Projects have their time and place. However, a project that meets deadlines, stays within budget and fits the agreed-upon scope can still result in a bad product. Just let that sink in for a moment.
Years ago, I believed that the path to success was trying to predict everything upfront, then slowly building the system. Most software development teams (mine included) would not release a product until they believed everything was complete.
In the meantime, I was pursuing a personal project that turned into Tourneytopia, a system designed for custom bracketology contests. With Tourneytopia, I started by building the minimum functionality needed for users to get started and begin paying me for the product.
My MVP was neither perfect nor anywhere near my grand vision, but it was something tangible that allowed me to begin marketing, acquiring customers, receiving feedback, and creating revenue. It also gave me something to iterate upon.
Tourneytopia was the epiphany I needed to ask myself, “Why am I not working this way with my clients?”
What Is a Product Mindset?
What I stumbled upon in 2004 with Tourneytopia is now more commonly known as the product mindset. Its alternative is called the project mindset.
As a reminder, if your team is more project-minded than product-minded, you might notice the following harmful symptoms:
- Your team thinks of scope, budget, and timing as fixed.
- Your dev team wants everything to be absolutely perfect before launch. Many times, there are constant conversations about refactoring.
- User interviews have fallen by the wayside.
- There aren’t clear metrics that the team is trying to impact.
- Your team focuses on the execution of written requirements as a cure-all to scope problems.
- Your team isn’t iteratively focused on the business outcome you need to be successful.
- You may not have a dedicated product manager or even think of what you are doing as product development.
Unfortunately, symptoms like these are incredibly common for businesses.
Teams who operate under a product mindset offer tremendous value to the business as a whole. These are just a few examples of the benefits they bring:
- They focus on metrics that truly improve the business, such as customer acquisition, customer satisfaction, and monthly revenue growth.
- They downsize their first deliverable, focusing on releasing a valuable product that is aligned with their desired outcome. This allows them to receive critical feedback to validate their assumptions and iterate in the correct way.
- The team takes accountability for the product and its value. This is in great contrast to project mindset teams who often operate in silos, where everyone claims the product’s potential failure is “not my fault.”
When you start thinking about a software system as a product, you add value right away in small increments. A product mindset includes focusing on achieving desired outcomes. Scope, time, and budget are all flexible and impacted by these outcomes!
How Your Team Can Embrace a Product Mindset
If you’re starting to see the value of the product mindset, here are my top six suggestions for how to implement it within your own team.
- Empower a product manager.
- Keep your product team together and empower them to be self-organizing. Too often I see companies pull team members off to other projects, disrupting the flow they have established.
- Shorten your upfront discovery and planning time, encouraging your team to produce an MVP as soon as is realistically possible.
- Encourage frequent releases upon that MVP, gathering important feedback from internal and external users. Take this information back to your team and think through what functionality will obtain more users, drive sales, etc.
- Demo often and watch how people use your system.
- Focus on business outcomes and establish measurement strategies to determine whether you’ve reached these goals with each new feature release.
- Put your users at the center of all design decisions, rather than solely relying on the opinions and desires of stakeholders.
Results of Switching to a Product Mindset
Those of you who have never worked in an environment with a clear product mindset may be hesitant to change, or you may have leadership that requires some convincing. While you may hear that it has worked for others in your industry, it usually takes a leap of faith to try it for the first time.
Yet, I imagine many of you have your own horror stories to tell of times where you planned for months on end but never truly built a product of value.
My advice to product mindset novices is always to remain patient, understanding that not everyone is going to “get it” right away. Simply identify a solution that will create impact the fastest, then continue measuring and iterating on it to deliver additional value.
Eventually, the results will speak for themselves. Most rational minds can’t argue with success! And the trust that you gain will build longer runways for further expansion — including additional projects and even lifelong relationships.
If you need help implementing a product mindset, visit us at Augusto Digital.
About the Author
Brian is a serial entrepreneur. He is the co-founder of Augusto (product engineering services for product managers) and LOFT (product support for product managers), along with other service and SaaS businesses. Follow our blog