Blog Making it Easier for You to Think About the Things That Matter

At Videology, we’re fortunate to work in a B2B industry with some really, really smart people as end-users of our applications.  This means that we get to build products with interesting, complex features that help our users do amazing things and run successful businesses.  Ad Operations professionals are incredibly tech-savvy, efficient-minded people - their tolerance for wasted effort, confusing workflows, and incorrect information is small (yes, we read ‘What Happens in AdOps’ too).  At the same time, these users are making big decisions every day which drive big results for big brands.  A great operations team wins by accurately and swiftly conducting their mechanical work and synthesizing complex information to make the right call day after day after day.

At Videology, we often have difficult product decisions and concerns like:

  • Will this new feature be too complex?
  • Should we allow a custom choice here?
  • Do we need to allow the user to do this?
  • Should all users have access to this option?
  • Can we combine this process into a single step?

These are product execution problems, not product vision problems - and they are the problems our sophisticated user base depends on us to get right.  Fortunately, they can be the key to understanding what to do - this user base makes the following two product management principles all the more clear and important:

  • Don’t make your users think about things they don’t need to think about.
  • Make it easy for your users to think about things that matter.

Those two guiding principles make the problems easier to work out - and provide a nice heuristic for solving them.  Take the first example above - a common product management problem - “Will this new feature be too complex?”

First, we need to determine whether this is something the user needs to think about - and I mean really think about.  Logging into the platform shouldn’t require thought (just rote recall of your password).  More complex things should require thought either, like accessing and downloading a billing report.  What do users need to think about?  Which client to pick when they can only sell to one.  Which product line to include to meet the client’s metrics.  What to do when they need to turn performance around in the next 24 hours.

If the feature helps the user complete a task they don’t need to think about, the product should get out of their way.  That doesn’t mean it can’t be complex - it means the complexity must help the user think less.  A great example of this is the ubiquitous ‘enter your address’ feature found on every commerce site under the sun.  I don’t want to have to think for a second about how to get my address from my database (my brain) to their database.  A complex implementation can make that more likely by:

  • Including a special entry field for Apartment/Suite number (so I don’t have to think about whether to include it one Address Line 1 or Address Line 2).
  • Filling in my country as United States after I’ve entered a state abbreviation.
  • Warning me when I’ve mistyped my postal code (because it doesn’t match the state I’ve entered).

When the feature helps the user complete a task they do need to think about, the product should help them think.  Again, this doesn’t answer the question of “should this be complex,” it reframes it as “does this complexity make it more likely for the user to make the right decision?”  Great analytics packages don’t just provide raw data to the user, they automatically highlight and present relevant insights.  What use is knowing that your average metric (pick whatever you like; traffic, ad clicks, dollars per order) is down 5% without knowing that the drop is driven by one offending issue?

Products go sour when these wires get crossed, when a product isn’t feature-rich enough to help you make the big call, or when a product is overladen with hoops that don’t let you have enough time to make that call.  Great products let great users do great things.  In summary it boils down to the answer to one question - should your user be thinking?

  • If the answer is yes - make it really easy for them to think.
  • If the answer is no - make it completely unnecessary for them to think.

Barry Wright III

VP, Product Management

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