Experts Share 14 Ways to Reduce Time-To-Value in your Product

time-to-value (ttv)

August 3, 2016 • Product Success

Reducing the time-to-value can improve retention rates, increase engagement and improve chances of product success. Time-to-value is the time it takes for the user to experience the promised value in the product from the time they request for it.

We spoke to some of the most successful tech founders, product managers, engineers and UI/UX pros and asked them their strategies to reduce friction and help users experience the value proposition faster.

Here’s are 14 of their best tips/strategies for minimizing the time-to-value (TtV):

#1 Avoid long onboarding flows, make tutorials available

product development strategy

Thomas Lee, Senior Product Manager at LinkedIn 

As a kid I liked to try and build my Lego without looking at the instructions, some kids want to follow the instructions, and some parents just build it for them.

I would recommend that companies should avoid long onboarding flows where they guide their user telling them what every part of the product does and how to use it. Users often just skip through this or find them annoying. Instead, make tutorials available for those users who want them, but let the users who just want to work it out on their own do so. If it is an enterprise product you can also sell training packages and services to the customers that need it.

#2 Optimise your app onboarding

product development process

James Mayes, Co-Founder and Partnerships lead for Mind the Product

Optimise your app onboarding to highlight the actions most likely to deliver an immediate win for the user. Make them feel good about your product, they’ll be more likely to stick around and keep paying you!

#3 Don’t build a solution until you have a credible evidence that your customers want it

reducing time to value

Alexander Osterwalder, inventor of Business Model Canvas , co-founder of strategyzer.com

Make sure you fall in love with the problem first before you focus your energy on the (tech) solution. In other words, don’t start wasting your time building prototypes and solutions for your customers until you have solid and credible evidence that you are solving something your customers actually care about sufficiently.

#4 You’ve got, at most 30 seconds or 3 clicks, to convince a user

tech product development challenges

Cindy Alvarez, Director of User Experience at Yammer (a Microsoft company) and Author of Lean Customer Development

You’ve got, at most 30 seconds or 3 clicks, to convince someone that your product will make their life better somehow.

In that time, they need to experience hope (that you’ll solve their problem), curiosity (how will they solve this problem?), or delight (ooh!).   They DON’T need to understand your product or solution.  They DON’T need to jump into a complex action.

What recent product did this well?  Pokemon Go, of course!  You start the app, and almost immediately, no matter where you are, an adorable Pokemon appears right in front of you!  You flick the ball and catch it – aha!   Of course, you’ve got to walk around to seek out the next monster — and the more-obscure gym aspects of the game aren’t even available until you’ve reached level 5.   (There are a few intro screens before you see your first Pokemon, but they’re easily skippable – and could probably be removed entirely without hurting the experience.)

But not all products are set up to provide immediate gratification – what then?  Perhaps an overlay tour to educate our customers!  Hate to burst your bubble, but probably not.  While not all products will perform the same, I can say that we’ve tested several variations of overlay or ‘tour’-style new user onboarding at Yammer, and they’ve all performed worse than simply dumping people into our product without explanation.  Why?  I believe it goes back to my 30 seconds/3 clicks statement above.  When you’ve got a limited amount of someone’s attention span, what best to put in front of them?  Boring product education – or your actual product?  Bet on the latter.

#5 Best way to minimize time-to-value is by minimizing free trial time

technology and product development strategies

Janna Bastow, CEO/Co-founder of ProdPad and Co-founder of Mind the Product

We recently found the best way to minimize time-to-value is by minimizing our free trial time itself and packing in a lot of learning and educational value in that shorter time span.

It sounds counterintuitive, but this is what helped us reduce our 30-day trial down to 7 days, and still double our time-to-conversion rates. A big part of that, though, is the way we gamified our onboarding – the more you do in ProdPad, the more free trial time you get.

So our customers start with very little time (the scarcity principle) but they win more free days every time they engage with our app. The result is that our new users are on a mission from their very first session and they learn very quickly that we’ll be there for them with fast support, helpful resources and tips along the way.

#6 Lean startup methodology offers a strong playbook for minimizing time to value

Customer Testing

Daniel Schmidt, blogs at Product Logic, VP of Product at MDSave, Founder of Double-Loop, Former PM for UL PurView, GoodGuide, CNET

Lean startup methodology offers a strong playbook for minimizing time to value. However, product builders shouldn’t optimize only for speed. Investing in a platform, while lengthening time to value, is often the path to achieving the largest impact.

#7 Do A/B testing and have a discipline to look at the data generated from this testing

Great product managers

Clark Benson, CEO/Founder at Ranker

You have at most a 5-10% chance of nailing your product at first launch. So, no matter how resource-starved you might be, it’s absolutely crucial to have in place an A/B testing (and/or multivariate testing) methodology and toolset from the start.

You also need the discipline and time to look at the data generated from this testing, and you need to be prepared to shift gears on a dime and iterate your product depending on the results of your testing.

For the first few years of Ranker’s existence we didn’t have a proper framework for A/B testing – we had limited resources and I steered them towards other priorities – and this slowed our growth. Ever since we hired a head of product (Chantelle Silveira) with a decade of experience in testing and gave her the tools and resources to test everything, our growth has been exponential.

#8 It requires enormous discipline and patience to prioritize improving things

Improving customer retention rates

David Barrett, Founder and CEO of Expensify

We think in terms of focus and urgency.  The first is about constantly asking “Am I doing the most valuable thing right now?” And the second is “Am I getting this out in the fastest possible way?”  For example, if you are making 5 small improvements, it’s better to finish and ship them one at a time (allowing the early ones to start creating value while working on the later ones), than to build them all in parallel and ship them at once (preventing any from creating value until all are done).

