Building digital products is complex. As product leaders, we strive to make the right decisions at the right time in order to win in the rapidly-changing marketplace we live in today. We know that agility and optimizing our development processes are important factors to delivering quality products, but they are not the only areas we should be focused on. Here are five things that every product leader should be thinking about or asking themselves and practical tips to apply in your own organization.
Product Discovery is an essential practice to mitigate risk and validate assumptions before building a solution or a set of features. Consistently integrating these practices into the product development lifecycle takes discipline and intention. We tend to spend a lot more time in the solution space where we exercise our ideas and creativity. Although it might feel more innovative coming up with solutions, make spending time in the problem space just as much of a priority. By really understanding what problem is worth solving for the business or customers and surfacing evidence to support pursuing a solution to that problem, it will help product leaders choose the right problems to create solutions for.
Practical tip: One way to assess where you might need more discovery is by reviewing your product roadmap and talking with your stakeholders or development teams to determine where you’re making the most assumptions. Where do we have the least confidence? How can we increase confidence in the solution to this problem and what is a plan or technique to do that?
Customer feedback is essential for creating and consistently delivering a user-centric product. We know that user needs and wants will change over time. Therefore, getting as close as we can to our customers to understand them can mitigate risk and help capitalize on opportunities. Incorporating and sharing user feedback will help create more empathy with the team around the user’s needs and shape the product in a way that will create a higher likelihood of success and acceptance. Often this can feel like a big undertaking, however, I would encourage any product leader to think about small ways you can bring users into the process.
Practical tip: If you’re unable to get access to a customer directly, can you talk about what problems customers are encountering with customer service or individuals in your organization who interact with customers on a daily basis? Where can you start today to gather more input and feedback from your end users? What are ways you can start to do this on a consistent basis to validate product direction? Don’t limit yourself to existing customers – past customers and those who didn’t buy / adopt can provide incredibly valuable insight as well.
Ensuring everyone from the development team all the way to the executives or stakeholders have a clear understanding of the product vision and strategy is a foundational responsibility for a product leader. When the product strategy is clear and that clarity is shared across the organization, everyone can work towards shared goals and make decisions that enable teams to achieve those goals.
Practical tip: Questions to ask yourself might include: Is there organizational alignment on the choices that we’re making to fuel the growth of the business and to meet our customer needs? How well are we doing at making explicit choices around what to pursue and invest in versus doing everything at once? Or my personal favorite: What are we saying no to? Document answers to these questions and share them with your team, stakeholders and anyone involved in making product decisions so that what we’re actively pursuing and what we’re actively not pursuing is clear to everyone.
Adapting Product Culture, Processes and Roles
Businesses and organizations are constantly changing – especially when you’re scaling and experiencing high growth. What worked three months ago may not be working today. There’s a lot of emphasis on the product development process to adapt and change, especially when using Scrum or an Agile framework. We should also apply this mindset and practice to our culture, processes and roles. Embracing change in your organization will enable a healthy product culture as well as leverage the talents of the team to problem solve and make continuous improvements. This will result in better products delivered to customers, happier and more fulfilled team members and operationally efficient organizations.
Practical tip: Take time as a product leader, perhaps on a quarterly basis, to evaluate your roles, processes and structures. Are there new responsibilities team members are taking on? What new pain points are surfacing in our processes? As a team, are we appropriately scaling and do we have clarity in our roles? Empower and encourage team members to think holistically about building products in their regular iterations and retrospectives so that they can take action to make improvements. Those small adjustments will compound over time and consistently create a strong culture that embraces change.
Measuring Progress and Success
Just like breaking down features into smaller chunks in a product backlog, we should also consider how we’ll measure progress and success for the products we build. There are many forms to do this like goal setting, KPIs, North Star Metric and OKRs. What is important is finding the right metrics to focus on and a way to measure success incrementally. Additionally, incorporating a mix of qualitative and quantitative data to support product decision-making is a great way to align teams and stakeholders versus relying only on opinions and feelings.
Practical tip: You can think about goals or metrics as hypotheses. What are ways you can surface data and insights to understand if your hypothesis is correct? This information will determine if you should stay the course or pivot. It is easy to over-complicate metrics, so I recommend keeping it as simple as you can and incrementally adding from there when you need to.
To be successful today, product leaders have to think holistically about creating, building and delivering digital products. We cannot only focus on how many features are shipped on time or optimizing the development process. As a product leader, your customer, market, organizational processes and culture are all equally important pieces to incrementally improve in order to deliver a product with lasting value to both customers and the business.
About the Author:
Beth Jagodinsky is the Director of Product Strategy at Sparq and is a passionate product leader with over a decade of experience discovering and delivering customer-centric digital products for startups to fortune 100 companies. Beth is involved in the product community including co-founding the Milwaukee Chapter of Girls in Tech, hosting an annual Milwaukee Product Camp and participating in various webinars and podcasts on Product Management topics. Outside of her professional life, Beth enjoys biking and running with her husband, improving her basketball and baseball skills with her son and spending summer weekends at the family cabin in Wisconsin’s northwoods.
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