What does your product do?

When it gets dark, I turn on a light.

I can work, cook, read—long after sundown. I can see where I’m going, avoid the dog toys on the floor, and not run into furniture. If I need something that’s in the house, I can find it. The simple flip of a switch makes many things possible and solves many problems.

When I ask developers and engineering managers what their software product does, often, they don’t tell me. They regale me details equivalent to explaining the production of electricity, starting from mining coal until the switch closes a circuit. It’s all about the technical how.

Your customers may be interested in the technical how. They certainly want to know the what—what is possible on their side of the metaphorical light switch when they use your product.

It’s useful for the team to know, too. A short statement that answers three questions clarifies purpose and focuses attention:

  • What benefit does our product create?
  • What problem does our product solve?
  • For which group of people?

This clarity informs priorities, and helps people defer non-essential features. It helps keep focus on who will use the software, and how it will help them. When every member of the team can articulate the answer to these questions, they can make better decisions—and that almost always results in a product that is a better fit for function.

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