To read the previous post on 4 Principles to Grow Your Product Mindset, click here.
“Don’t find customers for your products, find products for your customer.”~Seth Godin
There’s a shift under way in large organizations, one that puts design much closer to the center of the enterprise. But the shift isn’t about aesthetics. It’s about applying the principles of design to the way people work. Design companies, those that take a human-centric approach, outperform other companies by 200%! It’s big business, and it’s not new—it’s a resurgence to understanding human behavior and the needs of our customers.
This approach, in part, is a response to the increasing complexity of technology and business. That complexity takes many forms. Sometimes software is at the center of a product and needs to be integrated with hardware, and then made intuitive and simple from the user’s point of view. Sometimes the problem being tackled is multi-faceted: Think about how much tougher it is to work with the regulations in health care or finance as opposed to designing a simple product. Sometimes the business environment is so volatile a company must experiment with multiple paths in order to survive.
I could list a dozen other types of complexity that businesses grapple with every day. But here’s what they all have in common: people need help making sense of them. Specifically, people prefer their interactions with technology, products and services to be simple, intuitive, and pleasurable. No-one wants to need to read a user manual.
A set of principles collectively known as design thinking—empathy with users, a discipline of prototyping, and tolerance for failure—is the best tool we have for creating those kinds of interactions and developing a responsive, flexible organizational culture.
Let’s take a look at three steps to grow your Product Mindset and creating products your customers love.
1. Identify the Problem
“Discovery is the new knowing.”
Think about the companies you love, and they are most likely a design company. Apple, Disney, and Target are among them. Brand loyalty evokes a feeling inside of us.
I live in Florida now and while I’m not necessarily a fan of Disney World, I am a fan of Disney—particularly of how Disney has been taking some risks like buying Marvel or the acquisition of Pixar. Those acquisitions have helped to modernize a 100-year old company. The Disney princesses that my daughter loved are much different than the princesses my granddaughter knows. Think about Elsa from Frozen – she isn’t waiting on her prince to solve things – she is relying on her own strengths and on her sister. They’ve produced strong storylines with powerful black leads, like Black Panther, which was a huge success in the market – evidence that Disney is paying attention to the messages and culture we want our children to grow up with.
Another example of a design company is Target, who provided a feature in their app to allow consumers to earn votes for purchases and cast their votes for local charities to receive funds.
We start building brand loyalty by having empathy for our customers. We build empathy with our customers by leaving our seats. Bring customers into your discovery and review processes; let your developers shadow them for a day and talk to users directly. Eliminate buffers like relationship managers or sales reps so people who build the product get really connected with the people with problems.
2. Define the Value
“Stop thinking about your customers and start thinking like them.” ~Chris Spagnuolo
Value is what your customer is willing to pay for. More and more of the work people do in the world is about creating valuable solutions to complex problems. This means we need to focus more on outcomes than on the outputs. It’s not just about how much stuff we can create; it’s about the value or benefits that stuff provides. We need to clearly define what value means individually, for our team, and for our organization.
Value is tricky. But Bain & Company has helped us out. They have codified the value proposition to help us understand 30 different elements of consumer value which can help companies gain an edge. https://www.bain.com/insights/the-elements-of-value-hbr/ (Below is a snippet from their output – I encourage you to visit their work to learn more, or look into our Advanced Product Owner courses.)
What Bain and Company has done is to further define the value proposition which has helped us to explore other expressions of value – knowing that we are more willing to buy a product or change our behavior or use a service when it is solving our problems.
Functional: Products or services that make somebody money, save time, might reduce risk. We can go on and on—our world is full of these products and services we can’t live without that fulfill our functional needs.
Emotional: There’s a lot of ads for products or services out there that affect us at an emotional level. Consider the Wellness or Therapeutic dimensions: Meditation apps are a big trend right now – how many of us have at least one wellness or meditation app on our phone?
Life Changing: Consider the Motivational dimension: The fitness app business is thriving. Take Fitbit for example, and all the ways Fitbit prompts us for more activity or rewards our efforts. The Affiliation dimension: I grew up in Idaho and we didn’t have our own professional football team and so my dad was a huge Dallas Cowboys fan. I loved the Cowboys long before I knew anything about the game of football because of the sense of joy and belonging that I experienced watching the game with my dad.
Social Impact: When considering this element, think – what problem(s) are we solving that can help us reach self-actualization, for ourselves, for our product line, for the community? As consumers, we are willing to pay more for a product or a service when they are tied to causes that we care about, such as 40cean. I am an environmentalist so I’m willing to buy a product or support a cause when I know they are giving something back to the environment. I donate money to 40cean to help clean plastic out of the ocean; in return, I receive a simple bracelet made out of string and recycled plastic. Wearing the bracelets garners attention: I get to share the message show you I am putting money towards this cause. Other examples of well known products whose mission ties directly with the product line: Bomba’s Socks, Tom’s Shoes, Impossible Foods.
