I love seeing product management done well. The following concept could not be more simple…

  1. You buy the bag.
  2. You fill the bag with stuff you don’t want.
  3. When you are done filling the bag, the bag is taken away.

Bagster is a new product from Waste Management designed to aid do-it-yourselfers with an easy and affordable way to discard the waste from home improvement, remodeling, and landscaping projects.

You begin by purchasing a folded up large 3-cubic yard bag at your local home improvement store. When you get home, you unfold the bag into what looks like a long nylon dumpster (hence the name, Bagster). When the your project is wrapping up, you schedule a pick up and a special Waste Management truck comes along and picks up your giant bag of debris.

Innovating in an established market

Disposing of trash and structural waste rivals the world’s oldest profession, prostitution, in longevity. The first trucks were used for trash pick up in United States during the1920s. Waste Management has been in this business since 1968 and is one of the countries largest providers of large business, small business, and home waste removal and recycling. They already provide steel dumpsters to residential customers for remodeling projects.

So, how did they arrive at this innovative new product, the Bagster?

I have to admit that I don’t know the back story of the Bagster’s development. What I do know is how innovative, successful products are developed.

Uncovering Market Problems
I imagine a member of Waste Management’s product management team conducting a customer interview with a homeowner or doing a win/loss interview of a residential dumpster placement that they did not get.

During this imaginary interview, the consumer discussed how they need a container for large debris, but was not satisfied with the cost and length of time a traditional metal dumpster would clutter up their driveway. I imagine he or she may also have had homeowners association regulations that made getting approval for placing a grass-killing dumpster on his or her front lawn unlikely. I imagine the consumer may have also mentioned being unclear on exactly which weekend his project would start due to a rigorous children’s birthday party schedule for his children’s friends this Fall.

Notice that this hypothetical interview did not focus on how Waste Management could improve their large metal dumpsters to win more residential business in the future, nor did it revolve around getting the customer to see Waste Management’s view of their residential business. Most importantly, the discussion with the customer was not aimed at developing business with this consumer in the future. The objective of these calls and in-person interviews is to further understand the goals, challenges, behaviors, and environments of your target market.

Companies, eager to make rapid adjustments to gain market share, often unknowingly miss the opportunity customer and non-customer interviews present for product management to gain deep insight into market problems that translate into profitable opportunities. Companies often have members of the sales team follow up with lost deals ensuring that lost prospect will hide part, or all, of the true market data from the sales representative they recently turned away. Companies also mistakenly have a technical product development managers ask customers what features they would like to see added to their product.

This approach squanders one of the most effective tools your product management team has in developing fast-growing, market-driven products. During customer interviews, try to mention your product as little as possible. You’ll be surprised at the strategic-nature of the data you gather.

Distinct Competency
Waste Management’s distinct competency is removing trash and debris of all size and disposing of it responsibly. The development of the Bagster fit perfectly into their existing strength and infrastructure.

Aligning your product with your organizations unique ability to deliver value to your market, helps ensure you are launching a product that you can market, deliver, and support with the resources needed to dominate.

Competition and Alternatives
Consumers had several choices to solve their problem.

  • The debris was too bulky for traditional trash pick up.
  • Dumpster rental was expensive, unsightly, and required a more precise project time frame.
  • Calling a junk hauling company would increase the cost since you’d have to schedule multiple pick ups if the project spanned several weekends.
  • Renting a truck and hauling your debris yourself to a dump would mean vehicle rental, gas, mileage, and dump disposal fees, not to mention the extra hours your spend renting the truck, loading the truck, and making the delivery.

I imagine Waste Management took all of these alternatives (and many more) into account when setting the $29.99 bag price and $99-129 collection fee.

Product management has been around long before technology product management dominated the conversation. By implementing ongoing market sensing and strategic analysis programs, your organization can not only build innovative, highly profitable solutions to common, under-the-radar problems (even in crowded markets), but also ensure that ideas and product strategies that do move forward are built on a market-driven foundation that your executive team can get behind.