“Before we start building this…”

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We saved ourselves about six months of work with a single conversation the other day. As we wrapped up one release, we started preparing for the next major project. For months, we had talked about this massive feature we were certain we had to build. It would mean a big technical challenge for us. Going in, we did not even know if we could pull it off, let alone how to approach it. Sound familiar?

When planning how to tackle this giant project, one question stopped us in our tracks:

Before we start building this: what problem is it going to solve?

Customers do not use our products because they have fancy features. They use them because they help them get their jobs done. Instead of dreaming up features, we need to understand what people use our products for. Once we know that, we can think about how to make them even better at those tasks.

In an instant, our conversation shifted from what we could add to what is missing. We collected a dozen questions users want our product to answer for them. We now use those as a reality check when planning what to do next. Every new idea has to pass the test of “does this solve a problem our users have?”

The feature we were going to build would not have solved any of those problems. Smaller and easier projects will have a much bigger impact for our customers instead.

It is easy to get excited about “cool” features. We see the technical challenges and want to start solving them immediately. Focusing on the job our product needs to do instead helps us provide real value to our customers.

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