Is your product team feeling stifled?

The two tracks of the product lifecycle: why it might be time for your team to start thinking about V2.

In almost a decade of working in design and UX, I’ve come to think that companies with digital products usually end up on one of two tracks. These tracks ultimately have a profound impact on the company’s ability to grow and innovate.

Track One

Track One almost never happens. It involves a high level of investment and execution by a strong design and development team — whether internal or external — gifted with time, internal capacity, a commitment to sustainability, a clear product vision, and a strong product-market fit.

When a company is lucky enough to be on Track One, the product is built on a strong foundation. The ongoing activities of the team strengthen and build off of that foundation, which allows them to focus on creating meaningful new features and ideas by identifying unmet user needs and opportunities.

“Maintenance” activities like UI refinements, brand identity evolution, or platform upgrades can be done on a regular basis. While it requires everlasting commitment from the product team around sustainable development and design practices, it’s relatively easy to adopt evolving UX and tech patterns and best-practices, and rarely calls for fundamental shifts in user flows or information architecture.

Track One is the dream. It’s also a unicorn. You’re probably not on Track One.

Track Two

Track Two is what usually happens. It involves the team creating and shipping a minimum viable (or lovable) product, whether or not the team deliberately set out to create an MVP.

An MVP is an experiment with purpose: it’s a tool for achieving market validation, traction, and growth.

v1

An MVP is a brilliant approach to learning about our users and uncovering their needs, exploring and validating our ideas, and launching something quickly with the goal of constantly learning and iterating to improve the product.

However, when your company is on Track Two, you must recognize that you’ve created just that: an MVP.

It’s more likely than not that the product has a weaker foundation. While this foundation will help us reach market validation and initial traction and growth, it’s likely that before long, tech and design debt will become a reality.

It might start to feel like creating new features often seems like trying to fit square pegs into round holes.

It might start to feel like products that cross mobile and web platforms seem fragmented and inconsistent.

It might start to feel like it takes longer to carry out design and development projects than it “ought” to take.

It might start to feel demoralizing or pointless to carry out refinements, because they rarely solve underlying and fundamental product, usability, or technical challenges.

It might start to feel like decision-making around new features and projects is “prescriptive,” breaking down ideas and features until they reach something that might fit the team’s capacity to execute, rather than “innovative,” based on exploring new ways to solve user and business needs.

That’s why we need to deliberately start thinking about the next step in our product’s lifecycle: V2.

v2

When is it time to begin thinking about V2?

Jeff Bezos shared in his 2019 letter to shareholders:

Much of what we build at AWS is based on listening to customers. It’s critical to ask customers what they want, listen carefully to their answers, and figure out a plan to provide it thoughtfully and quickly (speed matters in business!). No business could thrive without that kind of customer obsession. But it’s also not enough. The biggest needle movers will be things that customers don’t know to ask for. We must invent on their behalf. We have to tap into our own inner imagination about what’s possible.

When your product is on Track Two, an MVP lets you move quickly, explore, and invent — until it doesn’t.

The clearest sign that it’s time to begin thinking about V2 is when your ability to invent is stifled.

Tech and design debt are stifling.

It’s also stifling to carry out a rebrand that doesn’t extend to the digital product, because it often can’t be authentically carried out within your MVP.

Many high-profile companies whose products many of us use every day — including Uber, Airbnb, Twitter, and Basecamp —recognized when it was time, and moved decisively towards V2 (or V3, or V4).

Why, then, don’t more products teams plan for V2?

First, it’s hard to quantify the value of V2 from a pure ROI perspective. It might cost $XXXX in salary to design and build V2, but you can’t easily say that V2 will directly generate an additional $XXXX in revenue, or that it’ll pay for itself in YY time.

Second, the fallacy of sunk costs tends to rear its ugly head: an existing product represents a large investment of time, energy, and money — whether or not it’s an MVP.

Third — and in my view, most dangerously — many companies don’t recognize that they’re on Track Two in the first place, and don’t realize that their product, for all intents and purposes, is an MVP.

That’s why you need to start building a vision for V2 as part of your product lifecycle.

V2: an investment in your future

V2 is an investment in your product’s future. It reflects the cumulation of everything you’ve learned about your product, your users, your team, and where you’re going. It’s an opportunity to reflect, to refocus, and revitalize your product.

Is it time for your team to start thinking about V2?

  • Product Strategy
  • Design