Or… the 4 Principles to Grow Your Product Mindset
One day we had full schools, workplaces, gyms, and spas. The next, we were all at home. With COVID-19, our world changed overnight. With “The Great Pause,” came “Stay at Home.” As the novel coronavirus escalated, another dilemma erupted that many anticipated but hoped would not as expansive as it has become. As schools shut down, many students no longer had access to meals. 30 million kids rely on school food programs for at least one meal a day—and that’s just in the USA, a country that hardly springs to mind when we think about hunger. Due to the widespread effects of COVID-19, there is an unprecedented shortage of food resources. In addition to students in need, the newly unemployed and other vulnerable populations such as the elderly face dwindling access to food.
Michael Rubin, co-owner of the 76-ers and the chairman of Fanatics, a major sports apparel retailer, wanted to do something about this problem. He wanted to create the world’s largest digital fundraiser to help provide food for people who lost access during the pandemic and quarantine.
Rubin and his team created the All-In Challenge. This is a non-profit that connects sports and entertainment figures with fans by donating experiences like visiting movie sets or items like Superbowl rings or jerseys, to raise money—a LOT of money. (www.allinchallenge.com)
Rubin’s team launched the All-In non-profit on April 14th, just 10 days after conception. Within a few days of being launched, the movement had already inspired $6 million in donations. In two months, the movement had raised $55 million.
I bring up the All-In Challenge not just to get us out of our corporate worlds and to connect on a human level, but because I think it’s a great demonstration of how companies with a Product Mindset can pivot to serve their customers – and their community – in this unpredictable and challenging economy.
I believe that by growing our product mindset, we can change the way we think, and then we can change the world, just like Michael Rubin and his innovative team.
What makes a Product Viable?
Let’s review the elements required to create a viable product – something that people will pay to use.
1. Usable: Products have to be easy to use and accessible to people of every country and language. We are experiencing a resurgence back into human-centric design, something that has been around since the 1970’s but introduced as design thinking by Stanford’s Design School. No-one wants to have to read a user guide these days.
2. Valuable: The business has to be able to sell it and profit from it. In the All-In Challenge, translate the concept of a valuable business case to the non-profit sector – will this product or initiative or service meet the mission of the non-profit?
3. Feasible: Something the business can afford to build, that designers and engineers can build with available resources, technology, and time. This includes several dimensions – consider the non-functional features of products such as governance, security, stability, and scalability.
Applying these elements to the All-In Challenge, consider the ease of use required for such a large and diverse audience, the inspiring use case behind it, and the technical feasibility that had to be in place to move massive amounts of money safely and securely.
The Product Mindset Manifesto
The product mindset is rooted in the growth mindset — the ability for continual learning and adapting that Carol Dweck outlines so well in her work, Mindset.
As I was clarifying my thoughts for this post, I caught myself shaping up the conversation as one principle versus another. But that is exactly what a fixed mindset would have us do—think in terms of absolutes.
Instead, I suggest we approach cultivating our product mindset as if it is an organic, shifting process that reflects the reality of modern-day product development. One that requires a non-linear approach and a deep understanding of navigating the real product world born of “failing fast” and continual change.
I started with the Agile Manifesto as a guide to shape my thoughts. I’m not suggesting we replace this. I am proposing we go a little further to apply the agile mindset specifically to the product mindset just to open up some dialogue.
It requires that we focus on customer value, let go of perfection in the pursuit of impact, and change what we need to respond – just as athletes do in a high-stake game.
1. Outside-in over Inside-out
Grow using the outside-in approach, rather than inside-out.
The outside-in approach is the belief that customer value creation is the key to success. This is elementary in the world of Product—look at your customers’ unrealized needs and translate them into solutions that will serve them. The inside-out strategy is guided by the belief that the strengths and capabilities of an organization will produce a sustainable future. This might be working, for some organizations; the cost might be increased internal efficiencies but to the detriment of customer interactions.
Identifying Unrealized Value is recognizing the gaps in your product where your competitors and Lean Startups could swoop in and start poaching your customers with new features. They capitalize on those small windows of opportunity that we miss, or defer, because we are focused on serving existing customers. Without making an investment in innovation, we cannot maintain our competitive advantage.
