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Three Ways to Cultivate Product Thinking on Your Team

Getting features built quickly or using an agile methodology is now table stakes for technology product companies. We know that applying DevOps or CI/CD practices while also following an agile framework allows teams to deliver software faster, but how do we ensure that we’re focused on the right things to build and deliver quickly? For one, applying product thinking practices to create value for your business and customers is critical to delivering a product that matters.

Today, organizations must serve customers cheaply and more efficiently, or offer them something they didn’t have before. In order to do this well, it is essential to focus on customer problems and needs combined with business drivers and goals in order to fuel success. In fact, a recent Gartner article includes research that customers will choose products that best fit their needs. Product leaders must apply “whole-product thinking to build compelling customer experiences and ensure their product delivers value to customers.”

If you are just getting started with adopting a product mindset, here are some ideas for cultivating and implementing product thinking within your organization and on your product teams.

Make Customer-Centricity a Habit

Customers or end users (people who will be using or purchasing your product) should be at the heart of your product. In an ideal world, there are conversations happening with customers on an ongoing basis to gather feedback and insights which are then prioritized and incorporated into the product. We know this can be challenging to dedicate time to do it and getting access to customers may be a barrier as well. To start, bring the customer into the conversation with your teams and stakeholders. You can utilize proto personas or even build out profiles as you gain more information about your customers. This helps to increase empathy and understanding for why you are building certain features and how it helps the customer. For example, this can be done in your refinement meetings as you discuss upcoming work and to ensure that you start with the “why” and “how” it benefits your customers and simultaneously helps in achieving business strategies and goals. As this becomes more frequent and regular, you and your team will develop a habit of customer-centricity to enable product-thinking.

Helpful Tip: Proto Personas Template in Miro

Build an Empowered Team of Colleagues   

Creating a healthy team dynamic and working environment is extremely beneficial in building products. In order to solve complex problems, teams must be empowered to come up with solutions to problems. Often we jump into the solution too quickly or are handed a solution instead of a problem to solve. In these scenarios, take a step back and ask what problem(s) are we solving in order to decide on and validate the right solution and path forward. When this is done continuously, it will help prevent over-engineering or getting off track building software that does not meet the user or business need. Additionally, when you bring a problem to a team, you can leverage all the talents and creativity of each person in order to come up with an innovative solution. This quote from Marty Cagan’s book Empowered sums it up, “When we empower product teams, we are giving them problems to solve, and we are giving them the context required to make good decisions.”

Helpful Tips:

Tools like the Lean Canvas can help break down an idea and assumptions in order to align everyone on a problem-solution strategy

Creating a working agreement as a team will generate alignment, trust, and guidelines for how teams will work together to create a positive, productive environment.

Have a Clear Product Strategy  

Product strategy is one of the most important pieces of product development yet many organizations and teams find this to be challenging to create, communicate and iterate on, or even more detrimental, they do not have one at all. In the simplest terms, a product strategy is choosing what to do and what not to do. It provides focus and clarity for the team to understand the product direction and what we want to achieve. If you find your product strategy is lacking or unclear, start simply by asking or attempting to answer the following questions; Who is the product for? Why do people want to buy or use it? What makes it stand out? What are the business goals? Why should the company invest in it? As you gain information to confidently answer these questions, you can build out the strategy even further and validate as your product goes to market and is used by customers.

Helpful Tip:

Two great books to help with adopting product practices and creating a product strategy are Inspired by Marty Cagain and Strategize by Roman Pichler.

Cultivating a product mindset takes a lot of time, effort and discipline. This can feel big and overwhelming when you’re just getting started and your organization does not yet have the processes and structure to support product-thinking. I encourage everyone to start small as even small efforts can generate new practices and ways of thinking that positively impact the product delivered. Remember, a product-mindset is all about continuous improvement and evolving your thought-processes versus a milestone or final destination.

About the Author:

Beth Jagodinsky is the Director of Product Strategy at Rural Sourcing and is a passionate product leader with over a decade of experience discovering and delivering customer-centric digital products for startups to fortune 100 companies. Beth is involved in the product community including co-founding the Milwaukee Chapter of Girls in Tech, hosting an annual Milwaukee Product Camp and participating in various webinars and podcasts on Product Management topics. Outside of her professional life, Beth enjoys biking and running with her husband, improving her basketball and baseball skills with her son and spending summer weekends at the family cabin in Wisconsin’s northwoods.

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