Product Lifecycle: Small Changes = Big Impact

Generally, your impact on the product lifecycle involves big changes or starting from scratch. In other words, we tend to think that the only way to make an impact is by completely reimagining products. However, I am a firm believer in small incremental changes that make an even bigger impact at scale.

Furthermore, I think we give too much credit to product managers who build things from scratch. That said, I’m not suggesting that it isn’t fun to take on a brand-new challenge. However, I’ve found that solving problems involving tiny details can lead to massive improvements over the long-term.

For example, I enjoy following Yanko Design. They provide regular updates on how small changes in product lifecycle enhancements can yield huge results. In addition, I find great examples of incremental enhancements on Oxo kitchenware products. For example, they offer a pizza cutter that features a rubber-gripped handle. This may not be as sexy as “disruptive” innovation – but the impact of this design enhancement is significant.

Simply put, making pizza easier to cut with fewer grip slips or blisters is definitely a big win.

In my own experience, I’ve seen the effects of small changes on products that you wouldn’t think could be innovative. For instance, I interned for a design firm in college that reimagined the ketchup packet. Typically, most packets open up by tearing off the corner and squeezing out the contents. While this works for applying ketchup or condiments to sandwiches, it doesn’t work as well for dipping.

As a result, we completely reimagined the way in which condiments can be shared by making the packaging friendly for dipping. Simply put, it’s a complete reimagining of condiment packaging. If you walk into McDonald’s and other fast-food chains, you’ll see this new design in action.

In summary, I think this particular example presents an interesting question about product lifecycle enhancements. That would be – is the new ketchup packet a complete reimagining or a small tweak? To me, the answer lies in your own perspective on defining what represents a big change or small change. In the case of the ketchup packet, I view it as a small change to what is essentially the same vessel for condiment delivery. Ultimately, I think changes that seem obvious and cause you to say “that makes sense” represent the clearest cases of enhancements that make a difference.

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About the speaker
Alex Plutzer Instagram, Product Lead Member

Alex Plutzer is a Product Leader at Instagram - focusing on the app's business messaging platform. Prior to joining Instagram, Alex worked in product roles at Facebook focused on payment and events. In addition, Alex held several product roles at Box - and also worked for a number of tech companies while at college in St. Louis. Alex holds a degree from Washington University and currently lives in San Francisco.

About the host
Mark Pydynowski Products That Count, Podcast Host on Product Talk

Mark has deep experience (1) bringing new B2B products to market, (2) leading early-stage sales and business development, and (3) conducting user research. He has conducted 1,200+ user interviews over the past 10+ years building and selling new products (software and hardware). Mark runs, a blog to help WashU students learn how to land their first job from alumni that have already landed theirs.

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