Product Model Concepts
I started writing about the importance of focusing on achieving outcomes over just shipping output back in 2007, when I first started writing about the importance of product discovery.
Learning to consistently achieve outcomes is unquestionably tougher than delivering outputs, but this is, at its core, what the product model is all about, and what SVPG is all about sharing.
This involves introducing four new competencies, as well as developing the new muscles for five new product concepts.
The purpose of this article is to give you a big picture overview of the necessary product model concepts.
As with the new product model competencies, each of these product model concepts can take real time and effort to learn. The books INSPIRED and EMPOWERED attempt to teach the concepts and techniques needed to achieve the necessary results.
Rather, we want to describe the new concepts such that you understand the purpose of these concepts, and you know what you can and should expect from your people.
The first product model concept refers to the necessary cultural change.
It’s not hard to declare that your company now cares about achieving business results. Especially because it’s very likely this has always been the claim. What is hard is embracing the many changes required to adopt a culture of outcomes.
And the most visible and profound change is typically the move from funding, building and shipping features and projects on specific dates, to funding, building and shipping products to achieve the necessary outcomes.
Today, this is commonly referred to as moving from output to outcomes. I also like to explain this as moving from time-to-market to time-to-money.
Consider how much of your organization is designed around, and optimized for, the predictability of dates. The way decisions are made; who makes those decisions; the role of program or project management; the way teams are staffed; and how long those teams stay together; the way those teams decide what to build, and how they build; the number and timing of iterations; the level of customer, data and business knowledge of the team, the level of customer involvement; the role of experimentation, and the level of accountability; just to name a few of the major areas.
In feature team organizations focused on output, the product teams are there to deliver what the stakeholders prioritize as important. And with so many stakeholders with so many requests, it’s not unusual for product teams to struggle with prioritization.
But in the product model, the product leaders have the responsibility to look holistically across the business, and identify the most critical problems to solve, and outcomes to achieve.
If success is a function of picking the right battles, product strategy is how we pick those battles.
It requires new skills around identifying insights from the data, our customers, the enabling technology, and the industry. In the product model, the product leaders are constantly monitoring the learnings and insights, and adjusting course no less than quarterly.
As the product leaders identify critical problems to solve and outcomes to achieve, they are assigned to product teams, where the real work of product happens. The product teams need to discover and deliver a solution that achieves the necessary outcome.
An effective product team depends on the critical product model competencies of product management, product design, and engineering, that has been empowered to come up with effective solutions to the problems they’ve been asked to solve.
The product model is designed around these empowered product teams, as that is where the value is created. The main role of product leadership is to staff and coach the members of these product teams, and to ensure they have the strategic context necessary to make good decisions.
Product teams are responsible for both discovering an effective solution to the problem they’ve been asked to solve, and then building, testing and deploying that solution to customers. The former is product discovery, and the latter is product delivery.
The purpose of product discovery is to quickly discover an effective solution to the problem the team has been asked to solve.
An effective solution is one that is valuable (the customer will choose to use or buy), usable (the user can figure out how to use), feasible (we know how to build with the available technology, skills and time), and viable (the solution will work for our business – it is something we can market, sell, service, fund, and monetize).
Product discovery is about rapidly experimenting, mostly using prototypes, to try to come up with a solution that solves for all of the constraints and achieves the necessary outcome.
Once the product team has evidence that they have discovered an effective solution, they now need to build the actual product that implements this solution, testing to make sure the product works as advertised, and doesn’t bring along any unintended consequences (regressions), and then they need to deploy this product to their customers.
But the team isn’t quite done because they still need to ensure that the product is delivering the intended results. This means that the product must be instrumented such that we know the product is operating properly, and we can see the customers are using the product as we intended, and achieving the desired benefits. If not, the product team needs to analyze the data, and iterate on the solution, until the intended results are achieved.
These five product model concepts form the foundation of the product model.
There are of course several other supporting concepts. For example, product culture also depends on leadership that understands the value of empowerment versus top-down command and control. A good product strategy depends on a strong product vision, and an effective team topology. Strong product discovery skills depend on understanding both problem discovery and solution discovery. Strong product delivery depends on the necessary infrastructure.
Transforming to the product model involves introducing the new product model competencies, and developing the muscles necessary for the product model concepts.
Once you have established these product model competencies and concepts, you can then use these skills to change how you build, change how you solve problems, and change how you decide which problems to solve.