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A Product Manager’s Guide to Building Your First Bot

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Part 1: Set Scope and Strategy

Your first priority is to define and articulate the scope and strategy of this product. Frankly, defining the problem and your solution should happen for all your projects, not just for bots. The questions you want to answer are: What is the problem you are trying to solve? How will you solve the problem? How will you measure success?

What is the problem?

“Unsolved problems are where you’ll find opportunity” Peter Thiel

Start with defining your problem. When you’re launching a new product, unknowns are everywhere. Defining a crisp articulation of the problem enables you to focus and align the team around the same problem.

Don’t build a bot because you think it’s the the new hot thing (because it might cool down in the next minute. This can be a risk for an established business as they’re building based on trends, or “me too” play, without spending enough time on articulate a clear problem to solve. Arte Merritt, CEO of Dashbots, an analytics platform for chatbots, notes that in general brand bots don’t as well as independent bots.

Scope the Problem
To determine the problem to solve, answer these questions:

  • Who is it for?
  • Is this a pain or a desire, and where does it fit on the scale?
  • How many people feel this pain?
  • How many people have agency to act on on it?

Take for example, getting stuck in hour-long traffic is really painful for many. But many people don’t have theagency to act — one can mitigate it through dynamic rerouting, like Waze, or have the authority/funds like Google/Tesla to spend a lot of money on autonomous driving. Understanding this helps to map out how difficult it may be to solve.

How you will solve it?

“There are only two ways to establish competitive advantage: do things better than others or do them differently.”

Karl Albrecht

With a problem in hand, the next step is to determine how you are going to solve it. What will separate your product from the competition is if you can find a unique value proposition that separates you from the pack. Three questions can help you get there:

  • Why you?
  • Why now?
  • What do you believe?

What is your advantage?
Start looking internally at you, your team, and your company to take log of what makes you unique. Building a bot is hard. Not only because of the development time, but because you need to find a way for the user to discover and install your bot, much less retain the user (40% of chatbot users only engage in one conversation).

Identify why you are uniquely able to solve the problem. Your strengths are your launchpad. Our bot at Clarizen is an extension of the core product’s experience. Further, we realized that a unique advantage is that we’ve had over a million users finish their projects with Clarizen, and with that knowledge, we had a competitive advantage in understanding best practices of project management at enterprise-scale.

Why now?
Is there urgency behind why you need to build this now? Products success can be attributed to perfect timing. Take, for example, WhatsApp or WeChat, these chat apps grew due to a window of opportunity; they provided a free alternative to having to pay SMS fees. For us, a driver is the commoditization of NLP technology. Our bot’s AI engine is run by ( providing the ability for project managers to type simple queries to get answers on complex projects..

What do you believe?
The best weapon for the product manager is having a unique point of view. The bedrock of developing a unique POV comes from deriving good, edgy hypothesis. A simple framework is this madlib:

Spend 20 minutes by yourself writing as many of these sentences down as possible. Yes. 20 minutes. The first few are pretty soft. There comes a point in time, where you’ll hit a wall and run out of ideas. Keep pumping them out.

When you finish, review all the hypothesis and prioritize. A compelling hypothesis is one that if true, would have a material impact on how you design the product.

How do you know if you have solved it?

“Count what is countable, measure what is measurable, and what is not measurable, make measurable”

Galileo Galilei

Congratulations, you’re almost finished with the first stage. Now that you have identified a problem for a target market, and how you will uniquely solve it, you want to set some metrics in place to know if you’ve reached your goals. Many people have written about finding the right metrics (Some of my favorites: Alistair Croll, Josh Elman, and Kevin McNally/Nick Odlum)

For many of us, you’re product is successful if you can find people who want to and continue to use it. Broadly speaking you can track value in either usage (engagement metrics like DAU/MAU or time spent) or happiness (NPS).

magnoliaA Product Manager’s Guide to Building Your First Bot

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