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How to Build a Secret Product

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How to Build a Secret Product

Shhh! We can't talk too much about the new project Raygun is working on, but we can tell you some of the ways they are developing it.

· Agile Zone ·
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The Raygun team has been super busy working on a top-secret project, called Proton.

Project Proton has been an ambitious project from the beginning, and while I can’t go into the details yet, I can share the biggest lessons that we’ve learned as a company and reveal some useful tools that we’ve used along the way, such as:

  • Start the way you mean to finish;
  • Articulating the "why";
  • Get the hell out of the building;
  • Keep competitors in the rear-view mirror;
  • Focus on building value, not features; and,
  • Document, document, and document.

Start the Way You Mean to Finish

A few broad strokes and an enthusiastic speech from the leadership team later, Project Proton was officially in full swing. I was charged with bringing the vision to life and making it a huge success.

Talk about pressure! So where did I start?

I started with writing the official press release. Press releases are short and sweet one-pagers, detailing your target audience and what benefits your product/project will bring. This frames the finished work by stating what we would (and wouldn’t) include in the final release.

Here's how to write a press release by Hubspot, and see a sample Raygun press release.

Articulating the “Why”

I’m a big fan of Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why. Starting with why (or our reason for doing something) helps to align our teams with the same goal, understand what we are trying to achieve, and build long-term success.

Sounds simple right? In reality, it’s super hard, because building shared understanding is hard. Even when there are clear and strategic WHYs for doing something, it can be hard to articulate them in a way that resonates well with different teams. Executive, Engineering, Product, Sales, Marketing, and Customer Success all require a tailored interpretation of the WHYs and the impact they will have on a specific team/individual.

That’s when concept stories can help to articulate the WHYs to the different target audience and your stakeholders and teams. For us, as soon as the Proton concept stories were written, everything began to align and make sense.

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek
The User’s Journey: Storymapping Products That People Love by Donna Lichew

Get the Hell out of the Building

Now that you understand what you are trying to create and why you are creating it, momentum will start to build. The urge to start coding/putting pixels on a screen/putting up post-its will be at an all-time high. That’s when you need to stop, take a deep breathe and simply get the hell out of the building.

When we embarked on this project, the first thing we did, was to get out of the building and start doing customer discovery to understand the problems we are trying to solve, the incumbent solutions on the market, and to validate our assumptions.

For us, this meant buying some customers free lunch, while we discussed what we came to learn. Like Steve Blank says, “There are no facts inside the building so get the hell outside.”

The Four Steps to the Epiphany by Steve Blank

Competitors in the Rearview Mirror

My favorite Mad Men episode of all time, is "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword" (S4, E5). I especially loved how Don Draper outmaneuvered a rival who was in his “rearview mirror.”

Competitors are a funny thing. They are either the spark that ignites you and propels your growth, they can create smoke and mirrors that distracts and misdirects, or they can be an outright inferno that sucks the air out of the room. So how do you identify their level of threat?

For this, I took a page out of our founder’s playbook—keep your competitors in the rear-view mirror, not the windshield. This means having a good understanding of their strengths and weaknesses but not obsess over what they are doing. Obsessing over your competition means diminishing your WHYs and ending up inadvertently (or not) copying what they have. The world needs a better solution, not more of the same!

When we build products/projects at Raygun, we focus on solving the market/user’s problems from our customer discovery first and foremost. This is why Proton is unlike anything you’ve used before. There is no shortcut to innovative thinking and problem-solving.

Focus on Building Value, not Features

Product and Engineering (and sometimes Marketing) teams often struggle with talking about anything other than features, when you ask them “Why should someone buy our products?”


Jason Fried@jasonfried

"Here's what our product can do" and "Here's what you can do with our product" sound similar, but they are completely different approaches.

This is because we all tend to think that technical specs translate into benefits for the end user, when most of the time, our prospects can’t connect the dots. Ask yourself and your team what the benefits are that the prospect can enjoy by using these features, and what is the financial impact on their company?

When we built Proton, we focused on building value instead of features by continually going back to our WHYs, our concept story and our customer discovery. Now that it’s nearing the finish line, we are working closely with our customers, our Marketing and Sales teams to ensure that the value propositions of Proton are clear from day one.

Three Ways to Think About Value by Johanna Rothman
To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others by Daniel Pink

Document, Document, and Document

There were many moments when we were developing Proton that I felt like I was the only walking, talking encyclopedia of Proton and understood how everything was connected.

The downside was that everyone looked to me as the source of truth and often, I was not there to answer and solve the questions or issues, due to time zone challenges (I’m based in Seattle and our Engineering and Design teams are in New Zealand). This was a point of great frustration for everyone involved.

So, I started to document everything that’s in my head about Proton in Quip, no matter how trivial they seemed at the time. Turns out, Xamarin’s Co-founder Miguel de Icaza was right:


Miguel de Icaza@migueldeicaza

When I ask myself "what would have the most impact today?" I sit down and write documentation

The simple act of documenting everything meant that anyone in the company can now tap into my knowledge base about Project Proton and see the source of truth without delay. The bonus? I’ve now also written most of the Proton documentation!

But What is Project Proton?

Sorry, you’ll have to wait to find out! But I have shared what we have learned so far. And if you are still curious about Project Proton? You can be the first to know about it by signing up for updates.

Download the free agile tools checklist from 321 Gang. This guide will help you choose the right agile tools to position your team for success. 

Topics:
ux ,product management ideas ,product management tools ,features ,agile ,project proton

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