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Product Sense and UX Strategy: Translating UX to Business Value

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Even if you are not a coffee drinker, you might have heard of or seen a Keurig coffee-brewing machine and its single-serve coffee pods. But did you know that Keurig once made soda-brewing machines?

In September 2015, Keurig decided to pursue business growth in the cold beverage market by launching Keurig Kold in September 2015. One of Keurig Kold’s biggest selling points was that it was one of only a few options for making cold drinks quickly (within 90 seconds to be exact).

This next step in Keurig’s business innovation strategy took over five years of development and cost $100 million of investments at the time of its launch. Yet, less than a year later, the company announced that it was discontinuing the product. What happened?

Analysts have boiled down the reasons for Keurig Kold’s failure to three key reasons:

  • A high price point
  • Lack of convenience
  • Overlooking downward market trends for soda consumption

All these reasons are connected by a larger theme – the lack of product sense and the business’ inadequate user experience (UX) strategy. The rest of this article will look at what product sense and UX strategy are, how they connect, and how to create an effective UX strategy for business growth and innovation.

What is product sense?

Product sense is a term most commonly associated with a product manager’s (PM) role, but is also one that other stakeholders should be familiar with to create value-added products. Shreyas Doshi, a former product manager at Stripe and its first PM manager, defines product sense as “the ability to make correct decisions even when faced with considerable ambiguity”. In other words, it is the intuition of knowing which products should be built to solve the unspoken needs of an organisation’s target audience.

Doshi further defines three key qualities of good product sense:

  • Empathy: The ability to understand how individuals different from yourself will react in a certain situation. It involves hearing from other people to understand their thoughts and reasoning process, instead of simply assuming what others would think based on one’s own experiences.
  • Domain knowledge: An understanding of the organisation’s business growth model and its users, the organisation’s competitors and their products, and existing technological limitations and opportunities.
  • Creativity: The ability to think out of the box and develop unique ideas to resolve problems and address needs.

“The Key Elements of Product Sense” by Shreyas Doshi. Source: Exponent

How can one ensure that they are exercising good product sense when developing products? This is where having a UX strategy comes in.

What is a UX strategy?

While numerous definitions abound, Jaime Levy’s definition of UX strategy as “the high-level plan to achieve one or more business goals under conditions of uncertainty” most clearly shows how product sense and UX strategy go together. Like product sense, a UX strategy is similarly concerned with achieving business objectives under ambiguous conditions.

The four core tenets in Levy’s UX strategy framework are:

  1. Business strategy: This refers to how an organisation generates business growth while remaining consistent with its brand identity. A core component of a business strategy is identifying competitive advantages, whether these are through cost leadership (offering the lowest prices) and/or differentiation (providing unique products or new experiences for familiar products that users will pay more for).
  2. Value innovation: Value innovation arises when organisations are able to create high-value and low-cost products for their uses and stakeholders. There are two ways to make products innovative, whether through the use of sustaining technologies (improving existing products for current customers) or disruptive technologies (creating entirely new products/experiences).
  3. Validated user research: To know whether a proposed product actually meets user needs, organisations should conduct user research early and often. In this way, organisations can avoid wasting resources on products that are not viable.
  4. Killer UX design: The key features of a product should feature good UX design and make the entire user experience seamless. This is particularly important if there are online and offline components involved in the user experience.

How do UX strategy and product sense connect?

A UX strategy can help team members develop better product sense by giving them a clear process for growing their domain knowledge, fostering empathy for user needs, and developing creative ideas for business innovation.

While a UX strategy is informed by a business strategy, it is possible that the research behind a business growth model has gaps, as we saw with Keurig Kold. Although Keurig was an industry leader in making hot-beverage brewing systems, it was their first time creating a cold-beverage brewing system. In developing this new product, they seem to have overlooked market research indicating that soda consumption rates were falling, which other competitors had already noticed and were responding to. They also made some mistaken assumptions about user expectations and had not considered that there might not be a real need for their product.