2. Time to Value over Time to Market
One of the main reasons people decide to adopt Agile frameworks is to improve their time to market. To go fast. I like to explore this with my clients: “How fast is fast?” In order for you to compete against your competitors, how fast must you respond to this shifting marketplace? Weeks? Days? Seconds? Most organizations haven’t really quantified that thought. They’ve adopted a lot of Agile processes, but they haven’t experienced what it could mean for them if they were to apply agility to their Product Management through adopting the Product Mindset.
A change to make in our condition is to start measuring time to value rather than time to market. Consider the difference between Done and Validated. A project mindset rewards Done, on time, according to plan. A product mindset focuses on validation in the market from our users. What if we moved from measuring how quickly we can launch to measuring how quickly our customer receives value?
3. Prioritizing Growth of the Company over Perfection of a Product
As consumers, we are experimented on all the time. Yet as product managers, we are reluctant to push something out to our customers that isn’t perfect. Consider how willing we are to accept small issues in products we use every day, but we hold ourselves and our products to a different standard. Our stuff has to be perfect before we release it. Why is that?
We don’t throw away our smartphone when there is an upgrade because we know we will get a fix. We tolerate the imperfection because we value the product.
Most of us dislike going to our favorite grocery store to grab something quick, only to find they have changed the placement of our favorite products. Perhaps this has happened to you – now we have to search for our favorite brands, but in the meantime, we discover a new product to throw in the basket. While we might be inconvenienced for a short time, we tolerate change because we’ve realized a new benefit worth the adjustment.
When we have a product or service that we know and value, we allow experimentation because we trust that continual enhancements will benefit us. Value, benefit, and trust are hallmarks of customer loyalty.
4. Excelling at Change over Welcoming Change
It’s a small nuance, but it’s a big difference. This one requires asking some courageous questions:
What would I have to do differently if I really wanted to excel at responding to change?
What would have to change in our organizational’s ecosystem to excel at change?
If you are seeking more agility, consider removing a process. One of the exercises I use with clients is to diagram how many steps it takes for a request to get from the user to the developer. I’ve seen organizations with over 40 steps! And some with 4. You might guess which ones have better customer service ratings and Net Promotor Scores.
What if we moved from getting all the decision makers involved in the process to making those involved in the process decision makers?
Imagine a world with no more status meetings – one where decision makers focus on enabling flow and removing impediments instead of creating or reading status reports.
What if we funded teams instead of projects?
This means approving a budget for an ongoing investment, not time. So many companies default to what I call the dispatch model: We get a project in the shop, we dispatch a team to execute, we invest in the forming, norming, storming of the team… and once the product or service launches, we call everyone back into the home room, and we disperse them to a new project. We invest in that new team forming again and we repeat the insanity over and over.
If you are using the dispatch model, as the project effort appears to become smaller, our overhead cost seems to grow. This happens when we keep investing in this same approach instead of investing in sustainable teams, continual improvement, and ongoing product enhancements. We want to shift to a product mindset and fund teams, not projects.
What if I measured user behavior that resulted in a desired outcome, and not my development team activities?
This can be complex work, and it takes a lot of effort and mental capacity. So often, we don’t even try. We just say that it’s too hard or there is too much impacting the outcome to isolate what my product is contributing. I wonder – if we can’t measure it, is it even worth doing?
To grow our product mindset, we have to move beyond measuring the simple, to understanding and testing our assumptions about behavior of our users. Consider the example of Facebook’s philosophy that if a user “friends” seven people in ten days, it’s behavior they know will create a loyal user. This type of assumption can be complex to measure and test, because it’s not necessarily a direct cause and effect. In the challenge to explore insights into human behavior we must be willing to break from the status quo and grow our product mindset.
So how do we go further? In the next post, I’ll give you three steps to continue to grow that product mindset muscle.
Hone your craft; speak your truth; show your thanks
Learn more about our Product and Innovation workshops at ClearlyAgile – we don’t just talk about products, we build products. You can review our training and services descriptions at www.clearlyagileinc.com. We offer workshops and professional consulting in Product, Innovation, and Business Agility to help you pivot successfully in this shifting marketplace.