• Mark Syphus

What Does Your Product Say?

We’ve all seen cartoons where inanimate objects act alive – talking teapots, doors that shut themselves, toys with emotions, etc. Anthropomorphism can be found in a plethora of fiction stories. Yet when it comes to product development, anthropomorphism is no fantasy!

Every product conveys a human message whether intended or not. In order to understand how, let’s look at how a product is born.

Somebody, somewhere, has an idea. I could be fixing my bathroom sink stopper for the tenth time this year and suddenly realize a better way of making them that would prevent breaks. A marketing manager may be analyzing customer reviews and discover a product improvement that customers really want. A safety committee may be brainstorming ways to reduce accidents. The specifics may vary, but all product ideas come from needs and desires.

Once an idea is generated, business goals are set for such things as profit targets, sales volume, marketing strategy, brand image, company mission, etc. When the product starts being produced, production KPIs and quality specifications start coming into play: yield, throughput, uptime, available time, upper and lower specification limits, etc. In the end, a product is born.

All of these aspects of the conception of a product are voices:

The Voice of the Customer (VOC) tells you what your customers are demanding. A product that doesn’t break, a new feature, improved safety, etc.

The Voice of the Business (VOB) tells you what the business (i.e. the person/people in charge of the business) wants. If you’re working for a company, developing a product that is inconsistent with your company’s mission is unlikely to get you a promotion. Companies also have demands for resources required, return on investment, reputational risk, etc.

The Voice of the Process (VOP) is oftentimes overlooked. Sometimes people are so anxious to make a sale and hit their financial targets (VOC and VOB) that they make promises that are impossible to keep. Every process has its own needs and limitations. These can be chemical reactions, process steps, man-hours, max capacity of equipment, capability of the operator, etc.

VOC, VOB, and VOP all must be met if you want success. If you’re hitting your production quota (VOB) but upsetting customers (VOC), you’ll crash and burn eventually. Even if it has excellent customer reviews (VOC), a company may discontinue a product if sales volumes are too low (VOB). If you’re making cookies and the oven breaks down (VOP), you’re not going to be making any cookies no matter how low your monthly sales numbers are (VOB) or how many upset customers are waiting for their orders (VOC). Understanding VOC, VOB, and VOP is absolutely necessary for product development and listening to them is vital!

No product can be born without input from VOC, VOB, and VOP. All of these voices stem from actual humans (customers, business owners, engineers, operators, etc.). Therefore, all products convey a human message. I recently purchased an item online that communicated to me, as soon as I opened it, a message from the company that sold it: “We are just trying to sell products at the cheapest price possible to undercut the competition. We don’t care if they are any good or not. We want sales not customer satisfaction.” I’ve seen other products that say, “We care so much about you having a good experience that we put serious thought and engineering into this product to make sure not to overlook anything that would please you.”

So although your product may not sing and tap dance, it does communicate an actual, real-life message from the people (not equipment or business entity, but actual people) who made it. What‘s your product saying?

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