Think about the All-In Challenge I wrote about in my previous post. This effort touches many layers in Bain’s value pyramid, which I believe can be attributed to the phenomenal success of this digital fundraiser for the hungry. The challenges gives sports and media fans a way to get involved (social impact) when we see neighborhoods, friends or family struggling with hunger; the movement is solving a dire need (hope); and we receive the value of the experience with a sports star or celebrity (affiliation).
3. Validate the Outcome
“We don’t know what’s possible with technology—none of us really know until we actually see it.” ~Marty Cagan
Value is only an assumption until it is validated by the market. Cagan reminds us in his book Inspired that we often overlook innovation that our technologists and engineers can bring to solve problems, because they are uniquely positioned to know more about the art of the possible. He makes the point that it is more valuable to show your users something and get their feedback than to run a focus group.
An important part of the process is validating assumptions to test if a product or service will be of value in the market, and yet, it is often overlooked or bypassed. This isn’t just testing the feasibility (the how) from a technical perspective, we are talking about testing the feasibility that people will change their behavior to buy our product or use our service.
Think of a time when your customer came to you with an idea, and you went to work, and delivered on it. A typical product development approach means starting with the Why (thank you to Simon Sinek and Roman Pichler and all those industry greats who have given us the tools and techniques to dig into purpose.) It’s seems to be a common practice now to pause and clarify the vision, and then go forward with building out a product strategy. If you are an agile development shop, perhaps you focused on a time to market goal and feedback loops. Maybe you even planned to test out a minimal viable product with small beta launches before a big public launch. These are all great practices, and all part of building a thing right.
But all of these things are building on a certain level of growing assumptions — each of those outputs require a certain level of effort and investment. And the investment increases and increases — what we’re missing is the discipline to clarify the problem we are solving and validating our assumptions that this thing that we want to provide will solve that problem. To find out if we are building the right thing.
Cagan describes legendary venture capitalist John Doerr who stated, “We need teams of missionaries, not teams of mercenaries.” This point goes to the heart of the most important trait of strong leaders, strong organizations, and strong product teams.
Teams of missionaries are engaged, motivated, have a deep understanding of the business context, and tangible empathy for the customer. Teams of mercenaries feel no real sense of empowerment or accountability, no passion for the problem to be solved, and little real connection with the actual users and customers.
Examples of Validation Techniques
As missionaries, we want to evangelize the product and validate the need before we invest in development. Validation techniques help us define the product-market fit. We can describe development as the Product fit (can we create a business?) and Discovery as the Problem fit (should we build it?).
I could describe validation techniques as a whole separate post (check back later!) For the origin of these techniques and examples of their applications, refer to the books: Lean Startup by Eric Ries and Lean UX by Jeff Gotshel. Here are just two quick examples from products you probably know.
Drew Houston, CEO of Dropbox, produced a 3-minute video that demonstrated the ease and value of the product before it was built out completely. This short Explainer Video took them from 5,000 interested customers on their mailing list to 75,000 overnight. This was evidence there was a large market of people looking for the product he wanted to develop.
Nick Swinmurn tested his assumption that people would buy shoes online before he ever built the site – called Shoesite.com – before building the technology to power the e-commerce giant that it is today, now called Zappos. Instead of purchasing a large inventory and hoping that people were interested in buying shoes online, he went to the mall and took pictures of items at local shoe stores. Once he got an order, he went back and bought the shoes and mailed them through the post office. This type of validation is called the Wizard of Oz strategy.
Dropbox and Zappos are common name brands now, but they didn’t launch through some kind of big platform – it was the 3-step process: Identifying a problem, creating a value proposition, and validating assumptions that helped them understand if they had a product-market fit, all before a heavy investment in development. Then add on a lot of hard work and grit, resilience, and a little bit of luck.
The point is: Developing any product without discovering the evidence of value is waste.
Make products that are transformational not transactional, by growing your product mindset. You can’t design an experience – you have to get things into the hands of real users so that you can match user expectations with user behavior. You can use these 4 principles and 3 techniques to grow your Product Mindset, move from “Are we building the thing right?” to “Are we building the right thing?” and build products your customers love.
Hone your craft; speak your truth; show your thanks
Learn more about our Product and Innovation workshops and bootcamps at ClearlyAgile – we don’t just talk about products, we build products. www.clearlyagileinc.com. We offer workshops and professional consulting in Product, Innovation, and Business Agility to help you pivot in this shifting marketplace.