The Product Zoom Levels Framework

The Product Zoom Levels Framework

The Product Zoom Levels Framework

By ADRIENNE TAN

Product people often have to switch between different horizons. We could be working on a longer-term strategy and vision and then have to dive into the minutia the next minute to unpack the finer details required to understand what’s preventing our development teams from executing that strategy.

Conversations with stakeholders can often be difficult, especially if we’ve gone into a session hoping to discuss strategic goals only to find that we’ve spent most of that hard-sought meeting getting bogged down in minute details.

Frustrations like these can be minimised if we have a framework to check what level we’re operating at to ensure we are aligned in our discussions with our executives, peers, teams and stakeholders. If all parties meeting are on the same level, we’ll get the most out of our time together.

A framework that I often advise product people to utilise in these situations is known as “Zoom Levels.” These Zoom Levels provide a structured approach to understanding where one should operate within the organisation.

Zoom Level 1: Setting the Strategic Compass

At the highest level of this framework, we find ourselves at Zoom Level 1. This is the realm of strategic thinking, where product leaders and managers need to zoom out to see the bigger picture. Here, the focus is on aligning the product portfolio with the broader business strategy. Understanding market trends, competitive landscapes, and long-term business objectives is crucial at this level. Product professionals should be asking:

  • How does our product portfolio contribute to the company’s overall goals?

  • What are the market trends and opportunities that we need to leverage or mitigate?

  • Are we addressing the right customer segments?

Operating at Zoom Level 1 is about setting the strategic compass for our product portfolio.

Zoom Level 4: Tactical Execution

At the lowest level – Zoom Level 4 – product managers operate at the tactical level. Here, the focus shifts to operational details and ensuring that the day-to-day tasks and decisions align with the broader strategy. Product professionals should be asking:

  • Are we on track to deliver our tasks and a usable product?

  • What operational challenges and bottlenecks may prevent our product from being launched successfully?

  • How is the product performing, and what is the feedback telling us?

Working on Zoom Level 4 involves immersing oneself in the intricate details contributing to overall product success. However, working solely at this level risks creating a product that lacks strategic alignment, holds minimal market value, and fails to resonate with a target customer segment. Success at Zoom Level 4 is meaningful when it aligns seamlessly with higher strategic tiers, ensuring that each meticulous task contributes purposefully to the overarching success of the product.

Understanding and effectively transitioning between these Zoom Levels is essential for product people. While Levels 1 and 2 require a macro perspective and the ability to set direction, Levels 3 and 4 necessitate micro-level attention to detail. Successful product people need to move seamlessly between these levels, ensuring that strategy is executed efficiently and the product meets its objectives.

Zoom Level 2: Orchestrating the Team

Zoom Level 2 involves orchestrating and overseeing how the product strategy is applied. At this level, product managers work closely with cross-functional teams to ensure that product development aligns with the strategic goals set at Zoom Level 1. Product professionals should be asking : 

  • Can the team – including designers and engineers – describe and express the strategy in the same way?

  • How do we translate the strategy into actionable plans as a team?

  • What are the riskiest assumptions that we should test?

Operating at Zoom Level 2 is about ensuring the product strategy is communicated and able to be used effectively.

Zoom Level 3: Activating the Strategy

Zoom Level 3 is where the strategic plans set at the higher levels come to life. Product managers at this level focus on creating roadmaps and plans that detail the execution of the product strategy. Product professionals should be asking:

  • Which features solve our most-pressing customer problems and deliver the desired customer and business outcomes?

  • How are we progressing with our plans, and what do we need to adjust based on market feedback and changing conditions?

  • Have we shared and coordinated our plans with marketing and sales teams to ensure the product’s successful launch?

Operating at Zoom Level 3 is about translating the strategy into concrete actions and deliverables.

Moving Between Zoom Levels

To navigate between different Zoom Levels and effectively function at each stage, it’s crucial to first have a firm grasp of the concept and the distinction between levels. Once we have this covered, the next step is to assess our goals, evaluate our progress, and identify any missing elements in terms of thinking or artefacts. This reflective process sets the foundation for a more informed and purposeful navigation through the product development journey.

