September 15, 2023, by Gabriele Giaccari
It is the set of design processes and methodologies employed in executing an initiative. Its focus lies in delivering tangible value to users, with a primary emphasis on the actual results achieved, rather than the actions taken to achieve these results.
This is how 'product thinking' is defined: a key to open the door to product culture and to see beyond it.
Product Thinking is based on two fundamental concepts, as is clear from the following definition:
After all, what is a product? We have already defined it in this article, but let us go even further upstream.
It is the result of an action or process and there are three main actors, responsible for the action and the process:
The product can thus be described as the result of the process between users and business: what the former needs - problem space - and what companies can offer - solution space - to address that need. Technology serves as the channel that facilitates the connection between these two entities and the overlapping of the two 'spaces'.
Keep this image in mind. The reason why most products fail is that they do not achieve product-market fit: they fail, therefore, to meet user needs better than other existing solutions. It is as if a user is looking for a spoon and the company offers them a fork, those spaces do not align, and that channel fails to connect the two actors.
Why does this happen? There are many reasons, the main one being that the company does not listen to customer needs. It may choose to prioritize business constraints over customer needs, or it might mismanage and squander its resources, or even worse, completely waste them. While it might sound absurd when stated like that, the proposition of forks to people asking for spoons is something that happens very often.
So, how can this chasm be avoided? By embracing product thinking and keeping in mind the 3 golden rules of product thinking.
This quote by Ash Maurya encapsulates the fundamental truth behind Product Thinking.
Start with the problem, fall in love with it, study it, delve into it, embrace the problem space and dive into it to fully understand the target market, the users, their needs and desires.
By doing so, you can work effectively and efficiently while minimizing innovator's bias. Ash Maurya, speaking of entrepreneurs, emphasizes the fact that they often have a tendency to fall in love with their own solutions. They focus on the first solution that seems perfect and immediately start 'building' it, throwing all their energy into it and chasing the wrong risks. When you then realize it was a mistake, you have to start all over again.
That is not Product Thinking.
Think big and don't waste time on details: think macro, not micro. Don't get lost in one of the possible solutions and its myriad declinations, but keep the focus on the problem, dive deep, examine it from different angles, and gain a comprehensive understanding of how your product should tackle it. Once you have a deep grasp of the problem, the necessary features will become evident over time.
Remember that users are not interested in the details but in the problem they solve with your solution. We have discussed this here.
The development of a product is a potentially endless process, constantly being reshaped and updated based on data, feedback and new reflections.
For this reason, before embarking on the 'journey' that leads us to employ code, before diving into technicalities, it is essential to have thoroughly studied the starting and defined an initial milestone to be reached, with a clear understanding of the developments and paths that may open up later. These, in turn, will need to be explored and clarified in a continuous process of Discovery and Delivery.
Mind you, this does not mean that 'technicians' are mere executors, relegated to a subordinate role: as we stated here, they have a fundamental position and are an integral part of Exploration and product study.
It is the construction of the product that must come at the right time and in progressive steps, which helps avoid wasting time and money, as well as making the product more aligned with users' needs and desires.
So, how can Product Thinking be put into practice? Here are a few tips and tools that can help you adopt the right mindset for your daily work.
Collect numbers, information, feedback, test, verify. Solutions can only emerge from ideas that can be somewhat validated and measured, thus becoming hypotheses to be validated.
Those who apply Product Thinking do not engage in philosophy but are always guided by a data-driven approach.
Asking questions is by no means trivial. A very powerful questioning tool is 5W1H.
You can apply these questions in the way that best suits your situation: you might ask yourself why several times and think in a divergent way, or narrow down the solution by differentiating the questions and proceeding in a convergent way.
A very interesting concept is the one developed by Rob Fitzpatrick: it is about phrasing questions correctly, especially during user interviews, to obtain honest and unbiased answers. The basic idea is that by asking these questions, not even your mother could lie.
For example, rather than asking Do you drink coffee regularly? it would be better to ask How much coffee did you have yesterday?
In formulating a solution, we cannot underestimate the role of creativity: there are many useful techniques for generating ideas, such as the Scamper method, which encourages us to think about the problem from different perspectives to come up with ideas for new products or to improve existing ones.
The golden rule is to work on existing models or ideas and think divergently in order to find the most useful solution for our users. And the most pleasant.
What results do users want to achieve when they are in a given context and need to 'hire' a product to achieve their purpose?
To reason about jobs, about the goal to be achieved, the Jobs-to-be-done tool is very useful: through its use we will be able to formulate innovative solutions guided by hard data, rather than just intuitions or personal ideas.
Outcomes are the results we want to achieve, the reason why we invest money and time in some activity. Outputs are what we concretely create to achieve these outcomes.
We live in a system where we are constantly asked to meet deadlines and budgets to have our outputs ready, and we are not asked instead to report quickly and frequently on our results (outcomes), to measure over time how close we are getting to our goal.
Here, those who apply Product Thinking reverse this mindset and aim straight for the outcome.
Before talking about and managing the product, it seems essential to think about the product. And to do it continuously.