As little as five years ago, businesses that designed websites and created digital solutions were all termed ‘digital agencies’. They were categorised as a web build business or a digital design agency, but that all changed when a new approach came to the fore – product thinking and product development.
As a forerunner to a product approach, Code Computerlove, which was established in 1999, made the shift to become a digital product studio in 2016 and has led the way in product thinking ever since.
To mark World Product Day and the craft of product management, Rob explains 10 things Code’s team has learnt during its five-year journey as a product studio and some of the key benefits of the approach over more traditional ways digital experiences are created and managed.
1. Product Thinking involves prioritising work that will make the biggest commercial impact, constantly looking for ways to make brilliant products even better. To achieve this it needs more than a ‘mindset’ or you will go back to old ways. It requires coaching and top down buy in to ensure everyone is aligned to clearly-defined goals within the organisation.
2. Three pillars of product thinking are ‘Do the right thing’; Do it the right way; Do it together. It is not always easy to do the right thing. ‘The business’ may not like what the data says but it does not lie! Data-driven decision making sits at the heart of a product approach.
3. Pace is your friend. The approach is about prioritising the work that will make the biggest commercial impact and measuring impact. Get your new feature or content to customers quickly and you will know what users feel about it ‘in the wild’, which can sometimes differ from testing environments. Prioritising speed gets a bad rep by product people but often getting something out is better than it being perfect in order to learn and iterate. Be brave. Experiment often.
4. You need a progressive Financial Director! A business taking a product approach needs to understand that you can’t always cost for everything.
5. Creating a strong team, with good skills and who understand the process is essential. It’s also about removing the silos of an organisation for speed and effectiveness and aligning the entire culture towards shared goals and metrics, with autonomy in teams to find the best way forward. By fostering this non-siloed culture based around clearly-defined goals in their organisation, businesses can stay agile and more immediately correlate investment with commercial return.
6. With a product approach, the work is not done until it generates a return – and it often won’t be right the first time. Enjoy successes AND failures. Always learn.
7. Money spent in the research and insights stage, to understand why, pays dividends in the outcome.
8. Building internal product capability is becoming more commonplace but this is increasingly being augmented with product expertise from businesses like Code to enable companies to retain the product knowledge but not have to find all the specialists needed to make product thinking work.
9. The death of the Hippo? We have been able to turn briefs from “we want these things” to “we want this outcome” after spending time with client leaders and educating them around the why. This level of senior level agility is new, as previously management teams tend to have a fixed mindset about the things they want, so this level of openness to change is new.
10. Stop if you must. Don’t be afraid to stop if it’s not going well. Sometimes product ideas come from a well-informed place, but sometimes the customer and the market are hard to read. To keep going in the wrong direction is not cool (even if the CEO thinks it is).
Rob adds: “Conversely, the word ‘product’ can be divisive. We have actually also found that removing the word ‘product’ from the conversation, ironically, has made the principles more understandable and interesting to a still-maturing decision-maker and market.
“Instead we talk about the virtues of product, namely people working well together; to imagine the right things to create amazing outcomes and doing it in the right way using modern engineering methods.
“Once you show this working, everyone can buy into it really easily.”
Who's using Product Thinking?
Everyone from manufacturers to digital agencies like us apply Product Thinking. A ‘digital effectiveness’ survey we conducted in collaboration with Econsultancy revealed that many top performing businesses are taking on its characteristic behaviours.
The report demonstrated some of the differences in mindset between respondents that are outperforming or performing well, and those who aren’t.
It revealed that top performers are more likely to be looking to ‘increase customer lifetime value’ than their mainstream counterparts (68% vs. 47%). Similarly, they’re aiming to ‘speed up their performance’ (50% vs. 38%), ‘improve the integration of the business’ (49% vs. 30%), ‘achieve defined deliverables’ (46% vs. 27%) and ‘develop internal knowledge and capabilities’ (40% vs. 27%).
Taken together, these aims very much reflect the Product Thinking approach.