If we find ourselves situated at Zoom Level 1 and are now ready for Zoom Level 2, it’s essential to identify the right team members and socialise the strategy with both the team and the broader organisation. Conduct workshops to collaboratively activate the strategy within the team. Regular check-ins with the team are crucial to maintaining alignment and ensuring that everyone’s efforts remain in harmony with the overarching strategic goals.

Be clear when you are ready to move to Zoom Level 3. Should we discover ourselves operating at Zoom Level 4 without a clear strategy and a well-aligned team, it’s imperative to halt the work temporarily. Continuing without these foundational elements risks squandering our product investment efforts.

The concept of Zoom Levels offers a structured approach to product management, helping individuals align their work with the overarching business strategy. By understanding where you operate within this framework and how you contribute to each level, you can effectively manage your product portfolio and achieve your goals.

Need help implementing a structured approach to product management? Brainmates has partnered with hundreds of organisations to solve their product challenges, and can help you drive business value with products customers love.

Why Every Second Counts in Product Management

Why Every Second Counts in Product Management

By ADRIENNE TAN

I’ve become a big fan of the phrase “Every Second Counts”.

It’s something I came across when watching the second season of ‘The Bear’. The story focuses on the trials and tribulations involved in launching a new restaurant, and this show really resonated with me as it reminded me of what we go through with the launch of a product.

When we launch products, time is of the utmost importance, and every moment of indecision and delay means that the product cannot launch. If the product doesn’t launch, it delays the feedback loop, which in turn delays our opportunity to extract value and get a return on our investment.

Making every second count should be profoundly important to you if you’re in product management.

Time is a Resource

Time is one of our most valuable resources, but as time is always in constant motion, it often slips through our fingers unnoticed – impeding our ability to achieve our ambitions.

I see time slipping away every day when companies we work with take too long to make decisions on simple matters.

There is a difference between taking the time required to gather and analyse information to make good decisions and delaying the act of decision-making because we are nervous. We can’t wait around for the perfect moment to happen because perfect moments are only something you can see with the benefit of hindsight.

Organisations can often fall into the trap of not realising that the more time they take to make a simple decision, the less time they will have to derive a return from that decision. Like any trap, you don’t realise you’re in it until it’s too late – and at the moment it seemed like the right call to make.

The key to maximising time as a resource is being aware that time will keep moving on regardless of what you do.

Is your organisation waiting for a new Product Leader to be hired and get up-to-speed to be a part of the decision-making process? Look at what smaller decisions can be made in the interim to keep the wheels turning.

Does your team require training? Scheduling a training course at the start of the financial year will give you more benefits than a year waiting to commence training at the end of the year.

Want to put off creating your product strategy until you’re less busy? You’ll only be guessing how busy your workload will be in the future, whereas in the here-and-now you can schedule in time with some level of confidence.

We are often ensnared in the mirage of having ample time. This illusion can lead us astray, causing us to squander moments that should be harnessed to their fullest potential.

Let’s dig deeper into the effects of a delayed hiring decision. If a decision is put on hold the workload will continue to build – adding pressure that may cause us to rush the final candidate selection. If we suspect that we’ve hired the wrong candidate, and then wait again to determine if they will up-skill on the job, if their capabilities don’t improve we’ll then have to make a performance decision.

By delaying the decision-making process we’ve not only reduced our ability to deliver on our ambitions but have also forfeited any new opportunities we could have gained in that time. A simple delay in hiring decisions could have a long-tail, negative ripple effect.

The Illusion of Time

When committing to deliver revenue targets for the year we ostensibly have 12 months to execute our strategies. But how much time do we actually have?

Here’s where the dichotomy between perception and reality emerges.

We can instantly write off the 4 weeks of the year we take for annual leave – which bumps us down to 11 months. And if you start to think about sick days and weekends, the amount of productive days you’ll have in the year drops way down to under two-thirds.

That drastically diminishes our opportunity to deliver our revenue within the expected 12 months.

Added to that, a seemingly innocuous delay – perhaps a two-week postponement in making a crucial hiring decision – assumes new dimensions when we consider it as not just a fortnight but as a fragment of our finite timeline.

Every moment bears weight, and incremental delays erode our opportunity to fulfil our revenue pledges.

“Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”
- Douglas Adams

We are often ensnared in the mirage of having ample time. This illusion can lead us astray, causing us to squander moments that should be harnessed to their fullest potential.

