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.

Adaptive Mindset ‘Hats’ Your Product Manager Wears

Adaptive Mindset 'Hats' Your Product Manager Wears

Product managers wearing various hats.

By DAVID ALLSOPP

No matter the product, industry or company size, successful Product Managers must wear various ‘hats’ on any given day to make all the pieces of the puzzle fit together. But whether you’re looking down the tree from a CEO or GM position, or across the aisle from Engineering or Finance, you’re unlikely to see everything that goes into keeping things running smoothly.

It’s like that old adage about ducks: everything looks calm on the surface, but there’s a lot of furious paddling going on underneath the water.

Making things even less straightforward is that each Product Manager will likely have a different combination of skills. The Product Management profession itself is still relatively new. With no university degree course or global certification standards, most practitioners step into being a PM from areas like Engineering & Agile Operations.

Beyond technical capability/knowledge and qualifications, there are also several adaptive mindsets (what are sometimes referred to as ‘soft skills’) that are just as essential – if not more so in some organisations. These are the capabilities necessary to bring their organisation along the journey.

To bring these adaptive mindsets to life, I’ll highlight some of the ‘hats’ your PM may need to wear to get the job done.

The Diplomat

Different people will have different priorities, ideas and needs – it’s just a fact of human nature. Now imagine a large organisation, with all those people having goals, egos and styles of working that can potentially clash and conflict with each other. Getting anything done – let alone getting everyone to agree on what ‘done’ means – can often feel like a miracle.

Your Product Manager serves as your day-to-day diplomat; consulting with all parties to understand their specific wants and concerns, and then and finding the common ground where everyone can work together.

The Counsellor

Whether it’s a frustrated Engineer who doesn’t feel like their concerns are being addressed, an impatient Salesperson who is feeling the pressures of time and budget, or a disgruntled customer who feels betrayed by your product – getting past someone’s surface-level frustration and anger to understand what the underlying concerns are takes empathy and patience.

Your Product Manager will often need to get people to open up to them, creating a safe space to discuss issues without fear of judgement.

Qualitative customer research requires going beyond the surface layer of numbers to
understand what motivates your customer psychologically.

Does your product need to consider their emotional needs more when considering value?

Is their grievance coming from a performance issue or a service matter?

Answering questions like these will save time, money and resources that can be utilised elsewhere.

The Detective

Whether it’s through conducting extensive research with your stakeholders, interviewing customers, sorting through stacks of data or calculating the possible outcomes of any given situation, your PM serves as your company’s detective service – assessing all the evidence and putting together a case for product success.

The Storyteller

Different people will have different priorities, ideas and needs – it’s just a fact of human nature. Now imagine a large organisation, with all those people having goals, egos and styles of working that can potentially clash and conflict with each other. Getting anything done – let alone getting everyone to agree on what ‘done’ means – can often feel like a miracle.

Your Product Manager serves as your day-to-day diplomat; consulting with all parties to understand their specific wants and concerns, and then and finding the common ground where everyone can work together.

The Firefighter

There will always be things that don’t go as planned. A release goes wrong; resources unexpectedly disappear; customers are up-in-arm. Little spot fires everywhere, at any time.

It’s just as well that PMs are especially good at putting out fires. With their role strategically placed to know the difference between what’s critical and what can wait, they have the discipline to move quickly to ensure the situation doesn’t get out of control. It can be a delicate balance between keeping your customers happy and ensuring your team is happy and healthy, so having a Product Manager with their finger on the pulse of the situation can prevent any sparks from flaring up.

The Cheerleader

Celebrating success lets your team know that the work they are doing is making a difference. Even the little wins can give everyone a morale boost as they make progress towards your bigger product goals.

As the custodian of your product roadmap, your Product Manager will keep an eye on all the little milestones you want to achieve – and then let the team know when each is reached. It may not always be an occasion for a huge party, but keeping the team in a positive frame of mind is essential to any group’s achievement.

With that in mind, you’ll especially want your PM around as a cheerleader when times get tough – and they will get tough.

Product is a challenging game, and we won’t always get it right.

Features might fail. Customers may not respond how you’d like. Whatever happens, your Product Manager will be there to remind everyone that setbacks can be overcome, and that your road to product success can handle a few potholes along the way.

Now that we’ve had a look at a few of the ‘hats’ that your PM wears, you’ll likely find yourself starting to recognise these adaptive mindsets when they’re being employed and be in a better position to appreciate the juggling act required and the broader – and often hard to quantify – value that your Product Manager is adding to your team.

