Software products are being used in almost every aspect of life. There are many software products doing exactly the same things but only a few products are able to sustain in this competitive world and rest becomes obsolete. Let’s take a look at how changing a mindset could help such organizations from going out of the market.
It is observed that many product development teams tend to make product jazzier to the end user. They think about interactive design and rich features. Developers are busy adding features to the product. During this exercise, functionality of the product gets neglected.
Customers buy a product to solve a problem for themselves. If the product is not able to fulfill its intended function, then it is as good as obsolete and customers would stop using such a product. Features are important, but they are often the secondary reason why a customer buys or uses a product.
Many software development companies find themselves in a similar situation. This situation can be addressed by inculcating product thinking approach. Product thinking is when you merge product management methodology and design thinking approach. Striking the balance between the two helps you create the perfect product with complete features, which can delight end-users.
So to get started with product thinking, let us first understand product management and design thinking.
Product management: It takes complete responsibility for the overall and continuous success of a product throughout the entire product lifecycle. With a product there is no clear definition of what has to be delivered. Customer needs evolve over time, and products must evolve to serve these needs. There are no clear deadlines with products. A customer expects a product to meet their needs and continue to work in the future. Thus, product development is not a temporary phenomenon. It is a continuous process of delivering new features and improving a given product over time.
Design thinking: It is a holistic product design approach where every product touch point is an opportunity to delight and benefit our users. Design thinking's main objective is to create innovative, custom solutions for customer's problems. Design thinking puts lot of emphasis on understanding and conceptualizing the problem. This is important for software development as it allows team to research user needs and come up with best possible user experience.
How to adapt to product thinking
1. Understand problem - Traditional process starts with requirement gathering. Most of the time requirements are not very clear or customers are not fully aware of requirements. Sticking to the initial requirements will not meet the customers’ need or by the time solutions are provided, requirements change. To get to product thinking you need to go beyond gathering requirements to truly understand the users' needs. This might include talking with users and understanding their problem, observing how they are reacting to problem and their alternate options.
2. Challenge established way of solving problem - Look at things from new perspective and adopt beginner's mindset. Look at problems without preconceptions based on the past or speculations about the future. It is not necessary that the most experienced person would give the best solution. Encourage out of the box thinking. Most successful software products are all about innovative way to solve customer's problem.
3. Outcome based - Traditional process is output based. Development team commit to deliver a feature, they understand the requirement, code it and release it. Its output based. But product thinking is all about outcome. Output measures do not address the value or impact of our product on our customers. Outcome measures are more appropriate indicator of effectiveness. Outcomes quantify performance and assess the success of the product or service.
4. Deliver Value - Most of the developers spend time in estimation and sizing. But most of the time their initial estimates go wrong and then meetings start to be able to give correct estimate. You are caught up in giving correct estimate to be able to give correct timelines. In this delivering value get ignored. Good team should be able to quickly and frequently deliver value to customers. Don’t get caught up in giving correct estimate, instead start to deliver small incremental value to the customer and stakeholders. You all should try to achieve: delivering value.
Structure of Product thinking
The first step of product thinking is to determine the problem of our target audience. If the problem you choose doesn’t actually exists or solution you propose doesn’t solve the problem then your product is going to be worthless. Finding real problem is difficult sometimes. Start with doing some research and talking to target users would be the right thing to do. Product thinking process takes place as follows:
1. User first
- Identify Problem - What problem will the product solve?
- Identify target audience - Who are the users of this product?
2. Vision and strategy
- Vision behind it - Why are we doing this?
- Strategy - How will we do this?
- Goal - What do we want to achieve?
- Features - What capabilities will user have to address their problem?
Initially, product thinking can be confusing and little difficult concept to understand. However, once understood and when you start talking about this approach in discussions, team starts creating a product that provides true value to the customers. It is a way of examining every design decision in context with the problem the user has. At the end of the day, the goal is to delight your products users. Often you have to get out of your comfort zone in order to do great things and build great software. Product thinking helps you create the right product for the right people. By understanding who your users are, what they might expect from your product, and how to best deliver it to them, you can reap the benefits of product thinking.
Nitesh Kumawat is the product development engineering manager at CDK Global.
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