New Product Development Strategy: Often-Overlooked Ideas for Creating a Winner Team Published: 26 Jul 2018 Updated: 30 Jun 2023
treasure chest at the beach in a sunrise, jewels and gold coins
treasure chest at the beach in a sunrise, jewels and gold coins

Are You Searching for New Product Development Strategies in the Wrong Places?

You can find a zillion blogs offering similar ideas for coming up with a new product development strategy. Most will tell you to identify an unmet need or a challenge in the market, create a high-level vision for how you’ll solve that challenge, research your competitors, etc. If you’re new to product management, those step-by-step guides can save you a lot of time and keep you from veering off track, which happens often to Product Managers just starting their careers.

So, if you’re looking for a standard process for new product development, read our product strategy guide. Following the steps outlined in that guide has helped thousands of companies build successful products.

But there are other interesting ways to find new product ideas that many Product Managers never explore — often because they’re too busy dealing with their day-to-day responsibilities, and sometimes because these methods for finding great product ideas never occur to them.

Let’s discuss a few of these often-overlooked places where you might uncover a great new product strategy. If you know about them and your competitors don’t, these methods could give you a strategic advantage. 

1. Generate New Product Ideas from User Complaints

There are many reasons you should pay attention to your customers’ negative comments and complaints and act on them right away. If they’re making these statements publicly, other potential customers could see or hear them. And even if your unhappy customers send their complaints only to you directly, you’re far more likely to avert a disaster — such as them eventually broadcasting their frustrations on social media — if you respond quickly and with a plan to make things right.

But there’s another reason that listening for negative comments about your products can pay big dividends. As Bill Gates said, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”

Product wisdom: a collection of inspiring quotes

In fact, you might find your company’s next great product idea hidden in a complaint from a frustrated user. Case in point: the Haier Electronics clothing-and-vegetable washing machine. (Yep, that’s actually a thing.)

Real-world example: a winning product comes from a customer complaint.

Haier, a Chinese manufacturer of home appliances, received a complaint from a farmer who said that the drainage pipe on the washing machine he bought from the company was regularly getting clogged. And when the company sent someone out to repair the customer’s machine, they discovered something interesting.

In addition to using the machine to wash his clothes, this farmer also used it to wash the sweet potatoes he grew on his farm. And as the product team’s research uncovered, many farmers used their washing machines for the same purpose. But the dirt and soil from the vegetables quickly clogged the machine’s pipes, creating an ongoing challenge for this use case that the company didn’t even know existed.

The product team saw an opportunity — and designed a washing machine capable of washing both clothing and vegetables. And when they unveiled this product to their new market, farmers, Haier sold the first 10,000 units immediately. 

2. Find Product Ideas in Your Own Daily Frustrations

Another rich source of potential product ideas is your own life experience. Not every product, service, or process you encounter works as effectively as it should. In those moments when you find yourself frustrated by a poor experience, you might be uncovering a new product idea.

As Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia has said, “Anytime you see duct tape in the world, that’s a design opportunity.”

One great real-world example of this is the origin story of Uber. That multibillion-dollar business started when a couple of guys leaving a tech conference in Europe became frustrated at how long it took to get a taxicab.

Let’s review another example of how a frustrating personal experience led to product-strategy gold.

Real-world example: an industry-changing product comes from its founder’s disappointment with the status quo.

You’ve probably heard of Keurig, the home and office coffee machine that uses single-serving pods to brew coffee one cup at a time.

Keurig’s founder came up with the idea while working for a semiconductor company, where one of his unofficial roles was collecting contributions from coworkers to pay the office’s coffee vendor. Because he spent so much time as his company’s de facto coffee coordinator, this future entrepreneur had an opportunity to identify the flaws in the traditional process of producing coffee in an office or at home. His analysis uncovered the following challenges:

  • People have unique preferences for their coffee-to-water ratio, and a coworker (or family member) making a pot could rarely if ever address everyone’s varied tastes.
  • After a coworker brewed a pot and took a cup, the communal coffee pot would sit for hours getting colder, staler, and more bitter.

Recognizing the common theme among both problems — brewing coffee simply isn’t optimal as a community exercise — Keurig’s founder realized he could revolutionize the experience by developing a machine that enabled coffee drinkers to brew one cup at a time.

3. Discover Product Ideas from Secondary Personas

One final suggestion is to mine your product’s sales or usage data to learn which personas might have found and begun using your product organically — without any direct targeting from your company (and maybe even without your knowledge).

When businesses create a new product development strategy, they’re often focused narrowly on meeting the needs of a specific user persona. That’s a smart approach. You can’t build everything for everyone. Your team needs an effective product prioritization strategy to ensure you’re developing only the most strategically valuable functionality for your highly targeted customer segments.

The product management prioritization handbook

But sometimes, groups of users that you never considered part of your primary customer base manage to find your product on their own. And sometimes, learning how they’re using your product can lead to great ideas for customizing a version of your solution just for that new persona. 

Real-world example: Slack discovers marketing teams are using its app — and builds functionality to attract millions more of them.

Slack’s founding team was focused on creating a collaboration workspace for tech businesses, with engineers as the app’s initial user persona.

But interestingly, the company soon discovered that other departments (marketing, sales, HR, etc.) were learning about Slack from their engineering coworkers and using it themselves.

Slack, you probably know, is a highly successful example of the product-led growth approach — where a business makes its solution (typically software) so compelling and easy to use that it quickly propagates across an organization. But even this product-led company didn’t realize how many different teams, each with its own needs and processes, would soon be using the app to collaborate.

As they discovered that these non-technical personas were using Slack, the company’s product and customer experience teams began studying these users’ behaviors in the app and learning which types of functionality they could develop to make Slack more of a natural fit for a non-technical team’s daily workflows.

That research led to new features such as workflow automation and integrations with popular marketing and sales tools — which in turn attracted millions more non-technical business teams onto the Slack platform.

Get Creative: Don’t Limit Yourself in the Search for a New Product Strategy 

Often you’ll find that the best method of developing a successful product strategy is simply to follow the tried-and-true approach we discussed in the introduction. Going through those standard steps — from identifying a market need, to building a backlog of ideas, to creating your product roadmap — has proven effective at helping product teams in every industry develop and launch successful products.

And the process itself doesn’t need to be difficult. In fact, we have an entire webinar devoted to uncomplicating product strategy.

Uncomplicating product strategy: a practical approach

If you go this standard route, one of the best ways to make the process work is to pull all of the information you’ll need — backlog, persona definitions, user feedback, prioritization exercises, roadmap, capacity planning — into a central location so your team can see the full picture as you work on developing a viable product strategy.

And if you’d like help finding the best product management platform to help you pull all of that information into a seamless strategic view, check out our free Product Management Platform Buyer’s Guide.

But if your team has tried those standard steps and you haven’t yet uncovered your next great product idea — or if you just want to explore more innovative approaches — we suggest mining the potential gold in the sources we’ve outlined. And to recap, those unconventional sources include:

  • Customer complaints.
  • Product usage by personas you didn’t originally target but who found your product on their own.
  • Your own struggles or disappointments with the products you use.

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