Don’t know about you, but I tend to think and talk a lot about the “product mindset”. There are a lot of great product management tools and techniques out there, but they become ever so powerful when you pair them with a strong product mindset. For me the product mindset comes down to four key elements:
Customer – Everything begins and ends with the customer.
Curiosity – Question. Question. Question. Even when you think you’ve got the answer!
Clarity – Being able to communicate with clarity, or your product and customer is going to suffer.
Creativity – Novel ways of addressing problems, being able to come up with alternative solutions.
Having the right mindset is imperative to creating great products and solving problems. Do you think of projects or the end to end lifecycle of your product? How and when do you learn from customers? How do you utilise insights gleaned from customers and behavioural analytics? In my product career thus far, the successful product managers and leaders that I’ve been privileged to meet or work with, all outperform on the aforementioned four components. These great people all are:
- Customer centric in everything they do
- Curious and not afraid to ask (hard) questions
- Great communicators, decision-makers and influencers
- Unafraid to explore different solutions or to tear up the rulebook
People with a product mindset have developed a knack for spotting product opportunities and are good at communicating these as well as proposed solutions. They’re comfortable listening, questioning and influencing others. At this point you might be scratching your head and be thinking “Do these people really exist?!” Yes, people with a strong mindset do exist and they aren’t unicorns either!
Having a well developed product mindset doesn’t mean that you’re perfect or that every product you touch turns into gold. Quite the opposite. Some 0f the people with a strong product mindset that come to mind aren’t afraid to be wrong, try new things, make though decisions and be highly uncomfortable in the process:
- Unafraid of being wrong – Developing a product mindset means not having all the answers, but being happy to stick your neck out by sharing your opinion or product conviction (and testing your assumptions).
- Comfortable with not knowing – This counters our innate urge to be seen as competent or an expert in our field. A product mindset means that you’ll be saying things like “I don’t know” or “Let me figure that out” and not worry how others might feel about that. It also means that you’ll be asking questions … constantly.
- Try, learn and try again – Be impatient to get going, trying a solution or approach in order to learn about your assumptions or deeply held beliefs. This is not about being right. In contrast, think about taking a plunge, and being clear about the best point in time, and the confidence level needed to dive into the deep end. Again, it’s not about being right; it’s about being open minded and building up evidence for your stake in the ground.
- Constantly exploring – Learning from customers, competitors, (non) sector or completely unrelated products. Given how quickly things evolve, we need to always be learning and be open to change. Our customers evolve constantly and so does the market that our product or service operates in.
The bad news is that a product mindset can’t be taught. There are lots of product management courses and certifications, and whilst these can be valuable they won’t give you the product mindset on a platter. The good news is that you can grow a product mindset, simply by doing, trying, learning and trying again …
- Precision – Be precise about what you say and do. For me personally, this is a constant area for development. Thinking, for instance, when I ramble or go off on a tangent and I realise I’ve lost my audience … Precision to me is also about being deliberate; having clear intentions about the work that you want to do or the results you want to achieve (for your customer, product, or business). It’s also about being deliberate about the things you don’t want to go after!
- Big Picture + Detail – Continuously trying to learn about the big picture, whilst not losing sight of the detail. You can learn about creating a product strategy, by figuring out a concrete vision for a product and then work backwards. Then getting stuck into the detail of a product backlog or writing user stories to implement the strategy.
- Listen – Listen and learn. Customers, colleagues, competitors, suppliers, analysts. They all can provide you with valuable context and insights around your product or opportunity space, but only if we truly listen. This is how we learn as product managers!
- Observe – Observe what is happening by looking at data, and continually feeding your observations into a ‘test & learn’ approach. Actually, I believe there is an important step that needs to happen before you look at the data: ‘asking the right questions of the data’. What do we want to learn? Why? What are the assumptions that I want to test? How? What does ‘good’ look like? Why?
- Storytelling (and repetition) – Think of what you want to achieve or want to say as stories. Similar to my above observation about precision, I’m always trying to improve on my ability to tell a compelling story and take people on a journey. This isn’t about being flexible with the truth, it’s about getting your message across in an engaging and comprehensive way. Also, don’t be upset if you find yourself repeating the story many, many times!
Main learning: A product mindset can be taught. However, you can develop your product mindset by trying, learning and refining … continuously!
Related links for further learning: