Be it selling lemonade in your front yard, licensing software, or advising people on how to improve their business, lemonade, software and advice can all be framed as products.
While we traditionally use the word ‘product’ to describe physical things that we can touch, I challenge you to think of everything that makes up your revenue line in your profit and loss account as a product.
Why? Embracing a product-oriented mindset encourages us to think like digital product developers – experts in disrupting the status quo, finding creative solutions to long-standing problems, using data to understand their audience, and continuously adapting their offerings to delight customers. Don’t get me wrong, there are loads of failed technology companies that didn’t get this right, but those that know what they’re doing have found a winning recipe that is hard to ignore.
So, let’s take a deeper look at why embracing product development can help to future-proof your business and fuel growth. Specifically, I’ll outline how a process known as the ‘Double Diamond’ could transform the way your business innovates.
Introducing the Double Diamond
The Double Diamond is a design framework that breaks the innovation process into four stages — helping to structure the way individuals and teams tackle creative problems.
Be it rethinking an outdated operations process or designing a new product, the Double Diamond provides a repeatable framework that helps us detangle messy problems with a methodical approach.
Critically, the four-step process encourages us to take a step back from a problem before rushing into the solution phase. I like to think of it as a creative journey that (hopefully) leads to better, more relevant outcomes.
Here’s what the Double Diamond looks like:
So, what does all of this have to do with product management and how can this approach give your business a winning edge?
Let’s dive into each of the four stages to explore how this can help your business embrace a more product-oriented approach.
Stage 1: Discover
Whatever challenge you’re looking to overcome, a discovery phase is vital to give you a full understanding of the problem at hand.
While many businesses make the mistake of thinking they understand customer pain points or market opportunities, those that take the time to engage in deep listening to identify what problem they need to solve or what gap they want to fill are going to enjoy a much smoother ride.
We can break the discovery phase into two key disciplines: understanding your customers through user research and understanding your competitors through market research.
Understanding Your Customers (User Research)
As Seth Godin (a product and digital marketing guru) once said: “Don’t find customers for your products, find products for your customers."
Understanding your customers is all about talking to the people you’re trying to serve. Start by writing a list of user stories to identify who your product is for, what functionality you wish to provide to that user, and what benefit that will bring to their lives.
“As a [type of user], I want to [action] so that [benefit].”
As part of this same exercise, it’s useful to create a handful of key personas to really understand their pain points. Don’t be afraid to get creative here — approach it as a group workshop with your team and give your personas fun names that you’ll remember.
Here are some examples of customer personas.
Remember, research is not sales. Someone saying that they would buy something is very different to them actually buying it!
Understanding Competitors (Market Research)
Now that you have a better idea of who your product is for and what features it should include, now it’s time to explore who you’ll be competing against.
No matter how unique you think your product is, there will always be competitors who will pinch some of your potential customers. Taking time to really understand these rival forces, identify their weak spots, and acknowledge their strengths, will help when it comes to positioning your product.
I like to break competitor products into four categories:
- Direct competitors. These are the products that are targeting the same customer group and solving the same problem.
- Indirect competitors. These are targeting the same customer group and solving the same problem but in a different way.
- Potential competitors. These are targeting the same customer group but solving a different problem.
- Substitute competitors. These are targeting a different customer group but solving a similar problem in a different way.
Once you’ve identified where your competitors sit in the above categories, you’re in a position to compare your audience needs against your competitor offerings. You can then ask yourself “where are our competitors missing the mark and what can we do differently to delight customers?”
Identifying what your audience cares about, where your competitors fall short, and what you can do to differentiate will help to shape a powerful value proposition.
This is what makes your product special.
Stage 2: Define
Now that the discovery phase is complete, the next step in the Double Diamond is all about refining your ideas into something that’s clear, punchy, and easy to articulate.
I like to begin this ‘define’ stage by looking at how to de-risk the rest of the product development process. With 42% of startups failing because their products don’t fit market needs, it’s important to understand whether the product you’re looking to achieve is A) viable, B) desirable, and C) feasible.
When a product ticks all three of these boxes, we say it has ‘product/market fit’. As the esteemed entrepreneur, investor, and software engineer, Marc Andreessen, once said: “The only thing that matters is getting to product/market fit.”
At this point, I actually like to throw a fourth condition into the mix: ethical justification. Just because we can do something, does this mean we actually should? It’s important to ask this question throughout our daily lives (not just in business scenarios) to ensure our decisions are supported by a clear purpose.
Before proceeding with your product development, take time to really define how your proposed product will meet these four criteria.
Stage 3: Develop
Once you’ve found product/market fit, it’s time to start developing your idea. While there are many different schools of thought for this stage, I like to start with an approach known as ‘vision setting’.
This exercise requires a bit of imagination as you’ll be looking into the future…bear with me.
