Designing OSS products by focus groups

It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
Steve Jobs
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The quote above is highly relevant for Steve Jobs’ target audience, which was a mass-market retail model where it’s simply not viable to design custom solutions for ever customer.

The OSS market is vastly different, as there are far fewer customers and those customers tend to be massive corporate organisations that have unique needs. They invariably expect OSS vendors to accommodate their unique needs (whether they pay accordingly or not).

However, the quote remains relevant to the OSS world for a couple of key reasons:

  1. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them – Projects often get strangled by documentation, meetings, discussions, etc largely through the fear of the unknown. Questions arise like, “What will the product look like,” “How will we be able to operate it,” etc). If you have the ability to deliver a working product framework (or prototype), you are far more likely to get helpful feedback rather than blockades
  2. It’s really hard to design products by focus groups – You will want to retain control over the core product design so that it is in line with the needs of your whole TAM (Total Addressable Market), not just the perspectives from within a single customer. The better approach is to build a solution based on benefits (see yesterday’s blog) and workshop the fine-tuning of that solution with many customer stakeholders after you show it to them (reference to the previous point)

Please note that I’m not saying to ignore the customer when creating new product innovations. It’s more a case of intuiting your customers’ needs and problems when building prototypes to trial with them.

As Mario D’Amico, senior VP of marketing at Cirque du Soleil said, “Why do we want to ask what our audience thinks? We don’t care what they think. How can people tell you what they want if they haven’t seen it before? If we ask them what they want, we’ll end up doing Swan Lake every year!

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