7 Questions to Help You Craft the Perfect Product Story

How to tell compelling stories about your product idea to increase the chances it will get built

Ideas are like belly buttons. Everybody has at least one. When it comes to building new products, features or services we all believe we have good ideas. Multiply this by the number of people on your team, your stakeholders and clients and you end up with a seemingly bottomless list of things you could work on. There are many ways to get your idea to rise to the top. In my experience the most effective way is by telling a compelling story about the idea you believe the team should work on. If you can convince your colleagues with a good story they’ll motivate around your idea and make it a reality. Here are 7 questions to answer as you begin to write your pitch.

What’s our strategy?

Keep the strategy conversation simple. Why? Because it’s a hypothesis. Instead of endless predictions of future success and ROI focus on Roger Martin’s two key questions that define strategy: Where will you play? How will you win?

The “place” where you will play is the market, vertical or target audience your idea will live in. You’ll “win” by filling a specific gap in that market. It’s not necessarily a specific feature or product but rather what you will be doing differently than everybody else in that space.

What problem are we solving?

Your idea must solve a problem. What is that problem? How severe is it? Why do we care about it? What impact does it have on our business and our customers? Framing your idea in terms of a problem space ensures that you’re not limited to one specific solution. Instead you’re setting up your team to discover the best way to solve that problem.

What’s our definition of success?

Overwhelmingly organizations measure success as the deployment of a feature. Your story will be different. Your definition of success will be an outcome – a measurable change in human behavior. Your story should very clearly answer the question, “If we solve the problem, what will people be doing differently?” and how is that different from what they’re doing today. Framing your definition of done as an outcome (or key result) provides you with the agility to adjust course with your feature choices as new information comes to light.

Who is our target audience?

Let’s be specific – even in B2B situations. Who are the humans who will be using the products you will build? What experience do they have? Why do they care about the problem you’re solving? How will you make them heroes? How many of them are there? Traditionally this has been the domain of deep market research. Use the information that exists within your organization right now to build a proto-persona of that target audience. Keep it focused. You can expand it as you find success with the initial narrow audience. This persona lives throughout your story – from strategy to problem statement to success metrics.

What do we believe we should build?

Finally, we get to the part about features. Deliberately we leave it for late in our story because this is what your stakeholders will fixate on. We want to set context and rationale for why we think these are the features we will build. Most importantly, we inject doubt into the features conversation that reflects the reality of the digital product world. Digital product development is risky and filled with uncertainty. To bring that risk into the features conversation we write solution hypotheses that start with the phrase “We believe…” rather than “We know…” In reality, we never really know.

How will we find out if we are right?

If everything we’re presenting in our story is a hypothesis, what activities will we undertake to find out we’re right? Here is where you detail out your learning plans. What experiments will you run? Which customers will you speak with? How often? As your product finds traction and potential product market fit, how will your experiments scale? At what point will you begin a full-fledged build out of the service? It’s these learning activities that will ensure we’re always working on the things most likely to solve the problem and achieve the strategy.

How can we start delivering value sooner?

The closing part of your story is where the rubber hits the road. What’s the plan? How much confidence do we have in the short term plan? What about the medium to long term plan? What percentage of the work will be delivery work? What about discovery work? What questions are we trying to answer in the coming quarters? What OKR goals are we trying to achieve? The key here is to connect all the points of your story together in the final visualization. The hypotheses line up with experiments that help us learn how to achieve our quarterly goals. And it’s those quarterly goals that tell us whether we’re solving the problem and achieving our strategy.

Compelling stories help us get our ideas heard. They make it clear to our teams and stakeholders why we believe we have a strong idea. By creating a narrative that starts with “why” and ends up with “how” we get our ideas heard. We make people care. And when people care, that’s when our work gets implemented.

What I've been up to

I'm working exclusively on client delivery these days with several large clients focused on OKR training and coaching as well as Lean UX and Lean Product Management training. With the summer nearly upon us I'm excited for a few weeks of vacation with family after a very busy spring season.

Watch, Listen, Read

Watch: Prehistoric Planet -- Every 10 years or so the dinosaur genre gets better. That cycle has come around again. This new show on Apple TV+ truly is amazing to watch with the whole family.

Listen: Jorja Smith -- I just came back from a big music festival and this was one of the surprise highlights for me. British soul singer Jorja Smith owned the crowd of ~50k people and blew me away. So good.

Read: Build by Tony Fadell -- Just getting started here but this already feels like a very practical version of the Steve Jobs biographies. Much more here on process and how they built things than the person behind it all.

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