• Managing Your Innovation Program

Develop Products More Effectively

Product Managers and Product Teams face no shortage of ideas about how their product should change over time. From executives, to sales, marketing, and of course customers, everyone has an idea about how something could be added or updated to make the product better. Great Product Teams seek this feedback, but need a better, more systematic way to validate potential product updates before investing in building enhancements or new products.

This Guide describes moving away from an email and spreadsheet approach to using Kindling for managing the flow of product ideas, thereby empowering Product Teams to build better products.


People are not shy about suggesting ideas for product enhancements—the CEO has an idea about a new feature, Sales is hearing about a competitive feature that is being well-received by the market, Marketing wants to focus on features to attract new users, the Support Team listens to the biggest pain points, and customers voice (sometimes yell) their views about how the product should evolve.

If there’s one thing Product Teams are not lacking for, it's a constant flow of ideas about how their product should evolve to meet the needs of different constituents. However, without a systematic process, teams can struggle to ensure they're focusing scarce resources on the highest impact, validated enhancements that customers and potential customers desire.

Managing this flow of information, validating potential product enhancements, and communicating openly and transparently to maintain an inclusive culture can be a constant challenge for Product Teams. And attempting to manage all of this over email and in spreadsheets alone is lossy and inefficient. In contrast, Kindling provides a central, canonical, searchable platform for engaging all of these constituents in a long-running conversation about the design and evolution of a product.

Set a Context

A first, major difference between Kindling and an email and spreadsheet approach to managing potential product ideas is context. Email is contextless—people can open up email and send the Product Team any idea on any topic they choose. In Kindling, conversation are bound by context—product goals, a particular focus for the team, or a nagging question.

Producttalk's Teresa Torres describes how her Product Team at Aftercollege set up quarterly product goals in Kindling:

Each quarter we had a product goal that we were aggressively charging after. The product and engineering teams had a plan for how we were going to hit these goals, but we knew we would encounter setbacks and that others in the company may have better ideas.

At the beginning of each quarter, we launched a new campaign in Kindling. A campaign is like issuing a challenge – it's a way of asking for help generating idea around a particular topic on a fixed timeline. One quarter, we were trying to increase the percentage of our active users who were trying out our new Explore tool. We asked the entire company to help us generate ideas for how we could do this. As part of the details of the campaign, we outlined what our goal was, any constraints we wanted people to keep in mind, and the timeline we had for hitting the goal.

Note Teresa’s use of context to help inform the audience as to what the Product Team was trying to accomplish. The more background information and data provided to the audience, the more likely it is that they will submit relevant, useful ideas in response.

Casting a wide net is fine too. Set a very broad context if the goal is to capture any potential idea for consideration. Teresa, again:

What if someone had an idea that wasn't related to the goal? Was there somewhere to capture that? Yes. As well as time-bound campaigns, Kindling also supports categories – collections of ideas that are not based on a fixed time period. We had a category for general product ideas. There were no requirements for this category. They didn't have to be related to our goals. They didn't have to be short-term or long-term strategies. This was our spot for capturing any idea as they occurred. We did encourage people to explain how their idea was consistent with our vision or how it would impact our success metrics. But these weren't strict requirements.

Context can be set to capture incremental ideas for small improvements or ideas for entirely new product lines, or anything in between. The important thing, though, is that the Product Team gets to set that context and pay the most attention to those ideas in the specific areas of focus.

Start with a current, realistic Campaign, and run it for a few weeks. This will introduce people to the new process, they'll see end-to-end decision-making, and you'll get great ideas to help with something real.

Choose an Audience

There are many potential audiences that a Product Team might want to engage with to discuss, validate, and evaluate potential product ideas. They may engage the entire organization with a Campaign, or be more targeted by interacting with Sales and Marketing, or may want to speak directly to customers.

It's easy to control the audience with Kindling's Groups. Once Sales, Marketing, and the Customer Focus Group are set up as Kindling Groups, they can always be referred to to control access to any Category or Campaign.

Once you're experienced with your workflow in Kindling, invite your best customers to directly contribute with your team. Getting feedback through the support and sales organizations is great, but having a direct line of communication with customers allows you to hear directly from those using your product.

Ideas are Conversations

Once the audience is chosen, and the context launched, people will begin to suggest and discuss ideas. An active Product Team should view this as an opportunity—to hear directly from each constituency how they each think the product should evolve. And by engaging, centrally, in a conversation, the idea can begin to be validated.

At Kindling, 50+ of our favorite customers participate in a Category in our Kindling discussing enhancement ideas. The Kindling Product Team loves hearing from customers about what’s working, and importantly, what isn't working. Through these discussions, ideas evolve, patterns emerge, and demand for a feature can be gauged.

All ideas are conversations, and having a centralized, canonical place for these conversations pays immediate dividends and provides long-term value.

The Product Team ideally views these conversations as valuable, and not as a distraction. If people, from executives to Sales to Customers are motivated enough to engage in conversations about the product, this becomes an essential flow of data to inform the product's evolution.

Fill out your Product Team with people who like to engage with others, they'll view their interactions with the rest of the organization, and with partners and customers, as an essential part of their job.

Validation is Essential

Great Product Teams validate the impact of potential product changes before investing resources. Will the change drive additional usage? Will it help acquire new customers? Is the investment in resources required to execute the change worth it? Perhaps more than anyone, the Lean Startup movement has been an important voice in stressing how essential validated learning is:

When you focus on figuring the right thing to build-the thing customers want and will pay for-you need not spend months waiting for a product beta launch to change the company's direction.

By creating a systematic approach to validated learning, the Product Team is always maximizing the impact of their potential product changes.

With Kindling at the front of the product development process, Product Teams have a place to track potential product changes from inception, through validation, learning, iteration, and ultimately rejection or inclusion in the product roadmap. These activities manifest themselves in Kindling via the configurable evaluation workflow steps, and by assigning and tracking validation work taking place against potential ideas.

The more evidence your Product Team uses in their decision-making, and the more they share this with the organization, the less likely it will be that people feel like their ideas aren't being considered. Evidence and transparency build trust.

Communicate Decisions

Product Management, at its core, is all about effective communication. From goal-setting, to idea submission, collaboration, consideration, validation, and ultimately decisions leading to inclusion on the product roadmap, the product management process is an exercise in communication. And the best Product Teams are often the best communicators.

Product Teams using Kindling can leverage networks of people, inside and outside of the organization, to look for ideas, and to help evaluate those ideas. They can organize their conversations around goals for the product, and further organize conversations by Tag (for example, by tagging ideas by feature / featureset). And the entire scope of the product management process can be improved by communication with Kindling, from goal-setting all the way through to release notes as ideas become real changes made to the product.

Kindling at the front-end of the product management process enables Product Teams to listen across multiple channels for input, rigorously validate ideas for their potential impact on the organization’s goals, and communicate decisions back to the community. This creates a positive feedback loop, ensuring continued participation, and excitement, throughout the entire network of people who care about the product.

View the communication of a decision not as tedious work, but as a marketing opportunity. Decisions become the ultimate moment to discuss why an idea did or did not make the roadmap, further educating the community about what types of ideas the Product Team is seeking.

Give it a Try: Consider using Kindling to organize the ideas in the run-up to a Hackathon. It's a great way to build momentum ahead of the event, and will make the time spent at the event more productive, as there will be articulated ideas to choose from. Use the volunteer function of Kindling to gauge people’s interest in each idea and to help organize people into teams.