Vision-setting involves describing something that doesn’t exist yet. Now, to be clear, this isn’t something new. Amazon (and loads of other successful tech companies) have been doing it for years. Their entire product development process revolves around writing product visions — a concept that’s covered in depth by Colin Bryar and Bill Carr in Working Backwards: Insights, Stories, and Secrets from Inside Amazon.
Known as the ‘working backwards process’, Amazon’s product visions involve writing documents called ‘PRFAQs’. This is shorthand for ‘press release & FAQs’. The idea is to write a short and snappy press release that talks about how a product is going to improve people’s lives, as well as a quick-fire FAQ document to help people understand how it all works.
They then work backwards from this imaginary point in the future to inform their product development decisions. At every stage of development, Amazon will constantly refer back (or forwards) to this PRFAQ to maintain a laser focus on customer delight.
As Bezos himself once said: “Be stubborn on vision, but flexible on details.”
Stage 4: Deliver
Here it is, the moment you’ve been waiting for. After working your way through the Double Diamond product development process, it’s finally time to share your shiny new product with the world.
While the execution phase is usually the thing that bogs businesses down, the Double Diamond (if followed correctly) is designed to streamline this final step and avoid any major headaches.
If you’ve taken the time to really understand what your customers want, identify how you can differentiate from competitors, critique whether you’ve found product-market fit, and you’ve used vision-setting to avoid distractions during the development process, you can approach the delivery phase with confidence.
Remember, the first iteration of your product doesn’t need to be perfect. The key objective should be to produce a minimum viable product (MVP) — the simplest version of a product that has just enough features to be used by early adopters. These customers can then provide vital feedback to inform the next iteration.
The best companies will continuously follow these ‘test, learn, adapt’ or ‘build, measure, learn’ cycles to find incremental improvements that adjust to changing customer needs and market opportunities. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries is an absolute must if you’d like to learn more about this approach.
As the Co-Founder of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman, once said: “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”
How to get into Product Management With No Experience (take note business owners)
As product innovations continue to fuel the success of some of the world’s fastest-growing companies, attracting talent who possess product management skills could give your business a winning edge.
So, let’s take a look at some of the telltale signs of a product extraordinaire as we take a deep dive into the character traits of a successful Product Manager.
A great Product Manager is…visionary.
The ability to think outside the box and approach long-standing challenges from an alternative perspective is an absolutely integral part of product management. As is the case with almost any job that involves some element of design and creativity, one-dimensional thinking won’t get you very far.
A great Product Manager is…empathetic.
Ultimately, product management is all about building products that improve people’s lives. Therefore, the ability to understand how people feel about a certain situation and how a product innovation could help change these emotions is fundamental.
A great Product Manager is…strategic.
Product innovations play an important role in the long-term strategic trajectory of a business. Having both the imagination and foresight to identify how a product innovation could help an organisation move towards a long-term goal is an extremely valuable trait for product management.
A great Product Manager is…a problem-solver.
The best Product Managers are born problem-solvers. Look for someone who enjoys critical thinking and won’t rest until they’ve overcome a challenge — they’re hard to come by but when you eventually find a born firefighter and someone who can think on their feet, you’ll be thanking yourself.
A great Product Manager is…a strong communicator.
Managing a group of people and unifying them to work towards a common goal requires strong communication skills. Finding someone who can articulate your vision and earn the support of senior leaders can help to break down silos and accelerate business growth.
A great Product Manager is……confident.
The day-to-day responsibilities of a Product Manager involve making confident and decisive decisions that might not necessarily be the most popular option among your colleagues.
In almost any product development process, there will be people who challenge your decisions and question your direction.
A great Product Manager is…detail-oriented.
The best Product Managers are sticklers for detail. Nothing (be it a spelling mistake or a line of dodgy code) gets past them. Finding individuals who can marry creativity with precise attention to detail is rare. If you possess both of these skills, product management could be your calling.
Where to Find Great Product People?
If you’re a business owner looking to embrace a more product-oriented approach, hiring an external product manager isn’t necessarily the right path forward. In fact, you might already have some burgeoning product talent sitting right under your nose who have the potential to flourish into key strategic thinkers.
If you’re interested in adopting the Double Diamond approach and identifying hidden product talent that can elevate your business, check out this guide on how to get into product management with no experience — it makes the case that the best product thinkers come from other business disciplines.
Whether it’s a sales manager leveraging their understanding of what customers want or a customer success manager who has a sophisticated understanding of the weak spots in existing products, empowering internal talent to pivot into more product-oriented roles can give your business a winning edge.
Try thinking outside the box to find people who might not have gone down a traditional Product Management path but possess all of the personality traits we discussed above.
So…don’t forget that whatever you sell, you’re selling a product. The Double Diamond process will ensure you’re thinking logically and creatively about moving your business forward and in doing so, you’ll be following how the great tech companies of today think about product innovation.