The product mindset is a way of thinking about product development and execution to create value for your business.
In my experience as a Product Coach, the greatest impact I have on my clients is to make them approach product development as an activity from the outside in rather than from the inside out.
Many companies are used to tackle new developments without taking into account the problem they solve for the customer and the organization. A solution is proposed from the point of view of the organization, which in most cases has nothing to do with the context and the needs of the client.
Product mindset means, above all, approaching any new development from the customer’s perspective. We must fall in love with the problem, instead of falling in love with the idea or the solution. That is the fundamental change to move towards a product mentality.
People get obsessed with frameworks and techniques, but what really makes an impact is this mindset change. We must walk in the shoes of the clients or users of our product.
That is the work with the greatest impact as a product coach, which I then accompany with methodology and techniques.
That does not mean, however, that we should ask customers what they want or need. That is our responsibility as producers.
We need to make sure that we understand the context of the client, the job they are trying to get done, and the problems they are facing or the opportunities to improve their experience.
But, a product mindset is not only characterized by the focus on the problem, there are other important characteristics of organizations that have developed a product mentality:
- Love the problem
- Strategic context
- Flexibility and responsiveness
- Iterative and incremental
- Time to value
- Product leadership
We will look closely at the above characteristics. But first, let’s see the reality of a team without a product mentality.
The Wrong Mindset
Product development is approached in many organizations from incorrect beliefs that carry a very high risk:
- we can predict the future
- we know what customers want
- we know how to build it
- nothing will change along the way.
That’s a recipe for failure.
Let’s see what happens in a team that has not integrated the product mindset. Here’s what they’re saying:
- What is the requirement?
- That’s not in scope
- It’s on the roadmap, so we have to do it
- We did exactly what the ticket said
- Go talk to someone else about your problem
These conversations are limiting and restricted; people are just trying to check boxes.
Let’s see what happens in a team with the product mindset. You will hear questions like:
- How can we improve [metric]?
- What customer problem are we addressing?
- Why are we doing this?
- How do we make it easier for customers to …?
- Could we try …?
- Can we boost our conversion by …?
- If we want to achieve (an outcome) how about…?
Getting Stuff Done (Focus on Ouputs)
Many companies still operate with the old customer-vendor anti-pattern. The client-vendor anti-pattern which separates those with problems from those who solve them.
In this model the client is responsible for the value, and the vendor is responsible for time, cost, and quality. Together they must agree on scope.
- When they client gets more “scope” at a lower price, the client wins.
- When the vendor does less work at a higher price, the vendor wins.
- These two groups motivations are misaligned.
This misalignment doesn’t make sense when both client and vendor work for the same company. This attitude fosters isolation of teams, which impacts each team’s overall engagement with the overall strategy.
The old IT (vendor) mindset often leads to an ill-connected series of initiatives and projects designed to maximize output.
When success is measured by time, scope, and budget, the entire organization is constantly “trying to get their stuff done.”
The IT Mindset also encourages a risk-averse mentality. Each team in the organization is concerned with delivering its requirements on time and under budget. They can’t risk a bad release, whether or not the product ultimately has value.
Product Mindset: Focus on Outcomes
Product teams do no exist to write code. They exist to help the business grow and to serve customers.
I’ve witnessed the magic that happens when product teams focus on solving actual customer problems and driving real business results.
Effective product development is focused on maximizing outcome and impact. Unfortunately, that is not the mindset most companies have. Historically, most teams are rewarded for productivity, not for results.
To a certain extent I understand that chasing outputs is more comfortable than chasing outcomes. Outputs are easier to measure. We know how many user stories were released or how many sprints were made.
It’s scarier to be held responsible for outcomes for the business, like revenue growth or market share, because you can’t control the buyer’s behavior.
The way you think about and measure success — building for either output or outcome — determines the path you follow and whether you reach your ultimate destination.
The product mindset promotes flexibility. Companies that embrace this mentality may have a plan, but their approach encourages experimentation as teams work together toward a common goal.
By leveraging the product mindset, these companies create a culture of smart risk-taking.
The product mindset sharpens focus, minimizes distractions, and prevents companies from trying to be all things to all people or serve thousands of customers before they’ve served tens.
Product Mindset is Growth Mindset
Mindset is a set of beliefs that orient our behavior. It serves a number of cognitive functions. It allows us to frame situations: it directs our attention to the most important hints so that we’re not overwhelmed with information.
In general terms, we can identify two types of mindset: fixed mindset and growth mindset.
Someone with a growth mindset views intelligence, abilities, and talents as learnable and capable of improvement through effort. On the other hand, someone with a fixed mindset views those same traits as inherently stable and unchangeable over time.
Many organizations still rely on a fixed-mindset approach to strategy. They believe that if they have the right solution, roadmap, and go-to-market plan then they will be successful.
But reality is stubborn and tells us another story. In a world that is continuously changing, having the right frame of reference (or mindset) to guide decision taking is at least as critical as having a solid strategy.
