Circumnavigating the product process is OK sometimes

By Jodie Hopperton


Los Angeles, California, United States


Should product work on custom pieces?

I often hear of product teams being asked to build one-off, custom pieces. It’s an idea for a story or an advertiser request. Not necessarily a bad idea, but it can pose a dilemma.  

Does it fit into the product process? The traditional product process starts with the problem — the customer problem. So is this request a creative problem that needs to be solved? Or a restricted business need that needs to be met? 

The answer of whether product teams should work on custom pieces is complicated.
The answer of whether product teams should work on custom pieces is complicated.

That depends on our definition of customer. Is an advertiser a customer? Is an internal stakeholder a customer? Comically one day last week, I was having this discussion with a senior media leader who argued that customers should always be external. As he was telling me this, I realised that I had a powerpoint slide showing a triangle of customers: users, commercial, and internal. The reason it was funny: The slide had his company logo on it and was presented by one of his colleagues at a recent event. 

I would argue that it’s OK, as long as we define what it is and how it fits into our workload. 

This is likely to mean delving into the request:

  • What is the customer problem exactly? 

  • What is the ROI? 

  • Will other customers find this useful? ie is it something that we can reuse in the future? We use the term “productizing” something for a reason. It’s taking something and making it reusable, perennial. 

  • What are the tradeoffs with other work that can be reused? How does this play into the ROI? 

I can see pure product folk rolling their eyes. No custom work isn’t true product work 99% of the time, but it shouldn’t be an automatic no either. And if we’re being honest, if the CEO asks for a one-off — even where the answers to most of the above are no — if it’s not going to take much time and will take longer to argue, and potentially damage a relationship, then sometimes the answer is JFDI.

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About Jodie Hopperton

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