By Richard Eichen, Managing Principal, Return on Efficiency, LLC
Yesterday, I purchased a replacement electric toothbrush, which came with a Quick Start Guide showing placing the device in one’s mouth near the teeth, and 12 pages of illustrated instructions. It also has multiple settings accessible from the front via button selectors. The better version has Bluetooth, and I assume the best version includes a satellite link and mouth-cam to post the experience. Still, like a toothbrush, it attacks the same problem as its predecessors, oral hygiene. It looks like a product overloaded with dubious features, probably intended to differentiate a tooth cleaning apparatus from a toothbrush, following this evolutionary path:
|Product||User Goal||When Introduced to Market||Conceptual Breakthrough Required of Customer||# of Features||Usefulness Lifespan|
|Twig||Oral Hygiene||3000BC||Ability to identify poison oak and ivy||1||Short|
|Stick Toothbrush||Oral Hygiene||1498||Use over longer period of time||1||Medium|
|Synthetic Stick Toothbrush||Oral Hygiene||1938||Purchase rather than make themselves||1||Medium|
|Electric Toothbrush||Oral Hygiene||1954||Overcoming fear of having a plugged in device near their wet mouth||1||Medium|
|Rechargeable Electric Toothbrush||Oral Hygiene||2000||Recharging so it becomes another personal electronic device like a phone||1||Medium|
|Overthought Electric Toothbrush||Oral Hygiene||2015||Why is this a customizable experience? Can’t AI do it better?||3||Medium|
When we develop new physical products, especially those controlled by software (and hence easily updateable), we have to be very careful to manage our urge to brainstorm a large set of features and settings to be whittled down later. The issue, as pointed out by Jason Perez and the Interaction Design Foundation, is by thinking options and possibilities, the internal focus remains within established processes of proposing and delivering a set of product attributes and then seeing which the customer prefers. It is classic inside-out thinking.
Tradition-bound companies assume a fixed customer expectation set to satisfy and do not understand when their customer and market have changed, particularly regarding velocity and continuous comparison by customers to their related, if not the same, experiences. Many of these companies have unknowingly transcended industries to consumer electronics, and have to adjust to a new customer relationship, rather than continuously trying to leverage existing manufacturing and distribution investments.
Tradition-bound Product Management functions have been successful for decades building discrete products, rather than having an updateable platform, but can experience fear of the unknown since the expected software refresh cycle in their new market is unfamiliar and faster than their usual cadence. Car companies’ cabin technology around nav systems is an example, where customers compare their experience to Waze and other continually refreshed products. As a Porsche owner recently said, “how come my 911 can’t get new software features just like my phone?”
Companies in markets under transition from physically instantiated features realized per a roadmap to software driven continuous improvement have to start with the customer’s goals and realize their product is a User Interface platform for a continuously evolving experience journey with their customers.