Boosting Team Performance By Building PM Capabilities

Boosting Team Performance By Building PM Capabilities

By DIANE SEXTON

Picture this: you are a Product Director, with several Product Managers reporting to you. One of your PMs comes to you for advice as they are struggling to communicate the direction and scope of work to their team, even though they are confident they know it.

Complicating this is that some members of the broader team have also made clear to you that that they’re struggling to understand the team’s direction or scope, and believe the PM hasn’t got a solid story.

The PM has started to question their ability to do their job and is visibly frustrated. You can see that this will impact the team’s outcomes, let alone the personal and professional goals of the individuals involved.

What is the root cause of the problem, and how – as their leader – will you clear a path towards solving it?

Let’s look at some common things that you might hear, and uncover what is the most likely cause.

“It’s not my job.”

Sometimes, you must go back to basics.

As a leader, you should check in on their level of alignment on Roles and Responsibilities. A coordinated, formal workshop usually will get everyone’s thoughts on paper (or Miro), but then you’ll need to provide follow-up support – either directly with your PM or indirectly through the team member’s own line managers – to make sure that the roles and responsibilities model is actually helping the team deliver on their shared outcomes.

This way, the focus is not on the individuals but on capabilities coming together to deliver customer value. There may be handoffs that naturally happen between technical capabilities, but make sure the team knows that work tends to end up where it’s most suited and that the outcomes are on track.

“The scope is unclear.”

Whether this is coming from your PM or a team member, communication is usually the root cause.

By definition, the scope is the combined objectives and requirements needed to complete a project. With stakeholder and technical consultation, it’s up to the Product Manager to determine and communicate the objectives and requirements, then communicate progress.

So, when a team member is still concerned about the scope after the PM has already communicated the objectives and requirements, the problem may lie in agreement that these are the “right” ones, or may lie in a preconception of the time or technical capability needed, without articulating it.

To better support your Product Manager,
don’t race in and redo their work or restate the scope.

Instead, guide them to understand what the team member thinks is unclear or is lacking and then how to communicate what’s needed.

“I’m not the domain expert, so they don’t trust me.”

Being a Product Manager – both in general and in the specifics – is tough.

Should you hire a domain-expert Product Manager (e.g., one who’s moved from data analytics, front-end engineering, or some other technical capability), or should you hire a generalist Product Manager who has a little bit of everything – whose mastery is more demonstrated in their ability to adapt and succeed in any domain, without being able to contribute at the technical level?

In either case, the Product Manager will likely encounter people who doubt their judgement. For example, they could doubt the PM’s decisions because the PM has no technical expertise, or they could doubt the PM’s decisions because they aren’t strategic enough. There is no way to escape that. The Product Manager needs to realise this is not about them personally. As their leader, you can support them by reminding them that they are here for the organisation’s outcomes, which might involve conflict with the team. Remind them that all the skills in a team need to be complementary, and the customers’ needs determine how each skill can contribute.

Product Managers must develop their influence within their team, and this requires them to identify what they can uniquely add beyond the skills and experience that already exist there. Instead of “fitting in” by bringing more technical skills to a team that’s already technically strong, the idea should be to add something above what is there that the team will see as useful. This requires strong observation, influence and relationship management, so look for these as strong areas for development.

How do you make a team hiring decision then? I would say hire for the team’s needs first and the organisation’s needs second. That is, does your team need a strong product thinker? Are they ready for the challenge, but technically they don’t need support? Or does your team need someone who is more “like them”, that would take your product leadership and apply it?

Then, look across the organisation and develop a balance of different types of PMs so that you always have a pool of diverse thinking. Encourage your PMs to communicate with each other about the problems they face and the solutions they have tried. Get them to share, support and safely challenge each other. This builds a strong base of culture and community that will enable your PMs to deliver value.

“How do I become a Product Leader?”

Now that you have a PM who is smoothly running in their team, how do you help them get to the next level?

While it sounds simple, coaching your PM will need some structure and time. You can start by coaching them in organisational culture and structure by getting them in front of more senior stakeholders. You can also coach them in delivery efforts by involving them in technology roadmaps, architecture forums or cyber security reviews.

There are countless ways, but the critical skills needed to level up a Product Manager will centre around adaptive and relationship skills and less around the technical skills they may have had to get here.

