Rapid iteration, A/B testing, and growth hacking—these buzzwords have everyone’s attention in product management today. But while they dominate the current discussion, something even more significant has been lost in their limelight: long-term value creation for the customer.

Product advisors Rajesh Nerlikar and Ben Foster believe that consistently delivering meaningful outcomes requires a deep understanding of your customer’s definition of success. Combine a bold customer-centric vision with a practical execution strategy, and you have a recipe that reveals product development priorities and the pathway to innovation.

Rajesh and Ben wrote Build What Matters to introduce their methodology for becoming a product-driven company. I caught up with Rajesh to learn what inspired him and Ben to write the book, their favorite idea they share with readers, and how that idea has impacted their work.

Published with permission from the author.

What happened that made you decide to write the book? What was the exact moment when you realized these ideas needed to get out there?

My co-author Ben and I have been product managers for decades, and we’ve also advised seventy companies in the past six years. When we started doing some pattern matching, we saw the ten dysfunctions of product management over and over, and realized that a lot of product executives and teams were struggling with this.

Last year we launched the Vision-Led Product Management framework to capture our best practices and the advice we give to our clients about measuring product success from a customer’s perspective, documenting and communicating a clear, customer-centric vision and working backwards from that to create a multi-year strategy to make that vision a reality.

Given the positive feedback we got on the framework, we decided to write a book to reach even more software companies, and to package up all the stories, tips and lessons learned in a way we never could on just our website.

Published with permission from the author.

What’s your favorite specific, actionable idea in the book?

To measure your product’s success from your customer’s perspective. It’s so easy to get obsessed with internal metrics like revenue, NPS and active users, none of which your customer cares about. When you lose sight of how your product is helping customers achieve the outcomes in their life they care about, it’s easy to make the wrong product decisions.

This is why one of the first things we do with companies is ask them to create a key outcome pyramid for their customers / users, and break that key outcome down into leading indicators such as product usage that they have the power to change themselves.

What’s a story of how you’ve applied this idea in your own lives? What has this lesson done for you?

This is going to sound crazy but when we were creating the key outcome pyramids I pressure tested the concept by going through the exercise in my life. I asked myself what my personal key outcome was in life. I started with something like “Be happy” and broke that down into happiness across health, personal relationships, and professional accomplishments.

But when I stopped and asked myself if that’s really what I wanted I realized it wasn’t. Instead I realized that leaving a lasting, positive legacy was the key outcome for my life, and I broke that down into categories like leaving a legacy on my family, the community, the environment and professionally. When I looked at it that way, writing a book to share our learnings and best practices to help the growth of anyone interested in product management was a no-brainer.

A week after the launch, the most rewarding part of the hundreds of hours of work is reading reviews from complete strangers talking about how helpful they found the book.