Product Thinking in Practice

Mar 30, 2022| Chisara Nwabara

We’ve discussed the what and the why of a product thinking mindset. In this post, let’s explore the how, specifically how product thinking can be beneficial in some commonly experienced scenarios.

Who can benefit from Product Thinking?

Product thinking can improve your ability to organise your strategy to goals, vet pain points, prioritise work to be done, and then also create less waste across your solutions. If you have a problem to be solved or desired business outcomes that you’re not certain how to organise thoughts & actions around, then chances are you could leverage product thinking frameworks.

Anyone that is building a product or offering a service can benefit from product thinking and the associated tool kit and practices. Product thinking applies to anything that offers self-service with an ongoing lifespan, which can encompass digital experiences, apps and platforms, as well as abstract spaces such as communication loops, services and information systems.

What we’ve observed

Need: Ruthless prioritisation

Feels like "We are unclear as to what to work on next. Everything is important and urgent."
Looks like Poor prioritisation of work

Even if everything in your backlog or on your list is important, you still need to decide what is going to be done first. From a practical perspective, there’s a good chance that it’s just not possible to do everything at once. Not only is this an ineffective way to complete tasks, it’s also probably not plausible given your delivery team.

Instead, providing teams with a means to discern what the most important thing to focus on allows them to confidently determine what can be accomplished in x amount of time.

Is it a question of urgency? Satisfying one stakeholder over another? Is there a need to sequence work due to dependencies? Time-constraints that shift items in the team’s queue?

Need: Well-defined & measurable success

Feels like "We are not really sure what the business needs. We've delivered a ton of output but have been unable to see an improved experience for customers."
Looks like Unclear means for defining and measuring success

As with most experiments, it does not make sense to define your answers before you’ve clearly defined what it is that you’d like to test.

Providing clear definitions to the team as to what the business hopes to achieve ensures that there is less ambiguity around the ask. Clarity brings about more confidence and the goal should be to create environments where the business and delivery team can confidently demonstrate that efforts have been a success.

Need: Problem validation

Feels like "If I asked different stakeholders or team members about an aspect of the work we're doing, I'd get just as many different answers to my question(s)"
Looks like A lack of understanding and vision of the strategy and product offerings they are supposed to be building

Oftentimes, people make assumptions that all stakeholders involved are on the same page. When they are then asked to write down or capture their interpretation of work to be done, it’s a lot easier to see where there may be misalignments or gaps in understanding.

Finding ways to validate problems through visualisation and storytelling makes them more tangible and visceral, whilst also providing a commonly shared set of assumptions around which the entire organisation can reach alignment.

Need: Product vision

Feels like

"Teams that are often treated like dumping grounds for all the work that doesn't fit someplace else.

Overtime becomes our norm and even though we work around the clock, we always seem to be behind. We have lots of pressure for delivery.

Team Morale and/or psychological safety is low and our work tends to feel very chaotic."

Looks like Unsustainable behaviours in the team where all time is spent delivering something regardless of what that something is

By providing a team with mechanisms to be able to have intentional conversations with stakeholders around what’s the most logical work to be done first, there’s less need to create a gauntlet of everyone fighting to get their ‘urgent’ need to the top of the pile.

Pragmatic conversations can instead be had in a way where all those involved can agree to an order of priority, delivery, and or execution.

Need: Customer empathy and empowered teams

Feels like "It's tough to ask clarifying questions. It's difficult to contribute to the solution and inform them on feasibility because these decisions happen before they reach our team"
Looks like Siloed teams that do not have the power to make decisions within the team or access to enough information to make informed decisions

Product thinking promotes an environment in which those that are doing the building have some visibility into the bigger picture. It advocates for allowing open dialogue between engineers and end users so that engineers can better understand how their efforts directly affect the people that will ultimately benefit from what they are building.

Having this context and building empathy for users in a delivery team results in fewer errors because everyone knows why they are doing what they’re doing. Informed teams are empowered teams.

Need: All of the above!

Feels like

"Feels like a feature factory where we create a lot of features, but unsure as to whether they've actually directly added profits or value to our product or service offering.

We spend a lot of time on pure delivery but very little time successfully ensuring that our 'delivery factory' is running as efficiently as it could be."

Looks like Little to zero time is allocated to ensure that the factory itself is running effectively

This is always a tough conversation to have — when do we make time for, and invest in process improvements? How do we show the cost-benefit and need for these types of initiatives? When do we ‘retire’ a feature? How do we make time for improvements and maintenance? How do we show the value of investing in aspects of our work that are not ‘customer-facing’?

It might run the risk of oversimplification, but: treat it like a product! Consider the entire system and your team as a living thing that must be managed, addressed and tended to, and make sure those aspects are accounted for when the cost of each incremental piece of value is calculated.

Where can this be applied?

One thing to be aware of is that many of the above-listed scenarios are not specific to a certain type of team, industry or domain. This helps to illustrate that applying product thinking principles should not take away or detract from the ability to deliver good work and value. In contrast, this mindset should be additive and aid in ensuring that not only can a team deliver admirably, but they can also validate that what is being delivered is of value.

Can you benefit from Product Thinking?

Upon reviewing the above examples, here are some questions to leave you with:

If you’re not quite sure where to start, get in touch with us! We’re happy to help.

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