Focus on such things as creating trusting relationships with stakeholders and partners using empathy and understanding, or setting conversations up by opening at the appropriate level and keeping things on track. If you are in a meeting with them, later on, ask the PM to analyse the motivations and context of the other people in the room, and discuss how that might change how they present information.

Keep in mind that learning new skills – or levelling-up existing ones – is a task that will take time and some repetition. We all need to do something a few times before the process and outcomes will truly sink in. Some patience from both teacher and student is required, but seeing your people thrive after struggling through a challenge is often the most rewarding aspect of being a leader.

Brainmates has been helping organisations level up their Product Managers since 2004 and can help you level up your team. Our coaching services are designed to support personal or team development across product management practices and career progression – ensuring accelerated skills development and best practices towards your objectives and goals.

Talk to Brainmates today.

Disrupting the Product – Strategy Questions Answered

Disrupting the Product - Strategy Questions Answered

By DIANE SEXTON

Even though periods of decline are a normal part of the economic cycle, there is no denying the enormous pressure these periods place on our organisations. Yet, despite the forces working against us, there are still ways in which we can adapt and even disrupt during periods of economic downturn.

I recently was involved in a panel discussion on ‘Disrupting the Product: Strategies for Success’ hosted by DiUS, where we shared proactive strategies for disrupting the product that prioritised tech innovations, operational efficiencies and customer experiences.

I love sharing a bit of product management wisdom whenever I can – especially if I’ve had to learn it the hard way. This was a great discussion – that you can watch in full via the link above – but there were many follow-up questions that we just didn’t get time to answer on the day. By picking out some that I’ve been itching to share my thoughts on, hopefully I might be able to pre-emptively answer some of the questions that might come up the next time you’re looking to be a disrupter in product management, and have to cope with an unpredictable world.

'Recession-Proof' Strategies

In our current economic climate with fears around a tech recession, what are some of the strategies you’ve seen work well that have helped ‘recession-proof’ a product or organisation?

I believe the best strategy is to really go back to your roots.

What is the vision that you started with? Is it still true? Does it need to be revised?

From there, confirm your market fit. Are your target customers still the same? Do you need to refine your target market?

Once you have the confirmation you’re after, ensure you have a solid strategy to execute on that confirmed vision and target market.

It’s important to remember that things change over time. You’re deluded if you think that the strategy you had in flush years will still work in lean ones. Look out for the signals that tell you there is a problem. These might be external signals, but also pay attention for any internal signals as well. These can be sign posts to tell you if you are still tracking to your intended goals.

Shifting Mindsets on 'Scaling Down'

Disruption in the external environment leads to ‘Scaling down’. This has a generally negative connotation attached to it – especially when compared to ‘scaling up’. How can leaders focus on shifting mindsets and boosting the morale of the team on the ground?

Scaling down should always be done with a good reason, and a sense of humanity. First up you must honestly own your new strategy – the one that will take you through the lean times. Then, make selections for role redundancies based on how the role delivers or doesn’t, based on your new strategy. You can’t treat people like numbers. By being open about the strategy and the changed business model you show that you respect your people even, or especially, when you have to make hard decisions.

Also, be mindful that the team who are left will find themselves with a case of survivor guilt. This is unavoidable, so what you want to do is be honest that you are resetting your strategy to one that will manage through the tough period and keep the company alive till things change.

Be really open with your team about the fact that you are unable to operate the same way as before, and make sure you never say “do more with less”, or even “do less with less”. This kind of language doesn’t help anyone. Refer back to your vision and strategy, and remind your team about what has stayed the same before going through the things that have changed – and why you got there.

Measuring Strategic Disruption Success

How do you measure the success of a disruptive product strategy, especially in its early stages?

One thing that you can easily track is whether or not you have gone from 0 to 1 with your (disruptive) value prop intact. Sticking with that same vision and value prop to go from 1 to 2 to 10 is a challenge, but if you can stick to your original vision and add more paying customers, that’s success.

Also don’t forget to look outside – if your competitors are talking the same talk as you, or if you start seeing imitators you definitely will know you are onto something.

Re-evaluating Strategies

When it comes to re-evaluating a pre-recession strategy, what time horizon we should be looking at? Next quarter, next year, or the next five years?

You should first check in on your vision. Are you still confident you’ve identified the market need? How about the benefits?

Is your target customer still the same? Are they still able to pay for your product? Can they pay for it now – and if not, then when?

