to get that feedback, but that feedback has to be in a very timely manner to keep up with the product development process.”
Gregg and Lenny say that market researchers are getting faster because they’re starting to utilize technologies that enable product decision makers to get insights when they need them.
2. Empower all decision makers to conduct research
Market research is a critical part of launching a successful product, but to increase speed to market, market research needs to incorporate modern best practices for user research and experimentation, and empower product teams to do the same.
Ben Singer, Innovation Design Strategist at Humana, describes how he helped product teams at his company, a $37 billion health insurance company with over 13 million customers in the United States, collaborate with market research more effectively, and become more customer-centric.
Ben turned to Alpha to make it quicker and easier for product managers – even those without expertise in market research – to get user insights and align to the actual wants and needs of the market. With Alpha, product teams can reach users that they couldn’t previously reach because of legal constraints and run experiments with real people within their target user segments without a months-long process.
Not only do market research studies inform product decisions, experiments inform larger market research studies. Experimentation has helped Humana test ideas with their target market faster than ever before.
3. Test and build faster with sprints
In addition to on-demand insights, “sprints” are a proven method for decreasing time to market. Sprints provide teams with a short period of time – typically one week – to test ideas and accomplish important milestones.
David O’Malley, Product Innovation and Digital Transformation leader at General Electric, helped teams across the company shift from analog to digital and adopt modern product management best practices by guiding them through sprints.
Even though there was buy-in at the executive level to adopt digital technologies, the main hurdle that David identified as preventing teams from doing so was that they were simply not moving fast enough. He realized that he needed to cut down bureaucracy and empower teams to do their best work. David did so by running sprints that included coaching and a product management framework that put the user at the center of development.
He guided teams through two one-week sprints where they create a backlog, define user stories, and produce real working software. This environment makes it faster and easier to pivot and therefore faster and easier to get to market. David says that these sprints ultimately enabled teams to increase velocity by over 300%.
How to Decrease Time to Market
There are many common challenges that can increase time to market. These include slow waterfall development processes, bureaucratic organizational structures, and, perhaps most commonly, outdated research practices. Guests of This is Product Management have shared how to overcome these challenges and start moving faster.
Gregg and Lenny recommend utilizing technologies that bring decision makers closer to the end-user, faster. David employs sprints to bring teams together to make decisions and iterate within a fixed and short period of time. Ben uses Alpha to facilitate quick and easy decisions informed by on-demand user insights and experiments with real people.
How is your approach to decision making changing? We’re conducting a study to identify the most common challenges that decision makers face and the strategies and techniques that contribute to success. Please participate by completing this brief survey.