Developers develop. Designers design. And I know what to build. We don’t need anyone else, especially Product Manager.
This is typical line of thought of early stage entrepreneurs while discarding idea of having a product person in the team.
Reasonable thought, but a flawed one, which usually occurs due to lack of understanding of Product Thinking*.
Some people go wrong because they misinterpret the role and aptitude requirement of product person (Thinking of them as Requirements collector/documentor + project manager, and a role comprised of soft skills only).
However, more important issue is that people don’t realise importance of Product Thinking and how not having it can hurt the organisation.
I’d like to talk about this point in this post.
* Product Thinking: An approach of understanding and solving root problems of users via a Product while building viable business
What goes wrong in absence of Product Thinking
In absence of Product Thinking in your development process, you might end up wasting time and resources by
- Building wrong product: A product that you didn’t want, users didn’t need or something that was not exciting to the users
- Shipping too late
- Building product but not business
All this would cause you to:
- Lose out to competition because of delays or unusable/non-useful product
- Lose people as they don’t see their efforts paying off
- Lose money
- Reach false conclusion that you picked the wrong business/product
- Lose your own energies to build the product.
How can Product Thinking prevent these?
Preventing “Building wrong product“
Building a product that you didn’t want, users didn’t need or that was not exciting to the users is utter waste and loss of time, money, people and just about everything. It is almost a sin.
This can be prevented by:
Getting a clear vision and purpose
- What are you working towards? When you build the product, how will life be?
- Your business is opportunity driven or user need driven or both?
- E.g. When you build games they are opportunity driven. When you are building applications they are need/problem driven.
- What is the key offering of the product? Clear value proposition of the product is very important as it drives design language of your product, strategy and in general everyone’s alignment in your organisation.
- Who are you building for?
Getting clarity on primary needs of the user.
- For example, are people having an issue with lack of information or overload of information? Or is it about reliability of existing information?
- Validating whether what we think of users is right.
Focus on design and usability
- Prettiness of the product is not important from the day one for most of the products. However, usability is. Whether user is able to use your product or not is very important
- Also, the product needs to communicate the purpose and USP of the product quite clearly
Some people mistakenly think these things to be waste of time and feel that they delay the shipping. Quite contrary actually. These things speed up the delivery of “right product”. When you take your vehicle out, do you prefer to start moving in random direction without thinking first on where are you going and which route is best for that?
Preventing “Shipping too late”
Getting prioritisation and focus right
- Lot of time gets wasted in working on things that don’t matter, and sometimes in working on everything. One needs to ruthlessly prioritise and work on only most critical things first and keep experimenting.
- Very often focus is lost and attention is diluted to every other shiny toy (idea/technology) that comes to mind.
Building product strategy
- What route to take to solve the problem and build end product? Are you going vertical deep or wide-spread in the beginning? Where does mobile fit in your plan? What would be the right time to work on monetisation?
- All these and many more such questions help the team prioritise well and maintain focus.
Not gunning for perfection
- Many products get delayed because of founders striving for perfection while releasing their products. This bias needs to be neutralised.
Preventing “Building product but not business”
Getting clarity on market opportunity
- How big is the opportunity? What are the conditions that would enable that market size to be achievable?
Sorting out business opportunities and models
- Identifying who can be the buyer
- Getting concrete thoughts on business models and plans on trying them out cheaply.
As you can see, it involves ability to understand root problems/needs, prioritisation abilities, strategic thinking abilities, business mindset, abilities to put structure to everything, and thinking from perspectives of business, marketing and users,. These skills are hard skills. One needs to develop those and needs right aptitude to be able to perform them.
And these are just some examples of ways Product Thinking would help. I’ve not talked about other benefits like keeping all functions on same page, putting structure to madness, SEO etc., as I felt above mentioned ones are most critical ones for a start-up in its initial phases.
I am not saying you need to hire a Product Manager in the beginning. You could do it yourself too. After all, founders play multiple roles in the beginning. However, you need to rationally assess your abilities, aptitude and time at hand, just like you assess whether you can design/develop or not.
Product Manager is optional. Product Thinking is not. If you are not sure you have it, then get the right person, pronto!