These gaps are why the process of conducting detailed research and analysis and creating good design that a UX strategy advocates is essential. Most importantly, it is only by interacting with users and understanding their reactions to a product that organisations can better determine whether there is a real need for their product and if their solution actually meets user needs. Talking with users at an early stage of the product development cycle also cultivates product sense by discovering user pain points and uncovering opportunities for future business innovation and growth.

How to create an effective UX strategy that translates to business growth?

It is time to put the theory of UX strategy into practice. One important thing to note about a UX strategy is that it is an iterative process, not a linear one. As such, it is important to make adjustments to the product offering as new insights come in from market research, UX research, and usability testing.

Without further ado, here is a summary of ways to build an effective UX strategy, with insights combined from Levy’s book and another book by Tomer Sharon, “Validating Product Ideas: Through Lean User Research”.

1. Get a detailed picture of your primary users and the biggest problem they face.

Through a combination of stakeholder interviews and other UX research methods such as creating provisional personas and user interviews, organisations should validate their business strategy as early as possible by determining if their initial assumptions about users and the problem they face are correct.

This means being able to answer questions such as:

  • Who are our users?
  • What problem do they face?
  • Who are our competitors?

2. Understand how users currently solve the problem to get ideas for value innovation.

Of the nine research questions covered in his book, Tomer Sharon stresses that finding the answer to the question “How do people currently solve a problem?”, is the most important. This is because the responses to this question will help businesses identify blind spots, which is important for discovering opportunities for value innovation.

Levy cites an exercise in which her students set out to create an AirBnB for weddings with the initial intention of connecting brides-to-be keen on destination weddings with homeowners ready to rent their homes for such purposes. During their research process, they discovered that brides-to-be faced a major pain point when it came to coordinating vendors for wedding planning. This discovery led them to pivot their strategy to creating wedding packages as a key user experience, instead of simply focusing on connecting brides-to-be with homeowners comfortable with hosting wedding parties.

3. Conduct competitive research and analysis to further refine business strategy.

While understanding users is one component of developing the business strategy tenet of a UX strategy, organisations must also understand what their competitors are doing and how well existing solutions on the market work. This step is crucial for helping organisations better articulate their competitive advantage.

Organisations should be able to answer the questions:

  • Who are our direct and indirect competitors?
  • What are the best features of their products?
  • How can we offer more value to users with our proposed products?

4. Test your prototype and optimise your design.

After conducting market research and speaking to users, it is crucial to build a prototype for usability testing to understand how users will respond to a design and whether the product actually meets their needs. There should also be success metrics in place to evaluate the effectiveness of features.

Prototyping should provide answers to the following, which will help with improving the UX design of the product:

  • Can people use the product to solve their problem?
  • Can people find what they need?
  • (If there is more than one proposed design) Which design generates better results?
  • Where are users having trouble?
  • What do users like/dislike about the prototype?

5. Keep users at the center of the process.

As the four points above suggest, organisations should continue gathering direct user insights throughout the product development cycle to ensure that they are on the right track. Sharon has a helpful infographic of the nine questions to ask users during each phase of product development:

The different questions to ask at each stage of a product development cycle. Source: Tomer Sharon, Validating Product Ideas: Through Lean User Research (Rosenfield Media)

Concluding Thoughts

Product sense can seem like an elusive concept, a thing that some people are just born with. However, as Boris Müller, Professor for Interaction Design at FH Potsdam, points out, something that appears as intuitive as product sense can actually be taught. An effective UX strategy helps organisations fall in love with a problem instead of a solution. In doing so, organisations can better create value-added products that actually meet user needs. With an exciting product idea, it can be tempting to dive into product development as quickly as possible without a UX strategy. However, as the example of Keurig Kold shows, having one in place can help organisations avoid even bigger financial losses down the pipeline.

If you want to know more about user experience and its industry, do check out our other resources available on our website, such as our articles, weekly webinars, and podcasts.

CuriousCore offers mid-career professionals specialized and career accelerator courses and we also provide practitioner-led masterclasses and consultations for organisations to improve their customer experience strategy and business growth.