Then if that’s still true, you should set up a couple of alternate strategies that will allow you to adapt as time goes one. Create an optimistic strategy, but also pessimistic and realistic versions as well. Give your organisation the chance to explore the upside if there is a slight uptick, but realistically you should be investing in your pessimistic strategy more consistently. Always look at all those time horizons! But the further out, the more pessimistic you should be.

Fresh Ideas

Often the most innovative (disruptive) ideas come from outside the immediate teams within the business. How do you ensure you don’t miss out on fresh ideas?

I ask my stakeholders what have I missed, or what keeps them up at night. I ask the stakeholders of my stakeholders the same questions.

As well as talking to customers and reading the room, I always recommend keeping up with market publications or following influential folks in your domain.

Emerging Technologies and AI

Are digital twins, blockchain and other emerging technologies disrupting product management? What about AI?

My short answer is no.

My long answer: These technologies are here, and can be used to deliver customer value if you can find the right value prop and execute on it. AI is already being used in customer service (sometimes well, sometimes poorly!) and to generate LinkedIn content, for example.

Product thinking doesn’t change regardless of the cool new tech that is used to try to deliver customer value. The root is always “what is the problem and who am I solving it for, and how do I know they will pay me for it”. Our challenge is to use the technology responsibly, ethically and morally, without waiting for regulation to step in once bad stuff starts happening.

Read Man Made by Tracey Spicer for a great take on this.

 

Currently AI is seen as more of a risk than an opportunity in the product space. What can the average PO/PM do to change that narrative within Product Leadership groups?

It’s not all about the cool new tech. It has to solve a problem that delivers customer and business benefit. So put the effort in to prove the business reasons why AI investment is worth it.

What is it that your leadership will have to show to their leadership to get the money? Provide that confidence, don’t just expect the buzz words to sway investment decisions.

Folks – change is inevitable and has been around forever. As PMs, adapting to change is part of our core capability. I’ll sum it up with this quote:

“So what do we do? Anything. Something. So long as we just don’t just sit there. If we screw it up, start over. Try something else. If we wait until we’ve satisfied all the uncertainties, it may be too late.” – Lee Iacocca.

How to Drive Product-Led Growth

How to Drive Product-Led Growth

By KATHRYN SHEPHERD-KING

If you’ve been in the product management world for any length of time, you’ll have probably heard about product-led growth. But what is it exactly, and how do we make it happen?

Product-led growth is a go-to-market strategy that relies on using your product as the primary vehicle to acquire, activate, and retain customers.

It’s a strategy that puts the product at the forefront of your growth efforts, leveraging its value to acquire, activate, and retain customers. But being product-led goes beyond revenue; it’s about creating a product-led organisation.

A product-led organisation means that every aspect of your business is driven by the product and its value proposition. All parts of the business are aligned on balancing the needs of both customers and the business and creating value for both.

You can be a product-led organisation without implementing a product-led growth strategy, but it is hard, if not impossible, to implement the other way around.

It’s also essential to understand how product-led growth differs from growth driven by marketing or sales functions.

Marketing-led growth relies on advertising for acquisition, email nurturing programs for retention and supports monetisation through bottom-of-the-funnel content and ROI calculators. Sales-led growth depends on the sales team doing outbound and product demos to acquire customers, business reviews and customer-success outreach for retention and sales deals to convert.

Marketing and sales both have a more traditional funnel approach and generally a higher cost of acquisition. In contrast, product-led growth leverages the product’s value to drive conversions – with an emphasis on getting users to experience and adopt the product as quickly as possible through such methods as self-serve product demos, trials, freemium, self-serve onboarding, gamification and notifications, product education and certifications.

Product-led sales take this to another level, with the product-led growth activities and the data it delivers helping to determine where and when to use your sales team to have the best chance of converting or optimising revenue.

Companies that implement a product-led sales strategy report a 30% increase in conversion rates compared to traditional sales-led approaches (as stated in the State of Sales Report by Salesforce), but even companies that are synonymous with product-led growth leverage other growth motions.

In reality, it’s not one or the other – but the right mix to drive growth based on your company, product, market and customers.

Is Product-Led Growth Right for Every Company or Product?

According to a recent survey by ProductLed Institute, 70% of SaaS companies believe that a product-led strategy is crucial for their growth in the next 12 months.

However, in complex industries, or if you have a complex product, customers often seek personalised interactions.

