This read discusses what a product mindset is and how to cultivate it within your business.
One of the most widely adopted business strategies of recent years, a product mindset, is essential for businesses in all sectors. And it’s especially critical for digital products where users have a multitude of options and alternatives to consider.
Whatever service or product a company provides, a product mindset allows for a more agile approach to growth. It improves strategy execution and ensures that your product vision is consistent across the board.
Although project management as a discipline is integral in any business, product teams have a different focus. Project teams are focused on the execution of a goal based on time and financial constraints. Product teams, however, are focused on understanding their customers on a deeper level and continuously evolving products to meet and exceed the market needs.
If you’re curious about the practical approach to developing a product mindset, here’s what you need to know to get started.
What is a product mindset?
Every product needs to provide value to the end customers as well as the business itself. By focusing on that goal throughout a product development cycle, costly mistakes can be avoided, and opportunities can be realised.
Product Development and Product Management functions exist because businesses need people to keep them focused on developing the right products and making decisions with a product mindset.
Other business functions are not solely focused on the product. For example, software engineers tend to have a more technical mindset, focus on delivery, and sometimes overlook the bigger picture. Marketers are focused on driving awareness, traffic and conversions and don’t necessarily address product gaps and maturity.
Product development and management are what ties all teams together and bring the product vision to life. And that allows your business to deliver high-value and tangible end-products that are solution and value-focused.
To have a more “product mindset” means to be ruthlessly consumer-centric. That’s because user value and business value are reciprocal and two sides to the same coin. Being aware and focused on both ends of the spectrum allows you to deliver more value to your customer and your business. Delivering that value is the goal, where solving customers’ pain points is the priority rather than focusing on new product features.
Examples of business with a strong product mindset
An excellent example of a company that initially focused on a product mindset is Netflix. They built a product that solved a consumer problem in a way that provided great value. By catering to what the company believed would make the lives of consumers easier, Netflix disrupted entire industries and broke established brands.
Another digital tycoon, Spotify, has also changed the game when it comes to a product mindset. The music streaming service has a unique approach to ‘the product’. Their strategy focuses on small, autonomous teams consisting of a single product owner and a small number of developers.
These small squads don’t work across the entire company. Instead, they focus on a single facet of the product (such as the search function), and then look for ways to make it better for Spotify users. The teams are kept small and permanent, meaning that the members of each team all have a voice and become used to each other’s ways of working.
Once the teams have made their changes to the product aspect they’re working on; they don’t need to wait for permission to trial it. They can make updates as soon as they’re ready. This means they can start learning more quickly about what they’ve got right and wrong. It’s the epitome of agile working, and it’s all focused on improving the product.
Of course, when it comes to a product mindset it’s hard to dismiss Google. The tech giant has excelled at focusing on its product. Look at one example, Google Calendar, which has been around since 2006 and is now used by 500 million people.
Realising that there was no excellent calendar product available, the Google team went to work. They came up with their product vision and designed the calendar that ticked all of the boxes. Then, they launched it, listened to customers, watched the data, and made changes as needed.
Google saw a gap in the product market and then focused on delivering the best version of that product they could make. Spotify redesigned its company structure to make product evolution faster and easier to target. Netflix saw a customer pain point and created a product that resolved that pain point.
This might seem challenging but developing a product mindset that’s laser-focused on the needs of a target audience is much feasible than you might think. We’ll address this later on in this resource.
Customer focus (why the product is needed)
Product mindset is a consumer-centric strategy. That means starting with the why of the product. There should be clear and identifiable consumer objectives. Once those objectives have been identified, it becomes a lot easier to work out how to achieve them.
The next step is to consider why those customers might want to buy your product as opposed to your competitors. This allows you to consider a range of solutions that reflect tangible end goals and a roadmap to completion. Known as ‘product discovery‘, it’s an exercise that enables you to ask important questions such as:
- What do customers want and need?
- How does the product help consumers achieve what they want to achieve?
- Are customers using products as expected?
- Is the product reliable and safe?
- Can your business support this product?
- Can the product be scaled as needed, and is that workload sustainable in the long term?
Asking questions (the value of product curiosity)
Product curiosity is one of the key stages of a product mindset. It’s extremely straightforward and simply refers to the ability to keep up to date with a) the progress of the product development and b) the emerging needs of customers.
By keeping customers at the heart of product development, it becomes significantly easier to identify new needs as they arise. From there, it becomes straightforward to identify solutions that resolve those needs. The key is to ensure that making changes and introducing new elements to a product needs to be monetisable. After all, a business won’t last long if it doesn’t make business sense.
The world continues to change rapidly, and businesses are having to expand into new markets and multiple domains to stay relevant. Having a product mindset means understanding what makes a good product, why it’s a good product, and what changes will improve the product.
Asking questions to your in-house teams and your end users can give a much broader and all-encompassing vision of what needs to be done.
Problem-solving (while keeping customers at heart)
A product mindset is all about a continuous and agile development process. New features added to products will always remain hypothetical until the day that consumers get their hands on them. That’s why a product mindset needs to be designed in short cycles that all have their own clearly defined goals and opportunities for reflection.
This allows for a faster time to market while utilising the problem-solving features that are the right balance of quality, function, and delivery speed. The main goal here is to establish a framework for continuous learning and feedback. That will enable you to understand and keep up to date with industry trends and changes, look at the future, and create a business culture that embraces skill development.
Product evaluation (validating the outcome)
To turn hypothetical product development into value, the market itself is the key determiner. When a product is in the hands of consumers, it will be tested in ways that a product team may never have considered. This stage is going to be all about earning feedback and reviews from those customers.
Product evaluation is something that needs to be ongoing. Without it, new or upgraded products are simply sent out into the wild to fend for themselves. By using those short product development lifecycles, it can become much easier to make products more agile. Changes can be made quickly in the face of feedback.
It’s not just about the product either. It’s as much as about the real person or people at the end of the sales funnel. Getting the technical aspect of product development right is, of course, critical. However, time should also be spent analysing and learning how consumers are using that product and how that product is changing consumer behaviour.
Introducing a product mindset to different departments
Introducing a more product-focused mindset into an organisation requires looking beyond a single department. A product-focused mindset requires creating cross-functional and empowered teams that have a clear focus on problem-solving. This is going to mean adopting an amalgamated skill set within each team.
Collaboration and communication are the keys to more sustainable product development. By starting every team from the same starting point of positive intent, context needs to be shared so that everyone in the company has aligned goals. In a traditional business model, it’s usually managers that make decisions about deliverables. Then, orders are filtered down to the relevant teams as they are needed.
The problem with this approach is that team members have little to no understanding of the problems they are solving for customers. The result is finding solutions that have little real-world value. This outdated approach results in measuring output instead of product impact.
By including every department, from the initial researchers and product development teams to the customer service teams, marketers, and even the HR department, those team members will feel more ownership of the goals. That means they will be more committed to the process and will gain more insights into the overall impact of the end product.
While end dates and product outputs are metrics that will always need to be monitored, progress towards real-time goals is vital. By embracing collaboration and communication, the whole business can better monitor successes.
Adopting a product mindset makes it easier to create products that are less transactional and more transformative. While it’s impossible to perfectly design a product experience, developing the right mindset is about having a deeper understanding of user expectations and user behaviour. It’s also about ensuring that a business is less concerned with the question of ‘are we making something correctly’ and more on ‘are we building the correct product’.
The result is a product that provides exceptional customer value while building a stronger competitive advantage.