"Everything for Everyone" = NothingUse Cases seem so obvious to me but are commonly overlooked by so many technologists, entrepreneurs, and even VC's. A few companies I've worked with recently have built products without any clear picture of who the buyer is or who will actually use the product. Sure, they want all IT directors, or all marketing managers to jump at it, but these are market segments, not users. Use cases are built from personas, and personas are built from market and user research, and are VERY specific. (If you haven't read this book on personas and use cases, you simply must.) Without both an understanding of one or more users and the specific detail on what they need to do / what they want to do, products end up doing "everything for everyone", rather than solving specific problems (with actual value) for certain types of people under certain conditions.
Use cases aren't easy to come up with, and they can be very narrow. They require someone to sit down with 5-20 people that match the persona, and understand how those people are solving their problem today - what steps do they take inside software, on the internet - but most importantly what steps do they take outside of technology to solve their problem. Technology is best applied when it can automate or assume the duties of haphazard or time consuming offline tasks. Understanding all the choices, decisions, variables and time frames that go into problem solving or goal achievement is the only way to develop a clear picture of how a technology can fit into those peoples' lives in a meaningful way. People don't like to change, and making the product or service"fit" better by describing a single use case will focus the development team on a path of least resistance for adoption, regular use and word of mouth marketing.
But, "everything for everyone" sounds great on the surface. Why wouldn't we want to build it for as big a market as possible? Why would you want to limit the number of potential buyers? I had a (insane) CEO tell me his product WILL be designed for ALL people in every country around the world - as if each citizen, as if each language, as if each culture were exactly the same. Those coarse gradations are obviously different, but even people in the same community, the same company, the same department are different - personas and use cases must be very specific to build a great product.
The R&D group typically loves "everything for everyone" because the product will be a big hit, and any features that they think up will only make the product better. Investors love looking at the huge market segments that the product will appeal to. Upper management thinks that with 'all my friends' and family validation they're on the right track ("Sure, sounds like I'd use that" couldn't be more different than "Yes, that would solve a problem I have right now and I'd pay $XXX for it because my alternative would cost 5x times that much"). But, in reality a broad product scope and an "everything for everyone" mentality translates to nothing quite right for anyone. In essence, zero mindshare and market share.
If a product only 1/2 solves a problem for a specific type of person, or 1/4 or even 7/8ths, it's not a complete solution. It might as well be labeled incomplete and not come out of alpha. If it can't take the place of an entire problem set, or at least specific section of a linear problem set, solving A to C or F to M rather than the full A to Z, it just isn't going to see the adoption that the company expects. It won't succeed if it solves A, D, and G. In the eyes of the intended user, which are the only eyes a company should use to evaluate its products, it doesn't solve a problem. I, as a user, am not going to mess with something, and especially won't pay for something, that doesn't meet my needs.
How do you change this? Usecases. Develop personas for the people you expect to seek to and the people you expect to use the product. Outline in detail what they do, what their challenges are, what makes them tick, how much time and patience they have, how much technology skill they have - everything that would influence their ability to use a product in a real situation. Frame the persona so well that the development team understands them to be a real person, NOT a demographic. Building for a demographic, or target market, leads directly to "everything for everyone". Here's the hard part - the thing CEO's and VC's hate to think about, and don't ever want to embrace: focus on one persona and don't worry about the rest of the market.
That is a huge step for anyone - an entrepreneur with dreams, a CEO with ambitions, a VC with committed funds. It makes sense because once you fine-tune the product to solve a complete problem for a specific type of user, you'll see the target adopt extremely rapidly and tell their friends. There will be incredible overlap with other types of users that haven't been considered. Those users will adopt too. They'll also need slight changes, additions, and new functions. That's OK - they're using it! And, you'll be selling so well to the original target, you'll have time to build the additional things to appeal even better to your additional (prioritized) personas. The fear of not being appealing to an entire, diverse market segment at launch has been the downfall of countless companies. This is really product focus - ensuring that the personas and use cases you start with are well thought out in the beginning, and the product meets those expectations and guidelines at launch.