Deciding What to Build

I recently spoke on a panel and was asked, “how do you decide which features to build next?” This was a great question and really comes down to two things:

First, as you may already know, you should build something that solves a big, painful problem for your clients.  Working with the Chicago Lean Startup Circle for the last few years taught me how to figure this out – ask them if they will pay for it. This question may sound a bit mercenary but it actually helps your client figure out their priorities – involving their money helps them clarify their priorities.

For example, we’ve all been in client meetings where a client shared ideas. Frequently we’ve been pushed to build a feature because someone with a C-level title came up with the idea. In Lean Startup this is called the HIPPO – the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion. If we aren’t careful, we’ll get sidetracked by HIPPO requests and spend our scarce development budget on features that only solve small, convenience problems.

When we put a price on a client’s idea, we help them get past their HIPPOs to the problems that are costing them clients or revenue.

Which leads to the second key – build things that make your clients more profitable. Build things that help them sell their product and manage their clients.  When they come to you with a list of potential features or enhancements ask them, “Which of these will make you more profitable? Which one will increase revenue or materially decrease your expenses?” By asking that question, you become their business partner – not just their software vendor. You also help them build their internal case for paying you more for your software or for the project.

With thanks to Eric Ries for the Lean Startup concepts ...


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