Let’s dig deeper into the effects of a delayed hiring decision. If a decision is put on hold the workload will continue to build – adding pressure that may cause us to rush the final candidate selection. If we suspect that we’ve hired the wrong candidate, and then wait again to determine if they will up-skill on the job, if their capabilities don’t improve we’ll then have to make a performance decision.

By delaying the decision-making process we’ve not only reduced our ability to deliver on our ambitions but have also forfeited any new opportunities we could have gained in that time. A simple delay in hiring decisions could have a long-tail, negative ripple effect.

Building a Time-Aware Mindset

Product Management embodies the art of resource allocation, and time is the most precious resource we possess. Our mindset should transition from one that assumes abundance to one that acknowledges scarcity. By doing so, we can cultivate an environment that breeds discipline, swift decision-making, and an unwavering focus on our goals.

“Every Second Counts” is more than just a timely phrase to remember; it’s a manifesto that Product Managers should engrave into their professional ethos.

To become more time-aware in your product practice, here are four steps you can follow:

  1. Observe the language used in your organisation. When you hear “let’s wait for…”, it’s a signal to probe further.

  2. Ask what’s stopping you from making a decision now.

  3. Identify the risks of making the decision now and the risks of making the decision later.

  4. Quantify (in your head) the cost of making the decision later.

 

By adopting a time-aware mindset, you’ll be on your way to ensuring every second counts.

Innovation Is Just Good Product Management

Innovation Is Just Good Product Management

By ADRIENNE TAN

Innovation is one of those buzzy words. CEOs want it, strategists write about it, marketers talk about it, and product managers strive to deliver it. Yet despite all this attention, it is still uncommon to see organisations building innovation into their mode of operation.

Organisations that do consider innovation tend to focus on new technological gambles that are dubbed to be ‘innovative’ but fail to deliver a commercial return.

What they don’t realise is that at the heart of any effective innovation program, you’ll find good product management in practice. In fact, the essential purpose of product management is to execute the principles of innovation.

What Exactly Is Innovation?

When faced with challenges, we conceive new solutions to try to solve our problems. These new solutions can change the way we live our lives.

That change is essential to innovation. In fact, the word innovate is derived from the Latin “innovatus”, which means “to renew or change”.

The problem is that organisations often think that innovation is the process of working on new technologies – with AI being the current new technology of choice. But true innovation is not about new technology – it’s about making changes and finding new ways to deliver value to customers.

From a business perspective, effective innovation leads to change in the market that delivers increased customer value and, in turn, a competitive advantage for the organisation.

Innovation exists when a problem is solved in a new way that is significantly better than the previous solution (with better meaning either faster, cheaper, easier, more reliable etc), or a currently unsolved problem is solved and thus changing the way things are done.

Importantly, good innovation is NOT merely incremental improvements or feature enhancements that are devised to counter a capability from a competitor or to address a problem impacting performance, because these measures do not lead to significant leaps in product value.

Why Bother Innovating?

Every product has a lifecycle.

Products logically step through a gestation or development period within the organisation and an introduction period in the marketplace, and then consequently move from growth to maturity and eventually decline.

Companies that innovate can essentially extend the lifecycle of a product. A better version of the product can mean that the product’s lifecycle can return from maturity back to a growth stage or from decline to maturity.

Companies that fail to maintain the pace of innovation may see their products – and their reason for being in business – become irrelevant.

Innovation will also put a company on the offensive, as it is through innovation that it can create a change in value for the market and thereby surpass competitive threats.

But to reap the rewards of innovation, the process must not be used as a laboratory for testing and launching new ideas with the hope that one of the new ideas generated takes flight in the marketplace. This approach is a costly exercise and can be likened to ‘gambling’. For innovation to succeed, there must be a method for identifying lucrative opportunities and a process for execution.

The Aligned Goals of Innovation and Product Management

The products that product managers launch and support in the marketplace exist in a dynamic and competitive environment. For a product to be successful, it must deliver value to its users, and it must do so in a way that is different from the competitive alternatives.

A product delivers value to users when it addresses a need, solves a problem or meets an end goal. Further, the product must be delivered at a price point that leaves buyers feeling that they have received a fair exchange for their money.

