There is no greater service to our customer than when we understand their needs before we expect them to understand how we will serve their needs. Only by taking the time to truly internalize how they are counting on us are we are able to deliver a proper solution. By extension, when the software you offer is a service, you must close the feedback loop and enforce that your service is of value---that the genesis of your feature direction is based on empirical evidence.
In a earlier blog posted on LinkedIn called Diagnosing the Opportunity/Pain is the first step, I outlined a process that we were using at the time where we mixed our current model into one phase. Since then we have added something to this model to make it truly shine.
In this post, I am going to show you how MindTouch uses the “Pain, Value, Opportunity” model to ensure that not only do we understand our customers clearly, but that every product enhancement and added feature has our customers’ voices “baked in.”
Pain and Value: It Takes a (Small) Village!
MindTouch is in the business of making things simpler for our customers, and their customers, to be successful. That is why it is imperative that each change to our software, each additional feature that we extend is of maximum value.
We begin with an exercise to identify just what “pain points” we are addressing, what the value is in addressing these pain points, and what opportunity that creates for product improvement.
This cannot be a unilateral exercise---both Pain and Value can be interpreted differently depending on who is doing the interpretation. Therefore, it is critical to have all stakeholders participating in the discussion -- customers, product owners, business analysts, success agents, support technicians, and of course the engineers. Storytelling together enables us to uncover value and potential sharp edges. By allowing everyone the opportunity to communicate, you raise the level of understanding upfront so that when you, together, identify the opportunity, it is crystal clear to all participants. Everyone you can get adds value to the discussion. It takes a small village!
This "Pain, Value, Opportunity" exercise has changed a bit over time. Below, I’d like to share how we have refined this to increase the effectiveness of identifying opportunities for improvement to our product.
The “PVO” Exercise (And How It Has Changed Our “POV”)
I used to run this exercise and refer to it as simply Story Mapping. We still do the Story Mapping part but the difference now is that we head into that Story Mapping with a clear and defined Opportunity that we can translate into a technical solution.
The story has to start somewhere, and the first, most important voice, is our customers’. Through various internal mechanisms both online and off, we actively collect and analyze customer requests for additional or improved functionality within MindTouch. Both our customer success team, and our product team, then uses their judgment to determine which improvements seem to be most critical to our customers, and most consistent with the product vision.
With this final list of potential feature requests in mind, we hold a multi-hour PVO (pain, value, opportunity) meeting, inviting everyone to attend who has a stake, or is interested in, the proposed new feature.
In this meeting, each participant has their say by lodging their “Pain” or “Value” statement based on the proposed feature request. These statements are phrased as a type of user story---one that is easily understandable:
Pain example: "As a User I am unable to see X when I go to Y and this is a pain because of Z."
Value example: "By allowing X to be visible to the user they are able to do Y which helps them with Z."
As you can see in the figure below, Phase 1 of the exercise can result in many Pain and Value statements. The onus is then on the team to break them down into the lowest common denominator. By Phase 2 we are openly communicating on each point and are now able to reduce redundant statements and distill the true pain and/or value.
Once we are confident that we have reached the true pain and value we are now clearly able to identify and agree upon an opportunity.
“A widget that allows the customer to upload a technical document to their site so that it can sit in a queue and wait for it’s turn to be processed”
At this point, armed with our new Opportunity, we are able to pass into our Story Mapping session and let the magic begin! At the end of the Story Mapping session we can then report back to all Stakeholders what solution we have, what it will take, and when we can deliver value.
I would love to chat more if you have another process that works.