As Product Managers, we know that what makes a product really powerful is when it solves a clear problem for the customer. We discover these problems through research and living in customers shoes as much as possible. If we do it right, it’s not hard to discover new features, product line extensions, and even new products. In baseball terminology, these are singles, doubles, and triples. In order to hit a home run, you have to uncover something that the customer doesn’t even realize that they are missing – a latent need, or as my buddy and fellow Austinite Roger Cauvin calls it, a dormant problem:
Before the advent of e-mail, few people or companies considered written communication to be inefficient or a problem. Yet imagine a company like Dell scrapping the use of e-mail and going back to using paper notes and memos for their internal communications. Not only would it be inconvenient, it would have a devastating impact on their bottom line. It was not apparent just how inefficient written communication had been until we started using e-mail. Inefficient written communication, therefore, was a dormant problem.
In 2006, Nike and Apple teamed up to create an extension to the Apple iPod Nano that they named the Nike+iPod. It consists of a small plug-in receiver that fits the bottom of the Nano, and a tiny featherweight sensor that fits inside special Nike running shoes (or attach it to any old running shoe with a pouch). With a firmware update for the Nano available through iTunes, the iPod can receive data from the sensor. As you run, the Nano receives and stores data from the sensor such as pace, distance, estimated calories burned, and time elapsed. You can create a workout playlist and listen to your favorite songs as you run. You can even designate a “powersong;” hit the center button when you need a boost and it will play.
When you sync your iPod with iTunes, it automatically downloads the data and uploads it to nikeplus.com, where you can view charts showing how your pace changed over distance. The really slick features is that you can set goals: distance, pace, calories, and other running specific metrics. You can even challenge other runners (even groups) to compete, e.g. “first runner to 50 miles,” or collaborate, e.g. “the twenty of us will run 1000 miles in February.”
I’m in average shape: 5’10”, 180 lbs, play basketball 2x/week – I’ve always “wanted” to get into running. The problem is that I hate running. In basketball, running is part of the game; there is a goal, and running is a means to the end. Running for the sake of running always seemed pointless to me and I had trouble making myself do it. When I saw the Nike+iPod I realized that the only thing I love more than my hate of running is competition. Now that I can compete with myself and others easily and I am motivated to get out and run as much as possible. I’ve already logged more miles in the last week than I did in the last year.
Nike and Apple hit a home run for me on this product – my latent need was making running fun, and I didn’t even know it!
The “singles” and “doubles” are usually very easy for most good Product Managers to uncover. If you’re not careful, you can spend the rest of your life making base hits – being average. One of my goals this year is to spend more time swinging for the fences trying to uncover dormant problems that will lead to explosive growth for my company. Oh, and also to run 198 miles in 2007 – the distance from my house in Austin to my parents house in San Antonio and back.
If you have a Nike+iPod and are interested in starting a Product Manager challenge group, drop a note in the comments below!