For a product to remain successful over time, it must continuously deliver more value than the competition. This may be difficult to achieve as new competitors enter the market, giving buyers more choices and prices. Profits, therefore, tend to be driven downwards.

To combat this effect, product managers must constantly look for a competitive edge that enables their product to continue to contribute positively to the profitability of the organisation.

If the goal of strategic product management is to create value and generate profit for organisations through change, then we can argue that the goal of product management is very much aligned with the goal of innovation.

Poor Product Management is a Barrier to Successful Innovation

Organisations can find it difficult to innovate when their product management teams are focused on the minutia of ‘day-to-day’ – leading them to fail to prioritise activities that deliver new solutions to the market.

Organisations with poor product management practices have misguided expectations. They expect their product managers to perform strategic tasks but tend to load them largely with operational and maintenance activities. They see product management as a support function to sales, marketing and engineering.

Product managers that are operationally focused are not given the time to rise above the detailed everyday product issues to understand and discover customer needs and problems. They do not have the opportunity to engage in conversations, ask questions, or observe their customers.

In this case, product managers will not have the capacity to derive innovative solutions for the organisation.

This is a consistent product management problem across many industries. To facilitate and deliver on innovation, organisations should look to deploy good product management practices.

Product Management Leading Innovation

Ideas can come emerge from anywhere within an organisation: from customer visits, contextual enquiry, quantitative market research, market observations or from customer complaints.

Importantly, these ideas need to be collated and channelled through a review process to determine ideas that have merit.

A point of failure in innovation is the ability to distinguish good ideas from a large pool of ideas. These ideas should be fed into a product management framework to manage, distil and eventually execute the right ideas, turning them into profitable products.

There are three stages in the product development process in which product managers can quickly drive innovation before their organisation typically starts committing money and resources to develop the product further. In the Brainmates Product Development Framework, these stages are called Ideate, Explore and Focus. To capture the importance of innovation, these three stages are all part of an Innovate Phase.

Brainmates Product Development Framework

In the Ideate stage, product managers should make sure they understand the value of the idea to customers and to their organisation. This involves putting together a hypothesis around who is the customer, what problem the idea would solve for them, and the benefits to the customer and to the organisation. This level of understanding of each of the ideas in the “ideas pool” helps the product manager to drive decisions about which ideas look most promising to take further.

Ideate

Once a promising idea has been identified, the next stage of the product development process – the Explore stage – is to validate the idea hypothesis from a market perspective: What is the target market of that hypothesised customer? Do they actually have the hypothesised problem, and is the problem impactful enough to them that they would pay to have the problem solved?

Explore

The idea also needs to be validated from an organisational perspective: are we confident that the idea would generate financial benefit for our organisation, and do we think we have the capability to develop the idea at an acceptable cost and time. This Focus stage involves doing some initial financial modelling of the idea and putting together the commercial case behind the idea, often in the form of a Product Opportunity Assessment.

Focus

By the end of the Innovate phase, the product manager should have confidence in whether this idea is worth pursuing, from both a customer and organisational perspective. The product manager has the information they need to make the case – for agreement to go forward to develop a compelling solution for the idea.

There Are No Silver Bullets

Good product management is all about innovation, as it is a practice that looks to the market and users for problems that are worth solving – problems that, when solved, will deliver value to the user and rewards for the business.

To be successful in achieving these goals, product management requires hard work, time, and a robust repeatable process. If product management is effectively resourced and is outwardly focused on understanding users and buyers in the marketplace, it can be the engine room for innovation in any company.

However, if product management is forced to manage day-to-day operational activities, it will not have the opportunity to innovate.

Organisations that seek to deliver innovation to the market should resource their product management teams to enable them to focus on new market opportunities and disruptive market change.

Brainmates has partnered with hundreds of organisations to make product management the engine of innovation.

Talk to Brainmates today.

The Product Advantage | Episode 01

The Product Advantage | Episode 01

By ADRIENNE TAN

Catch the first episode of The Product Advantage hosted by Adrienne Tan and featuring Sam Askin, Chief Executive Officer at OneStop.

In this series, Adrienne talks with business executives about their experiences implementing good product management practices, how they’ve transformed their organisations, and how they drive growth to provide a competitive advantage.

About The Guest

Sam Askin is the CEO of OneStop, a software company revolutionising the supply chain industry. She previously served as the company’s Chief Product Officer, where she showcased her remarkable leadership abilities and vision.

