Importance of a Product Mindset When Developing new Software Products
Attitudes toward product and project management are shifting. These days, a traditional project management-based approach for product development is often eschewed in favor of a more flexible product management approach. Companies are choosing to embrace the often messy, and certainly more difficult to implement, “product mindset.”
What is a product mindset and why is it important? How can you leverage it to drive results for your business and deliver more value to your customers?
What is a Product Mindset?
A product mindset emphasizes the importance of a long-term approach to product development and product management, rather than a temporary, milestone-based approach. The product mindset is rooted in the tenets of a growth mindset where “failing fast”, “excelling at change,” and “continuous evolution” are embraced. One key pillar of the product mindset is fostering a consultant-client relationship with customers as opposed to a vendor-customer relationship. Customer needs are continually observed and a continuous-release cycle is adopted whereby customer feedback is considered and adopted in many cases in coming releases. This allows a company to “launch and move” (on to the next phase) while providing opportunities for testing and retrospectives.
How is a Product Mindset Different from Project Mindset?
The project mindset works under the assumption that work will be predictable enough to break down into known constraints like budget, scope and a timeline. It relies on milestones that can be readily measured and repeated. It works really well in fields like construction, where one project is very much like another. For example, there may be slight differences in how one data center is built vs another, but these differences are unlikely to be large enough to warrant an overhaul of the entire construction process. Generally, project managers can rely on known milestones to track progress and understand the value delivered to the end client. In software development, this sort of mindset leads to immediate problems. The needs of end-users are constantly shifting, so utilizing a time-tested, repeatable development pattern typically isn’t a realistic approach. Rather, companies must adopt a more agile approach; continuously gathering data from users and business owners and using that data to inform each step of the design and build process.
How Can Your Team Implement a Product Mindset?
Here are three things to keep in mind when considering moving your company to a product mindset.
Focus on the User, Not the Technology
Project mindset-based approaches often focus on what’s possible given current technology, rather than what users want and need. Design and build with the end customer’s needs in mind from the very beginning. This means utilizing techniques such as RUM (Real User Monitoring), A/B testing, canary releases and user interviews to gather actionable data from users. Then use that information to inform your product development.
Fail Fast, Fail Often
Successful companies are not afraid to fail. Rather than spending months building and optimizing the “perfect” solution, the product mindset would have you release an imperfect product – the best product for today – and begin gathering end user data immediately and incorporating learnings into your sprint plan. If that product fails, figure out why, address the failure point(s) and move on.
Plan for the Long-Term
Rather than creating and approving a budget and a team for each new project, consider building a team and a budget for ongoing investment into the product. Instead of asking “how long until this is done?” consider asking “how long until our customers receive value from this?” Instead of asking “how much will it cost to build this feature?” ask “how much will it cost to deliver value to our customers with this feature?”
The shift from “done” to “validated” is not an easy one. It requires businesses to become comfortable with the idea that a product might never fully be “done.” It requires an organization to invest in teams long-term, to empower them to iterate quickly, test, fail and repeat.
Adopting a product mindset requires companies to move beyond measuring core metrics and fully embrace the complexity and fluidity of a changing market. It’s not an easy transition to make. But in today’s software product development landscape, it will be a major difference maker for the companies that do it.