At Expensify we’ve focused most of the past 2 years on aggressively simplifying the product by automating away the cumbersome manual parts, while streamlining self-configuration during setup.  There is no secret to the process or silver bullet to accomplish it, but it requires enormous discipline and patience to prioritize improving things that already seem pretty good, rather than adding more features that are just OK.

#9 It’s important to keep everything in line with the user’s expectations

UI/UX of best tech products

Benjamin Brandall, Writer at Process Street, TechCrunch, The Next Web, Fast Company

When you’re designing a quality first-run experience, you need to make sure that you’re living up to the user’s expectations. The feeling you give off from your marketing — social media messaging, content, emails, and any customer-facing material — will affect the user’s experience inside the app as well. Because of that, it’s important to keep everything in line with the user’s expectations.

It’s especially vital at core conversion points like your landing page. If your landing page doesn’t sell the true experience of the app — no matter how good the app is — the first run experience will be jarring, and will take the user longer to get to first value, if they get there at all.

#10 A product that is difficult to use will be abandoned

Manage Your Tech Projects

Stefan Walger, User Research Analyst at Vivint

It is of course, critical to start with a true understanding of the most important things a user will be using your product to accomplish. It is that perceived value that got your product “hired” by the user in the first place; but do a bad job and eventually, the user will fire your product in search of a better one. When designing the actual flow and interface a user interacts with, we focus on the key tasks (or jobs) that a user is trying to accomplish to assess how effective the product is in helping the user. Specifically, we test the following elements of usability:

When designing the actual flow and interface a user interacts with, we focus on the key tasks (or jobs) that a user is trying to accomplish to assess how effective the product is in helping the user. Specifically, we test the following elements of usability:

  1. Learnability – How easy it is for a user to accomplish their key tasks the first time using the product?
  2. Efficiency – Once learned, how efficiently and quickly can a user perform their tasks?
  3. Errors – If an error occurs, we assess the severity of it and the ability for the product to help the user recover?
  4. Memorability – When a user returns to the product after a period of time, can they easily reestablish proficiency?
  5. Satisfaction – Finally, how pleasant is it to use the product?

We test this during the design and development of a product, then we work with customer support to bring any issue to the table for discussion, and we then continue testing the product to give us baseline performance measures we continually work to improve upon.

There is no guarantee that a product proven to be usable will ultimately be desirable over time, but it reduces the likelihood that the product will be abandoned. I think it is safe to guarantee that a product that is difficult to use will be abandoned, especially given the number of products out in the tech world today.

#11 Let customer feedback guide your expansion plans

defining tech product features

Steve Johnson, Product management process coach and founder of Under 10 Consulting

In the “new world” of agile, many teams have misunderstood the fail-fast mindset as permission to deliver a lot of poorly implemented features. Early adopters can see the product potential but discover the features are not ready for production.

Instead of delivering a broad set of capabilities poorly, implement a small number brilliantly. Do one thing really well and let customer feedback guide your expansion plans.

#12 It will likely take considerable time for the BIG outcomes

Data Driven Product Management

Rob Falcone, Author of Just F*ing Demo!

The trick to minimizing time-to-value is working with the prospect to clearly define not only the overarching goal / outcome they are looking to achieve but also the many small milestones or actions needed to get there.

It will likely take considerable time for the BIG outcomes – the millions of dollars added to the bottom line, the hundreds of hours of efficiency gains, etc. – to materialize. Ensure your product is not judged solely on the time to deliver these.

Rather, by clearly defining the measurable actions / milestones needed to get there, you’ll –

  •  Increase the likelihood that the prospect actually does achieve the big wins
  • Have short term small wins to make both parties feel good about the process.

An example I like to use: Google Maps. If I were to judge the technology’s value by how quickly it can help me drive from New York City to San Francisco, I’m going to be waiting a long time (42 hours, in fact).

Rather, by focusing on the shorter term actions, I can much more quickly judge how effectively the technology helps me avoid a traffic jam getting out of NYC or how accurately it directs me to a rest stop in Ohio, and feel great about the decision I made to utilize the technology for this journey.

#13 Customer value isn’t proportional to engineering cost

product launch tips

George Perantatos, Lead product manager at Redfin, Former PM at Amazon (Fire products) and Microsoft 

We have big plans for our products. We want to deliver big, new features that will save customers time and get us favorable write-ups in the press. The tough part is it can take a long time to build, test, and deliver these features to customers. So, it seems reasonable that we should ask our teams to focus exclusively on the big, new features in order to get that value out as soon as possible, right?

Nope. Don’t do that.

Customer value isn’t proportional to engineering cost. Often, small tweaks to your product can have big payoff for your users. Your most engaged users are telling you what they want fixed or changed. Going dark on them for weeks or months at a time will give them a false sense that the product isn’t being worked on, and they’ll probably leave. Instead, find a way to deliver the highest bang-for-buck features quickly and on a regular rhythm, and those users will not only stay engaged, but will sing your praises to others.

#14 Frictions are about engaging the subject matter experts, end users and decision makers in requirements definition, solution design approval and acceptance

adding new features to a product

George PitagorskyBusiness Management Consultant

My focus is on product for use within the organization as opposed to product for sale. Though, some of our recent products are public facing applications.

In general, our “frictions” are about engaging the subject matter experts, end users and decision makers in requirements definition, solution design approval and acceptance.

One thing we have done to reduce friction is to make it clear that our project timelines depend upon the engagement of key people – if business management wants results, they must play their part as if they are an integral part of the project.

At the same time we work to minimize their time commitment by presenting straw-man requirements and designs based on the IT application development group’s knowledge of the business, asking them to validate and approve rather than to come up with the requirements from a blank slate.

We use early involvement, prototyping, walk-throughs, tailored training, ongoing support and organizational change management to ensure buy-in, adoption and institutionalization.

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