Tips and Tricks from Product Makers: How to Design More Resilient Products
Understanding the “what,” “why,” and “how” behind resilient products, from Jess McMullin
For product people, it’s always easy to design for happy users. But if you let that dominate your work, you run the risk of your products not being ready when things go wrong (and believe us, they will go wrong eventually).
Jess McMullin, a human-centered management consultant and the founder of Situ Strategy, spoke at a Product Makers community event on how to design resilient products that can stand up to real-world turbulence.
Watch the recording of his webinar to get all of Jess’ insights and tips. Or, keep reading for some of the takeaways from his session.
First things first — what is resiliency in product?
Resilient product design means that your product (or service) continues to provide value even in the face of the unexpected. To help you better understand what makes a product “resilient,” Jess breaks down the four facets of resilience:
- Strength. How much can your product endure? For example, can your servers withstand a high volume of traffic?
- Flexibility. Can your product (and the team) pivot and adapt to changing conditions in the marketplace?
- Readiness. How prepared are you when things go off the rails?
- Repairability. When things do go wrong, how easy is it to fix the problem(s)?
The important thing to keep in mind is that resilient product design comes with a choice. Sometimes, being resilient means you’ll have to sacrifice speed to market, innovation, or new features. Which of these can you set aside in favor of building a more resilient product?
Why does resilient product design matter?
Developing resiliency can be hard work and may need resources and time, which begs the question: Why should you bother?
Jess points out that not all paths are happy — sometimes, things just don’t work the way they should for people. After all, we live in a VUCA world (that’s volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous). This is compounded by the fact that no product is an island, which means that your users will be using other products and services as well, and that complexity can throw a wrench in your product’s performance.
This means that if your product can withstand whatever this VUCA world throws at it, then you’ll see a great payoff on the other end of that turbulence in the form of lower support costs and improved staff morale (cause nobody wants to spend their time putting out fires!).
But most importantly, people tend to have more brand loyalty when the customer experience goes wrong and gets fixed than when nothing goes wrong at all. If you prepare your product to handle tough situations, you’ll ultimately end up with a stronger customer base than before.
So how do you make resilient products?
Of course, the hardest part of this whole process is actually designing resilient products. Jess brings up the traditional failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) approach as a good foundation.
With FMEA, you identify as many possible failures as you can, categorize them and examine causes and effects, rate the risk to get a risk priority number (RPN), then follow up with corrective action.
In theory, this sounds great, but it can also take months or years, as well as a big investment of resourcing and money, which many SaaS companies can’t afford. To solve this, Jess suggests tweaking the approach with a fast failure mode and effects analysis (or FFMEA). This functions as a kind of product crash test and can help you get useful data much quicker. Here’s how you get started:
- Look at a prototype that represents the entire product or service — this can be prepped in advance if you’re short on time, but would ideally be created as a team
- Have everyone brainstorm potential failures individually
- Sort these ideas and identify any commonalities (an easy way to do this is to see which clusters of ideas are the biggest) — those will be your failure modes
Jess also recommends creating adversarial personas. Again, it’s easy to have a persona for your happy users, but you have to keep in mind that not all users will like your product. With adversarial personas, you’ll be better equipped to understand the real challenges, difficulties, opinions, and imperfections your users might face and address them from the get-go. Just be careful not to stereotype or be too extreme with your personas, as that won’t do you any good.
Start on your path to resiliency
You’ll have a long road ahead of you to create truly resilient products, but it’ll ultimately be worth it. Be sure to watch the full recording and join the Productboard Product Makers community for more insightful events.