As a product person, it’s important that you have a good understanding of the context in which you work so that you can make sure you’re tackling the right problems.
In How to be an agile business analyst, I described several areas you can focus on to build an understanding of your context.
One area of focus I didn’t include in the book was the future. Specifically what your customer’s needs will be 5, 10, even 30 years from now.
Since I didn’t cover that aspect of context in the book, here some resources on how to predict the future for the purpose of guiding your product decisions today.
Included in the resources is a post I wrote for Product Collective that explains why Ken Norton thinks you should look 30 years into the future.
Don’t worry (or don’t be disappointed, depending on your outlook) there’s nothing in here about crystal balls or fortune tellers. Just some good thoughts on trying to spot trends before they happen and how to use that insight to make today’s product decisions.
Predict the future for your product
At INDUSTRY: The product Conference in 2016, Ken Norton gave a keynote that encouraged product people to think about the world that their products will live within 30 years from now. It may seem extreme, but Ken suggested that this is not only possible but will make us all better as product people for the products we manage today.
Since that talk, Ken wrote an essay for product managers titled Predicting the Future that further explored that line of thought.
The right way to try to predict the future
The best innovations don’t start with ideas. They start by noticing evolving and emerging trends, and understanding customer needs. If you can gain insight from these two activities in a purposeful way you can identify emerging opportunities and needs and create meaningful new products and services. Jeffrey Phillips calls this “creating context” for innovation–gaining understanding about where markets and customers are heading and the challenges and problems they have before trying to generate ideas.
This approach isn’t necessarily radical or new, but few product people take the time to create context. Jeffrey shares some thoughts on how you can predict the future in order to shape a successful path for your product.
Predicting the future and focusing your innovation program
The best way to ensure that your business not only survives but thrives, is to know what the future holds. Many people profess to do this already but what exactly are they doing? From existing management information you might be able to predict the amount of time and resources required as well as the features of your competitive environment. How far in the future can you do this without resorting to sticking a wetted finger into the air? The answer is probably less than 12 months.
Derek Cheshire offers some advice on how to identify the drivers of future trends and develop new product and service ideas to drive your innovation program and your business.
What the companies that predict the future do differently
If knowledge is power, then predictive analytics promises the ultimate knowledge — that of the future. Such knowledge does not come easily, but the increasing density of digital information, deeper automated connections across companies, and increased storage and computing power create new options for enterprise leaders. For the first time in history, the predictive future — the increasing awareness and likelihood of potential future actions and outcomes — is within reach. No wonder, then, that executives have placed predictive analytics at the top of the executive agenda since 2012, according to a recent Accenture survey.
But to know more about potential future actions and outcomes and their probability — and to act on that knowledge — organizations are engaging in new kinds of relationships. Jeanne Harris and Mark McDonald (no relation) share in the Harvard Business Review the three things that the most forward-looking organizations do differently.
How successful entrepreneurs predict the future
Understanding current trends isn’t the key to business success. If you are planning on growth based on the fact that you are “in the know” as to what’s going on, you’re probably going to fail. Those big trends that are already starting to emerge are already on a hundred other entrepreneurs’ radar. Tapping into them makes you nothing more than an also-ran.
Dan Blacharski explains that It’s not the ability to spot trends that are already there that is important — it’s the ability to predict trends that haven’t happened yet. Willingness to take action when everyone else thinks you’re crazy is what makes geniuses.