Are we building a 10,000 square-foot house?

I have been obsessing over how to convey how important adding new features to our web-based products lately.  What has struck me is that we, product development teams, really have no tangible artifacts to tell the iterative product development story well. 

In this world of continuous deployment it’s nearly impossible to show the evolution of a product. So, I had the idea to use waybackmachine and grab all the timeline views of Facebook from 2009-2015 so my team could see what decisions the Facebook product development team had made over the course of those years.  It is a good object lesson but I was left wanting.  This didn’t tell the whole story. We weren't in the kitchen while the meal was being prepared. We were just seeing the final outcome. All we can do is guess what the product team was doing.  So I turned to my own experience and found an example of how this played out in a physical product that sheds light on the importance of why we need to be careful about what features we decide to ship.  

In the Fire and EMS industry, Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) are faced with a myriad of daily response calls.  Many of these calls are in people’s homes.  I am asked all of the time what types of calls I responded to and my answer continues to be the same: Healthy people don’t dial 911. The majority of the time it’s a health, motor vehicle or mental health related issue that needs responding to.  As the obesity rate has increased in the United States so has the size of the ambulances, ambulance cots, and the number of people needed to move patients in that industry.  While I was at Stryker™ we were trying to come up with solutions to solve this problem. One solution that could help EMS professionals with heavier patients.  

Below are some images to convey the current product state we were in: . (click on the images and it'll change)

It's tough to tell what makes these first two products different.  The first product is a powered ambulance cot. When it launched in 2005 it was a game changer. The second product, for all intents and purposes, resembled a glorified ironing board to lift bariatric or obese patients.  The third product is known in the industry as a Shamu. Yes, that's correct it was aptly named after the same sling to move Shamu the killer whale around. Sometimes as EMTs you are placed in situations where you cannot get an ambulance cot close enough to the patient and you need to place the patient in this sling and slide them to a location more open to load them on the cot.  

So we, as a product development team, set out to see if we could come up with an idea to help the bariatric industry.   

This may be a little stretch in your mind, but lets try and make it together.  I personally am faced with huge feature demands while developing web products.  I am sure we can all commiserate together looking at our backlog list for new features that need to ship.  Then I had this ah ha! moment.  I want these features to have a huge impact on user experience.  I asked myself, what level of confidence do I actually have that all of these features are providing value?  You may be thinking. "Nate, you just talked about Directed Discovery and how important it is that we do our homework before deciding on what we as a team bite off." I know, I know but, the funnel in which I made my decisions needs a little work.  This is me coming to that realization together with you. I want every feature that I add to be a game changer.  So in my mind I actually want to cut down the number of features I ship. The reason I am using the ambulance cot analogy is that when I make one subtle change to this cot it provides a lot of impact.  For instance, if I change just a simple bolt or fastener from stainless to some other metal, it could have huge impacts on corrosion or life cycle.  Does this make sense? As we set out to solve this bariatric issue, we had the same thinking in mind. Small invention or feature could mean big impact!     

When we looked at solving the bariatric patient problem here is what we considered as a group: 

  • Bariatric cots are manual cots that require lifting every time. 
  • EMS agencies and Fire Departments need to call a second crew to the scene for a lift assist
  • We needed a bariatric ambulance to transport the patience because most bariatric cots will not load in existing ambulance cot fasteners. Bariatric ambulance have special crash test standards and special fastener.

A lot of smart thinking went into this so we saw a huge opportunity to help the industry if we could come up with a viable solution.  

Goals we wanted to accomplish

  • Use the power cot platform. We were crazy not to.
  • Eliminate when possible a second crew and second ambulance coming to help. This would reduce the potential of additional back injuries plus the environmental impact, cost of fuel, and cost of the additional workforce.   
  • Needed to work in 80% of the working ambulances around the world
  • Needed to work and pass with current crash test standards

The Whole Point: The whole point of writing this is to tee this section up.  We have a platform of patient transport products. We have a user base, we have an opportunity to give our users a new experience through the use of our cot transportation platform.  Can we solve this by inventing a new product? or can we add a feature that would provide game changing value?  This took the team a lot of cycles to find a solution.  Here is the solution. 

the video

We had some great tools already in place.  For instance, the power cot lifts 700lbs. We wanted to take advantage of that.  The problem though is the patient surface isn't large enough.  This is where the team really honed in. We came up with what is called X.P.S. or Expanded Patient Surface.  This included a redesigned patient surface mattress and a newly designed side rail.   This allowed us to take advantage of the Power-Pro cot platform.  If we did this then we solved the need to eliminate another ambulance on scene, the need for additional personnel  on scene, and we knew our existing cot worked on 80% of the ambulances industry world wide.  Boom!

Something we didn't see coming (but was good): For reference the Power-Pro cot line is 9-years old.  I knew that it would impact existing and new cot sales, but I didn't see that by adding a feature it would surpass all bariatric cot sales combined in one year. Then pull Power-Pro sales into high double digit growth category year-over-year.  I left Stryker before I was able to see all the impacts but have stayed close to the team. From what I hear, it has been a game changing add to the patient transport platform. 

Wrapping back around: We are faced with a lot of decisions on a daily basis. The hope here is to challenge you to look at your daily work.  Look at the features and new ideas you are working on and ask yourself. "Are we building a 10,000 square foot house?" and filling it with things we kind of care about or are we fighting over every piece of furniture that goes in. My humble opinion is the size of the house is meaningless. We have to fight over every piece that goes in.  It matters! We should be shortening the feature list because like this ambulance cot. It doesn't take much to change the eco-system for better or worse.

I would ask that you print out your entire app experience or at least go through each global navigation item step-by-step and see if that is providing the best user experience.  Where are the hot spots? What can we remove? Where can we make a difference?  Are we fighting over the best ideas or personal wants and desires.  We could of just as easily invented some new whiz bang product but by stepping back and leveraging what we already had in place is was very impactful in a very short period of time. 

Good luck next week!  Let me know how it plays out and if this has helped. I love hearing your stories.