Prior to OneStop, Sam held a number of senior leadership positions across Coates, Fairfax and NewsCorp Australia, delivering exceptional products and services throughout her career.

Her unwavering dedication to innovation and passion for driving change have earned her a reputation as one of the most forward thinking CEOs in the industry.

Case Study: How ReadyTech Use Product-Led In The Workforce Sector

Case Study: How ReadyTech Use
Product-Led In The Workforce Sector

By ADRIENNE TAN

When you think about the workforce sector you might not immediately see how product fits into the equation. But just like any other sector, the modern workforce is changing rapidly to embrace the advantages of the latest technology to improve processes and efficiencies – making the lives of both employees and employers easier.

The modern workplace is the backbone of our economy – from start-ups to government agencies and large enterprises – and the employees that work within are the engine that keeps the business running.

In order for a business to manage an efficient, happy and engaged workforce, there are a huge number of processes required – from payroll to rostering, health and safety, and employee development. This is where the power of product is vital, in developing the right technology and solution that can cater to businesses throughout the employee lifecycle.

ReadyTech is one company whose products are making an impact on the way Australian and New Zealand businesses are managing their workforce.

ReadyTech exists to help communities thrive. From education and workforce management to local communities, government, justice systems and beyond, they create people-centric technology that helps make the complex simple.

In the Workforce Solutions sector, they offer a variety of cloud-based workforce management solutions that keep HR and payroll data up-to-date and ensures more than 2400 Australian and New Zealand businesses recruit, develop and pay the right people, at the right time, every time.

Their Ready Workforce platform is an all-in one cloud solution that empowers businesses with payroll, HR, time and attendance and leave management anytime, anywhere. The intuitive and powerful software caters to the full employee lifecycle, from recruitment to retirement.

The soon-to-be-released Ready People is a newly developed employee self-service app that serves to equip employees with the flexibility to request leave, access payslips, and update personal information on-the-go. The app is designed to free up resources and reduce the admin burden on the payroll and HR functions.

We spoke to Sharon Schwarzkopf, Head of Product at ReadyTech, to get more insight into how a product team working within workforce functions.

Readytech2-1

We must listen and adapt to what real ‘value’ is to our customers and try to anticipate and deliver it.

How is your product team set up at ReadyTech?

We have a portfolio of four products in the Workforce Solutions business from outsourced payroll services, online recruitment or an all-in-one employee management software, each of those products has a dedicated team working on it.

Within each product team there is a product manager, up to eight developers, quality assurance, and – where appropriate – a team-dedicated product designer.

This team structure does depend on the current objectives and needs for that specific product, such as increasing employee engagement or getting to product market fit for a specific industry. The product managers drive the team roadmaps according to set objectives aligned to company objectives, as well as the product strategy overall.

Any product managers collaborating within the product development team work closely with cross-functional stakeholders, speak to clients, participate in pre-sales discussions, understand the customer problems to be solved, drive product deliverables, and importantly work closely with marketing for go-to-market (GTM) activities.

These product managers are driving inbound and outbound activities, so they are part of the product team and the GTM teams.

We currently don’t have any business analysts or product owners, as we moved to a structure whereby all those roles now roll up into the product manager position. We learned that enabling the product manager to drive value all through discovery, delivery, and optimisation, allows for better exposure and empathy to customer and stakeholder needs, bringing the user voice right into the day-to-day activities.

Are each of your product managers focused on a specific product?

They are, although the recent growth we have had in the product team allows us to now focus on product-led initiatives. These functions are set to grow into product development teams that drive value across the portfolio.

All our products cater to the same base users and personas: the finance, HR and recruitment managers. This allows us to collaborate across products that each serve a different need, but piece together all the learnings, solutions, needs and feedback to help us continuously improve and develop the product for the end user.

What are the responsibilities of your product team at ReadyTech?

Within Workforce Solutions, the product team is responsible for making sure we create value for our customers in solving their problems. This includes listening to feedback and customer needs across the business, while balancing both upselling and expansion in the workforce sector, and – just as importantly – innovating and reimagining the future of ReadyTech.

If you imagine the way people are working now – whether they’re in the healthcare sector, logistics warehouse or an office. Compared to a couple of years ago, it’s vastly different and still changing.

