Five ways to reshape the customer-centric product development process

Building products quickly to meet customer needs is more important than ever, especially as customer expectations continue to evolve. According to a recent study from Zendesk, 70 percent of consumers spend more with companies that offer fluid, personalized, and seamless customer experiences. For IT leaders, it’s not sufficient to focus on building things as required, their first focus needs to be on building the right thing. This means establishing a customer-centric product development process that supports discovering what customers really need and bringing a valuable product to market that meets their needs.

The most effective way to bring customer-centric products to market is to develop them incrementally and iteratively, with experimentation to discover how to best fulfill customer needs and with fast feedback to improve the quality of the product.

However, in many organizations, the product development process has become a bureaucratic project management process with development activities siloed amongst functional departments.

When customer needs and feedback are no longer central factors in product development decisions, companies end up launching products that are unattractive or even irrelevant despite considerable investment and a diligent development process.

The better tactic is to shift your approach from typical project management toward product development.

1. Organize by products and value streams

To become customer-centric, organizations must prioritize the work that delivers the most value to customers. This starts by understanding how your company creates value throughout the organization and that all organizational decisions are aligned to value creation.

For individual products, that means listening to customer feedback to create a value proposition that best identifies what customers want the most from their products or services.

To do this effectively at scale, the organization needs to be structured and aligned with how its products and services create value for its customers.

2. Fund capabilities for the long-term

Although budgets are tight for many organizations, investing in product development is still crucial for long-term success. By arming teams with budgets to maintain the continuous development of the product at any stage, companies can prioritize building enduring key capabilities. By undertaking continuous improvement, IT teams can help their organization stay ahead of the competition. With encouragement to constantly explore new ways of improving processes, and by making small changes when needed, new ideas can be tested quickly for the long-term health of the product.

3. Compete for value propositions

Organizations should focus on where value exists and how product teams might validate it throughout an experimental development process. Creating a unique value proposition compared to competitors with established company-wide success is not only the job of product development, but also marketing and sales.

Product leaders must translate business strategy into a coherent product strategy and ensure that the organization is working on the most valuable things for customers. All of this is driven by clear, data-driven goals and performance metrics that will naturally outpace competitors.

4. Govern for discovery

Prioritize continual product discovery and validation to gain insight into what’s working and enable increased agility in building the right thing. Continuous product discovery is important as it not only improves your product in line with your users’ wishes but also fosters cooperation between your teams as they work together to build a new project. Both help increase efficiency, improve your product, and maximize its business value.

5. Cultivate a culture of empowerment

Prioritize ensuring that your team has the information they need to do the best job possible and is empowered to experiment and learn from mistakes. Unlike other forms of leadership, a culture of empowerment encourages people to play to their strengths, grow and develop, and build self-confidence. It brings out the best in people in service of a higher purpose while helping to retain top talent.

Organizations need a better way to think about delivering value that embraces customer-centricity with iterative and incremental development cycles, fast and frequent customer feedback, and experimentation to keep product quality high. It all starts with changing your mindset to a customer-centric product development approach — putting the wants and needs of the customer first when starting the next big project. By thinking long-term about value, function, discovery, and empowerment, IT teams can build the best products for their customers.

Image credit: AndrewLozovyi/

Fredrik Hagstroem is Chief Technology Officer at Emergn.