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The eight best ways to create a great product

By pa360, Jan 17 2015 11:40AM

I think it was the late Apple Chief Executive, Steve Jobs who said: "If you keep your eye on the profit, you’re going to skimp on the product. But if you focus on making really great products, then the profits will follow".

Whilst that is a useful anecdote, from someone in the position to know, it leaves out the tantalizing bit: how do you create a really great product? What are the guiding principles? Before we get into that, let's start with a definition of 'product'.The dictionary describes a product as: 'an article or substance that is manufactured or refined for sale' as well as 'a thing or person that is the result of an action or process'. Whilst both are quite divergent definitions, they do converge in one respect and that is: they both describe outputs, which are brought about through the act of manipulation, design or translation. It is reasonable to assume therefore that the most artful, creative and intelligent inputs will likely produce the best products, whilst similar improvements to the best products will produce even greater results.

On the face of it, whilst this may seem like an over-simplification, the intention is to break down the driving principles of creating great products into a science. In other words, these principles should be applicable in any context and therefore, if repeated, be certain to produce the same or similar results. With that in my mind, here is my take on the eight best ways to create a great product.

1. Define greatness

Ok, so what is a 'great product'? Is it one that consistently out-sells the direct competition? Is it one that carves out its own distinctive niche as a boutique brand? Is it one that morphs and transforms in anticipation of customer needs and preferences? Or is it something else? The point being made here is that if you are going to focus on creating a truly great product, then you must first understand where you are trying to get to and how you will know when you arrive. Then there is a further, even more fundamental question about who decides what a 'great product' is? Is it what the supplier says or what the customer says it is? The point being made here is that a 'great product' is not a one size fits all construct or approach. However, the ability to define and determine what it is will ensure that collective organisational assets can be galvanised in pursuit of it.

2. Be intimidated by excellence

Employing people who 'intimidate' you with their excellence is not an easy thing to do. Especially when the excellence of the new, challenges the competence of the old. There is a distinct difference between a fascination with excellence, which we all have to some degree and creating an environment where that fascination intimidates us, which only the most secure and mature of us will even countenance. However, there are times when the pursuit of excellence, particularly that which enables you to produce a 'great product', requires you to be comfortable when the excellence of others intimidates you. A mature organisation, goes out of its way to surround itself with those who disrupt the comfort zone of conventional wisdom and reasoning. By so doing, such an organisation is able to create a culture and climate within which the best and most innovative ideas can flourish.

3. Practice uncommon thinking

An uncommon thought is not the same as a good idea. Good ideas, even really good ideas, can come from anyone and at any time. They can be triggered by moments of spontaneous inspiration and expressed as flashes of genius. Uncommon thinking, by contrast is a systematised and routine way of applying one's mind. People who think in an uncommon way do so as a matter of course. Therefore, uncommon thinking is not spontaneity it is practice. So why does uncommon thinking matter in the context of developing 'great products'? Well, if you think in unconventional ways, then you will develop unconventional solutions. Perhaps put in another way, you will be able to 'think out of the box'. More than that, when the uncommon way of thinking becomes a default, your ideas will set trends, establish benchmarks and break moulds. This is because the path to ground-breaking innovation is often the road least well travelled.

4. Speak the language of greatness

The significance of language is that it does not just communicate values, it also shapes cultures. As such, organisations that produce truly great products are able to do so because they make vocalisation a means to express opinion as well as mechanism to organise thought. They create structures and frameworks that encourage and stimulate dialogue not monologue and facilitate a can-do culture that promotes learning instead of failure, areas for improvement instead of weaknesses and opportunities instead of difficulties. In other words, great products are cultivated and stewarded when we use the language that speaks to the possibility of something better. It is this language that fuels relentless momentum, empowers continuous improvement and drives sustainable growth.

5. Don't raise the bar, if you're not willing to remove the floor

I am guessing that anyone reading this blog, is familiar with the phrase 'raise the bar'? Essentially, it is the concept that if you want to be better then you have to do more. On its face that all seems perfectly reasonable and rationale right? But is the act of 'raising the bar' the thing that actually drives improvement or is it when you 'remove the floor'? In the context of creating a great product, the concept of 'removing the floor' is predicated on the assumption that the true energy and effort that drives progress to greatness is more than the aspiration to be better, but rather the realisation that there is nothing to go back to. If the your ambition is to create a great product, then the difference between 'raising the bar' and 'removing the floor' is the difference between desire and desperation.

6. Remember detail matters

Think about the size and intricacy of a motor vehicle - a highly complex product made up of many parts both large and small. As a car manufacturer, you would not simply focus on making sure that the large parts are properly engineered and installed correctly and ignore the smaller parts would you? Of course not. Failing to correctly install a part, even as small as a spark plug (the size of a human thumb) can render a vehicle inoperable. Likewise, anticipating points of detail that might appeal to a customer, such as those that will allow for product customisation or contribute to product convenience can make all the difference. To 'skimp' on the product (as Job's himself describes it), simply means to cut corners or neglect the detail. However, the points of detail that we neglect and the corners that we cut, are often the very things that distinguish us from others and make our 'product' both marketable and desirable.

7. Find fault

If you ever think that you have reached a point where your product or service is good enough or even great enough, then you are already on the road to decline. The path to greatness (to say nothing of sustained greatness) is paved with dissatisfaction and restlessness. The biggest killer of great products and the barrier that often prevents good products from becoming great, is the culture of self-satisfaction, complacency and the belief that there is nothing more than can be learnt. The act of fault-finding is not about random nit-picking, but rather a rejection of orthodoxy. It is predicated on the assumption that there is always something that can be improved. To that extent, fault-finding is about an organisation's or individual's improvement posture and stance.

8. Find the right pitch, tone and tenor

The best way to get attention is to find the most appropriate way to get your message across. When you need to whisper, you don't shout and when you need to shout you don't sing. Pitch, tone and tenor are ultimately about product positioning and placement. A great product needs to be pitched to the right people, positioned in the right place and promoted at the right time. The method through which great products develop, relies as much on the ability to cultivate the environment within which products are nurtured, as the effort to control the climate to which they are exposed. Think about the hoopla and anticipation generated prior to a major Apple product release. These product junkets have over time, become as much a part of the perception of Apple products as the functionality of the products themselves. In simple terms, how a product is positioned and placed, affects its visibility and viability. Let's be real, no-one will appreciate the value of a product if they do not even know that it is there.

To conclude, often-times we compete for opportunities in markets that are saturated with our particular 'product'. At other times we offer a 'product' that no-one really wants. Clearly, if you are uncompetitive either due to market saturation or low product value, you will not be able to achieve the benefits or generate the 'profits' that you are aiming for. Using the Steve Job's paradigm, focusing on the product does not mean doing more of the same; rather it means breaking the mould and doing something completely different. In summary therefore, don't focus on making profit, focus on making great product and don't just focus on making the right product, focus on making the product right.

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