Employees’ habits are changing, the way they want to work and have access to information is different, and that’s why we must listen and adapt to what real ‘value’ is to our customers and try to anticipate and deliver it.

It’s a real balancing act in keeping customers happy, prospects excited, and staying relevant in the industry – and it’s what drives our long-term strategy as well as our day-to-day activities.

So product is quite central to your operations?

Of course, and that’s what makes this role both challenging, motivating, and rewarding. The constant tides and changes in the needs of these forces make the product team’s work very dynamic and exciting.

In a B2B business such as ReadyTech that is expanding and growing rapidly, the product team needs to stay at the centre of things to better understand which problems are most worthy of solving for our customers – solving the right problems with the right product solution that will make the biggest impact and be scalable.

We also need to work in close partnership with the other teams, such as customer success, marketing, support, development, sales, professional services and leadership. If we can connect the dots of needs voiced by these teams and make decisions based on structured feedback, data and insights, then the product team is in an ideal position to deliver value to our customers.

What is a ‘Market-Driven’ Product?

What Is A ‘Market-Driven’ Product?

By ADRIENNE TAN

As a product manager, I love the words ‘market-driven’. They have purpose and connotations of real market intelligence. ‘Customer-centric’ sits in the same bucket. These words describe not only the end-product but also how we got there.

But what do these words really mean? What is a market-driven product?

A Two-Tier Definition Of Market-Driven Product

Here’s two different ways of describing it:

  1. A “Firm’s policy or strategy guided by market trends and customer needs instead of the firm’s productive capacity or current products.” (BusinessDictionary.com )
  2. “Using market knowledge to determine the corporate strategy of an organization. A market driven organization has a customer focus, together with awareness of competitors, and an understanding of the market.” (BNET)

I like these definitions because they illustrate the two key parts of what makes up a market-driven product:

  1. It’s a corporate strategy; and
  2. It’s based on understanding market trends and your customer

The definition of market-driven is dependent on both these points.

If your company doesn’t believe in customer-centred design, then it’s unlikely to invest in understanding the market and your customers.

Similarly, even if being market-driven is part of your corporate strategy, you’re not market-driven if you don’t take the time to gain an in-depth understanding of the market and your customers, more specifically your customers’ problems.

You’re not market-driven
if you don’t take the time to gain an understanding of your customers’ problems.

It’s More Than Just Market Research

Let’s focus on the second point – understanding market trends and your customer.

It’s easy to say that a market-driven product is a result of market research – but market research does not really get to the heart of truly understanding the customer.

It may give you a broad and important understanding of the changes in the consumer, technology and or business environment, but it doesn’t offer sufficient insights into your customers’ lives and the problems they experience.

When conducting market-driven research, here’s some questions to include:

  • Is there a customer problem to solve?
  • What are your customers’ current behaviours, lifestyles, and aspirations? Are they likely to change as a result of your product?
  • What experiences do your customers seek?
  • What kind of quality of life do your customers want?
  • What major trends are currently changing peoples’ beliefs, values and behaviours?
  • What do customers need vs. want vs. ‘nice-to-have’?
  • Under what different contexts will your customers use this product?
  • How would you like your customers to feel about your product?

If we keep these questions in mind when we build our research programs, we can direct our customer research to include personal elements that will provide a better idea of who our customers are and what they really need.

The Whole Market Environment

The customer is only half of what needs to be understood. You also need to understand the market as a whole.

I like to think of a market as the sum of the interactions of all participants within that market (including your competitors).

Understanding those interactions enables us to get a wholistic perspective of what is going on and helps us make important product decisions like:

  • Which is your most important target market?
  • How will you differentiate your product?
  • When will you bring it to market?
  • Who should you partner with and who will you be competing with (both current and future)?

There are a number of different tools you can use to analyse this but one I like is the PESTEL analysis. It’s not a new one, but I like how big-picture and comprehensive it is. You can quickly identify which factors are relevant to you and then analyse those in more depth. You can also identify strengths and weaknesses and go further with a SWOT analysis.

From Market Research To Market-Driven

If you translate your market research into desired customer and business outcomes, and then meet these with product outcomes you can be certain your end-product has truly been created by the target customers and the market.

If you do this well, now all you need to do to make your millions is build a great product!

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