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Last month I got a nasty cold. I did a little bit of work – with UserConf NYC coming up I couldn’t skip work entirely – but mostly I laid in bed, drank liquids, and watched The West Wing. Somehow I missed the show when it was a thing, and I’ve been told by friends I would love it. They were right.

Two days and 16 episodes in (I have an addictive personality and I was sick, give me a break) I ran across this gem, a conversation between Joey Lucas, a political operative, and Toby Ziegler, White House Communications Director (Season 1, Episode 16).

Joey Lucas from The West WingJoey: “Kiefer asked the wrong questions. His poll said that 80% of the people, when asked if they favored a flag-burning amendment, said yes. Which is roughly the same percentage of people who said they’d favor sending litterbugs to prison. He never asked them how MUCH do they care.”

Toby: “Please, please say that you did.”

Joey: “37%, or less than half of those who said they’d favor the amendment, rated the issue fairly or very important. 12%, or less than a third of that group, said that the issue would swing their vote.”

There’s a very important lesson here for people building products and services.

We can’t build everything. We know that. We’d love to, but it’s just not going to happen…because of time and resources but also because if we build everything we end up with this:

universal remote

The problem is that we often ask our customers: “would you want this?” That’s an easy question…for most people, the answer is “sure.” Do I want a way to log in via Facebook? Sure, that sounds reasonable. Do I want the ability to export my data in 12 formats? Sure, that sounds like it’s probably a good idea.

UserVoice SmartVote

But most of these people don’t want these things A LOT.

We need to start asking your customers how much they want things. One could do it the West Wing way: “if we didn’t build this feature, would you stop using our product?” One could do this with the product equivalent of Hot or Not. Or we could just talk to customers and ask how much pain the lack of this feature is really causing.

All of these are valid, and all of them will help one build a great product. The answers are going to be surprising sometimes. But if we keep equating interest with importance, we’re never going to be able to prioritize and build a great product.

Brainstorm wall courtesy of Jake Botter.

Universal remote photo courtesy of Gramophone Maryland.

Evan Hamilton

About Evan Hamilton