Asking good questions

8 11 2007

One of the coolest things about developing a new product is the endless supply of ideas that are available from people who will eventually use it. In my case these people are climbing wall managers and employees at University recreation centers, and I’ve found that most of them are willing (and even excited) to share their ideas and suggestions…as long as I ask the right questions.

Asking good questions of would-be users is one of the keys to understanding the true potential of the project, and the true size of the market. Here are a few basic questions that I’ve come up with that I think I’ll use with pretty much any potential product:

  • What is the most painful part of ________?
  • How do you envision technology improving ________?
  • Where do you see ________ in 5 years with technology?
  • If you were thinking about purchasing software for ________, who would you talk to about it?

The first three questions help me see the current gaps in the application and effectiveness of technology. They also help me (and those I’m talking with) develop a bigger picture of what could be possible with a particular product. The last question helps me understand who else I should be talking to about this particular issue. From my experience this last question will enable me to more clearly define the market for my product and identify those constituents who could help market my product to others.

I recently asked the above questions (along with a few others) to my current set of beta testers — the word in the blank was, of course, climbing wall management. I got some great responses, and I plan to follow up on each of them to let my testers know that their ideas are being heard. The hope is that this will create an environment for the free flow of ideas, so that soon I won’t need to ask my testers how the product can be improved…they’ll tell me anyway.

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