The heart of a good product or service is related to the value it provides. Articulating value is however not that easy. It’s much easier to measure efficiency, cost, lead times, and profit. However, none of these really tell you how much value you are providing. It just tells you how efficient you are at producing something, not that you’re producing something that users value.
What is Value?
In order to measure something you first need to understand it. From my perspective, you can’t separate value from good design. After all, Apple has been one of the most loved, and most profitable brands globally as a direct result of its focus on design, rather than features. Essentially value – and good design – is good problem solving, or more positively phrased, solution finding. It’s about uncovering needs and finding a way to meet those needs.
Apple made computers available to the general public who wasn’t computer literate while all the competitors at the time required specialized skills to use and maintain computers. The value they created was to give computing power to the average Joe. No longer did they have to rely on expensive consultants for basic things.
Amazon, another giant success, provides value by making it so easy to get anything, anywhere, and at a reasonable cost. With most people having a 9 – 5 day job and very little time to drive around searching for goods in different shops, they make shopping from the comfort of your home possible and removed the friction of complicated checkout processes with their famous one-click check-out. All are delivered to your doorstep within hours of placing the order.
Attributes of Value
With these examples in mind, and using the circular economy as the foundation, the core attributes of value include:
The first attribute of value is needs. What do people need? What problems do they experience? Where is the friction in the process?
Most companies tend to want to hear good news and focus on customer satisfaction. This is of course important, but it doesn’t tell you what the needs are that allow you to create even more value. To uncover needs you have to be willing to hear what customers don’t like, even if it is out of your control.
The second attribute of value is the frequency (rather than number) of use. How regularly do users use your product or service? Do they use it once a year, once a month, or every week, or do they come back daily and refer it to a friend because it’s so good?
The value of an item increases the more it is used. Many companies focus on adding new features and products without looking at the frequency of use. In software development, it is common to have as much as 80% of features in complicated systems unused. That means all the effort and resources that went into the feature were wasted to a large extent.
This brings me to the third and final core attribute of value, namely the length a product remains usefully alive. The longer a product remains useful and wanted by the users, the more valuable it becomes. Think about antiques for example, which becomes more valuable the older it gets. Apple, yet again, demonstrates how building robust computers rather than the disposable assets created by some of the competitors increases the perception of value. Most users are willing to pay more for a Macbook because they know it will last for decades.
Taking these attributes of value into consideration, here are my recommended measurements to know the value you’re producing, honestly:
The emotional experience of the user
Rather than asking customers how happy they are with your product, ask about their level of frustration while using the product, as well as add an open-ended field to ask which feature specifically and what about it frustrated them most.
The more frustrated, the lower the value, the more relaxed, the higher the value. This would tell me whether you’re solving the right problem.
The Frequency of Use
Using some form of analytics, evaluate how frequently all the features are being used. Focus on completion rather than starting. It can only be considered “used” if the process was completed.
How regularly do people use the feature? It’s not so much about the count of uses over time than how regularly they come back to use that matters.
The Lifetime of the Product/Feature
Think of the Volkswagen Citi Golf, which was officially unveiled back in 1975. In South Africa, where I live, Volkswagen stopped producing it only in 2009, which made it the longest and most efficient production plant in car manufacturing at the time. While most car manufacturers replaced or upgraded their models, the Citi Golf remained unchanged and in high demand for decades.
Measure the duration from releasing it first to production to the date that it is retired or discontinued. How long does the product remain useful?
In the circular economy, the less waste there is, the more cost-effective the product being produced is. Measuring the amount of waste in the production process thus directly relates to the value of the product, as it decreases the cost of production.
How much waste does your product produce?
Focus on one key measure as measuring everything will dilute the context. In software development, by far the biggest waste is the number of unused features as the key input is knowledge workers.
And finally, would you recommend it to a friend? Often people use products because there’s no alternative, especially in a corporate setting where there is no choice.
Take Jira, one of the most used (and thus successful) task management tools available, which is probably the most disliked tool by the people who actually use it. To reflect the sentiment held by most users, there was a tweet a few weeks after Elon Musk bought twitter and fired a large portion of the employees, and shut down a number of microservices which resulted in service disruption saying “@Elon I dare you to buy Jira.”. People only use it because they’re forced, not because it’s valuable.
If people were given a choice, would they use your product? Would they recommend it to a friend?
Images courtesy of Depositphotos
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With more than 20 years experience in the software development industry, Kate specializes in helping teams get unstuck, communicate better and ultimately be more productive. She believes in efficiency through fun implementing lean, agile and playful design as tools for process improvement and organizational change. Her goal is to create more happy, healthy and whole workplaces where each person thrives and productivity soars.