Product Thinking: Embrace The WHY

June 2, 2021

What is Product Thinking NOT?

It’s another day in the office. For the sake of this scenario, let’s say your special power is UX design. Your day job is to create an awesome experience for customers using your company’s software.

Last week you were handed a lengthy list of new features to be released in the latest update. You take it and run. There’s an air of uncertainty but no one asks questions. Fast forward to the following Monday. You added the requested features and send a quick e-mail saying the work is complete (swapping no real dialogue about the user story that took your team a full week to complete). You are thanked for your work and pick up a secondary task with little explanation before jumping to another call. There’s a tight deadline this time. You want to ask why so badly but need to home in on details that will move this enhancement along.

Fast forward to next week. The following update is already underway and you’re expected to crank away in your silo until the job is complete once again. You’re stuck in the same grisly cycle. Ultimately you hand over the finished product quicker than expected (because in this scenario you’re a total whiz kid who never misses a deadline). Lo and behold—the Product Team decision-makers are pleased yet again with a timely turnaround. Still, no feedback was given about the logistics or impact of the update. There was no talk of hopeful outcomes for this release. Only a quick thank you for the swift timing. After running this same play over and over, you begin to ask yourself more questions…

There’s never a great time to get your questions out and you’re left wondering. Still, the show goes on. You finally gain the courage to approach your manager and look for a greater explanation of your work over the past four sprints. You want to know how this product enhances the overall business value (you seek the bird’s eye view of the company since you’re an overachiever and all). You get a solid answer at the moment but once you leave the virtual meeting, you don’t feel much better than you did when the project kicked off. Questions around the project purpose and company vision still persist. The workday ends. Another one starts. The questions remain and the cycle continues…

  • Do people really use this stuff?
  • How is this making the user experience any easier?
  • What is the end goal here?

If you can relate to this scenario, then you might find this next part beneficial.

What does it mean to have a Product Mindset?

You’re probably wondering how that story relates to Product ThinkingImagine if asking those critical questions above was the standard of curiosity across all teams at your organization. Think of the constructive dialogue that could spur from this. Consider how the quality of work might improve when you and your team dive into a project without any outstanding questions. Imagine if discovery at all phases of a project was deemed just as important as delivery. 

Now picture yourself seamlessly connected to the work you’re putting out. You are paid to identify and relieve sizable roadblocks for your users every single day. That’s impactful. You are responsible for creating memorable experiences that attract loyal customers to your product. You’re an expert problem-solver because you listen to users and react to the frictions you serve, and they express. 

When you adopt Product Thinking, you take on a Product Mindset. You get into the habit of defining success factors and key risks assumed at each milestone of delivery before commencing a project. You set delivery schedules, test scenarios, and regular standups to guarantee steady and clear communication amongst contributors and stakeholders. If you’ve already shifted to Agile, then you likely do this already. But how well? is always a nice question to stash in the back of your mind as you go about your day.

Embracing this degree of curiousness and collaboration is Product Thinking.

So, what IS Product Thinking?

Product Thinking can be described as a mindset that helps teams prioritize the needs of an end-user when designing physical and digital products. In this sense, a product can be broadly thought of as any business asset that provides value for a certain segment of customers. Products can be hardware, software, experiences, or services. If a customer is paying for it, regularly using it, or benefitting from it, then it could be considered a product.

Approaching your work through a lens of Product Thinking inspires a constant pursuit to satisfy the customer’s ever-changing needs—which is already the main purpose if you’re truly experience-oriented. Product Thinking motivates you to ask the questions no one has considered. In doing so, a product team becomes immersed in the milestone moments and interactions with their product. They feel what the customer feels—every point of frustration, every step of the way. You will know if a product team is producing meaningful work if the customer journey, or the full end-to-end user experience of a product, is well-defined and empathetically understood.

Product Thinking is the real deal. It’s a skill, but more importantly, it’s a mindset that brings incredible benefits and business results to any practicing organization. The Product Mindset boasts best-of-class principles in project management, problem-solving, solution delivery, research, and design. If you missed the first wave and are ready to catch on, then buckle up for the next seismic workplace shift on the horizon.

Stay tuned for Part II

Alright, alright, I’ve exceeded the 600-word limit and the marketing team is telling me to wrap it up. If you made it this far and are eager to dig deeper, check back soon for Part II of the trilogy! We’ll take this a step further and discuss putting Product Thinking into practice.

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Ian Ragland

Business Analyst