You cannot succeed in the digital era with a fixed mindset. Only those companies with the growth mindset will thrive.
A product team with a growth mindset can deal with complexity and change. They will constantly improve, learn, and adapt. They are willing to take risks, work hard, and overcome adversity to figure out the answers.
Getting to the right mindset starts with asking the right questions or suggesting ambitious goals. We should ask product teams to reach a revenue target or to solve our customers’ problems.
The product mindset allows everyone to view their ultimate goal through the same lens and connects the whole organization through a shared language.
The entire organization needs to embrace it.
Characteristics of a Product Mindset
If you want a successful product, you need to detach from your ideas and solutions, and fall in love with your customers and their problems and needs. That, in a nutshell, is the product mindset.
Customer centricity is not an entelechy — it’s the governing spirit of the whole company. Everyone, from engineers to the CEO, is focused on the customer.
Now, let’s see the fundamental aspects of a product mentality in more detail.
Love the problem
Without a doubt, the main characteristic of an organization that has integrated a product mindset is the obsession with the customer’s problem or need.
Even if an idea looks like a good solution, it is always approached with empathy towards the client and integrating the client in the development process.
Any development has to generate a positive impact on the customer’s life and an impact on the business.
Product Teams must understand the strategic context and how their work relates to that.
All initiatives must serve a purpose for the organization and have to create a positive impact in customers’ lives.
Nothing is left to chance.
Strategy is a design process to overcome certain challenges. From there we get several strategic hypothesis which must be validated with the scientific method based on data, business and product hypothesis formulation and continuous experimentation.
Flexibility and Responsiveness
An empirical approach permeates the whole value chain.
Strategy, business discovery, product discovery, product delivery and product marketing depend on the identification of the riskiest assumptions and the reduction of uncertainty by defining an hypothesis, designing an experiment, testing it and analyzing results.
The engine of modern product development is the legendary built-measure-learn loop. This loop is continuously running from strategy to market. But, it is not a sequential approach, it is incremental. We build in response to the learnings of previous iterations.
Hence, organizations can rewrite the roadmap when it needs to adapt. Instead of working with known requirements, today’s product-led approach requires you to run an endless series of experiments.
That’s because you base product decisions on what user behavior, sentiment, and direct feedback say. These data points give a live view into the value your product is delivering and where it is falling short.
A product-led roadmap is a flexible roadmap. It adapts to the customer, picks up on both their explicit and implicit needs, and ensures that the product delivers exactly what they want.
Iterative and Incremental
A common pattern we see in traditional businesses is that they try to do too much, too late, instead of working iteratively and incrementally seeking early and fast value delivery and business return.
By cramming in more and more features, they try to match every option that every competitor has instead of concentrating on their own value proposition.
On the contrary, product mindset regards perfection as the enemy of good. We are always looking for ways to learn the most with the least resources.
When companies are not working incrementally, it’s often because they have an excessively grand vision that they are committed to delivering before launching their product.
Successful companies cannot be all things to all people. A product mindset requires saying “no” to features that may be valuable at some point but aren’t part of the value proposition you need right now.
Winning companies are remarkable; they conquer a niche and then leverage what makes them unique to build momentum.
Minimize Time to Value
One of the benefits of Product Discovery is that it allows you to minimize time to value — the time it takes to deliver monetizable value to the customer. Which is different from ‘time to market.’
When we understand the main problems or needs of our target segment and we are also able to quickly produce an MVP, we manage to minimize the time to value. The MVP is a product done well that adds value and provides learning and revenue, it is not a half-baked idea.
There are always ways to concentrate effort and manage to deliver value iteratively and incrementally, but for this we need the strategy and knowledge of our market to enter with a winning value proposition.
This implies a mindset shift toward learning and rapid delivery of value rather than chasing the perfect full product. Perfection is the enemy of progress.
The product mindset is all about risk-taking and experimentation, with a goal of creating revenue.
To achieve this, we must establish new reward, performance evaluation and investment mechanisms.
Product teams need to be more than just influential. They should have the formal authority to drive a company’s strategy as well as establish the adequate incentives, processes and organizational structure.
Give “product” a seat at the table. A chief product officer can ensure that creating a valuable product experience remains the central concern and advantage of your business.
As a consequence a product-led strategy reorients your organization around each step in the product journey. It does this by unifying R&D, sales, marketing, and customer success around product metrics like feature adoption, breadth and depth of usage, stickiness, and customer satisfaction.
At product-led companies the product is no longer just one part of the customer experience; it is the experience. Everything your organization does should lead back to it. Sales, marketing, service, support, and education must now converge both at the surface of the product and deep within the user experience.
The product should communicate its value, teach its users, provide assistance, and more. In other words, efforts like selling to and educating customers that used to happen outside of the product are now part of the user experience inside the product.
The customer experience should become indistinguishable from the product experience itself.