So how do you know if it’s right for you?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you understand your current growth motions and how predictable they are?
  • Who has influence / decision-making power? Would users have influence?
  • Is the product easy to explain?
  • Can a customer self-serve activation?
  • Is there a recurring need?
  • Is the value of the product immediately apparent?

Trying to move to product-led growth if you don’t have the right environment can be detrimental, so you are best to hold off implementing or not implement at all.

So, assuming you’re in the proper position to implement product-led growth, what key ingredients will you need to be successful?

Key Ingredients to Product-Led Growth

  1. Intentional Strategy

You can’t just create a free trial or freemium offering and say you’re doing product-led growth. This is not a strategy and will likely not help you achieve your objectives.

You need to create a growth strategy that aligns with your business goals and your customers’ needs. The product strategy must then outline how the product will deliver on the growth.

Understanding how you will achieve it, like any strategy, is critical.

 

  1. Cross-functional Alignment and Commitment

Ensure all departments align and commit to your approach. This can be through direct organisational structure change, cross-functional teaming or commitment to shared metrics.

For example, Amplitude has several teams co-own growth across marketing and product. They have a dual model where teams report to the VP of Marketing and VP of Product, respectively. Shared product metrics help reinforce alignment.

 

  1. Product That Customers Love

Like any good product, your product needs to meet your customers’ needs and they need to love using it. However, it’s even more critical when using product-led growth.

You need a sustainable market with a recurring need to leverage product-led growth.

 

  1. The Right Metrics for Success and the Data to Back it Up

You need to understand what will equate to successful outcomes, and then you need to track, analyse and reassess continuously.

Importantly, you then need to communicate it!

Sharing data and insights with your partners and stakeholders across the organisation is just as important as you having the data. It helps to create alignment across teams and keep everyone on track.

The North Star Framework is a great tool to help you achieve this, as it will drive you to ask what leading indicator will drive sustainable business results and customer value, and to find the key inputs that will impact this metric. Once you know these answers, you can align the work to be done and the teams to deliver on it.

For this to be successful, you need a deep understanding of how your users interact with your product, and the behaviours that will ultimately lead to effective monetisation. You need to identify what users find helpful, what keeps them coming back, and the best way to take them on a successful journey to becoming loyal paying customers.

But don’t forget you should be using both quantitive and qualitative data to inform your decision-making.

In a Qualtrics survey, 68% of customers said they’re more loyal to brands that ask for and act on their feedback. According to the State of Product Leadership Report, companies that consistently analyse user behaviour achieve a 2.5x higher user engagement rate.

 

  1. Show Value Fast

Demonstrating value is always important; otherwise why would a customer use your product? But the time it takes to show – and not just tell – your customers the value of your product is critical.

And this is not just about acquisition.

Yes, free trials and the like are a great way to get users using your product, and onboarding is an important step to ensure speed to use – but ensuring you can continuously show value across the entire lifecycle is what really drives monetisation.

Salesforce is an excellent example of this, introducing trailhead, certifications, and their Dreamforce conference. They have not only created value (and fun) for the individual user, but for the B2B buyer as well – ensuring they have ongoing self-serve product support, learning, and a way to hire and retain the best talent.

Miro is another – both in product and through the Miroverse – reducing friction through templates (their own and from the community) reduces the cognitive load and adoption and helps create virality – where word of mouth and referrals help to drive growth.

Integration to other complementary tools (i.e. Jira) helps users operate and collaborate cross-functionally more effectively and efficiently.

 

  1. Curiosity & Experimentation

While more process than tactic, experimentation plays an important role when putting product-led growth into practice.

Product-led growth represents an opportunity for product and growth teams to directly impact their organisations and bottom lines. But with that opportunity comes increased accountability.

Product decisions count more than ever, but it’s not just about optimisation. Be curious. Be bold in your hypotheses. Use experimentation to find the right balance between risk and benefit.

Gartner’s study found that organisations fostering a culture of experimentation are 1.7 times more likely to be industry leaders.

Bridging The Gap

So, what are some of the considerations when going from theory to implementation?

First, you’ll need to understand where you are at. If you don’t assess your current state, you risk failing before you even start.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • How product-led is your organisation?
  • Is that culture already in place?
  • How are you structured? What capabilities do you already have?
  • How are your teams measured and incentivised?
  • How do you currently do growth? Is it working? Is it predictable?
  • What is your product readiness – strategy, roadmap, current product?
  • What data do you have access to?
  • Are you measuring the right things?

Based on these questions, should you be using product-led growth? If not, don’t do it. If yes, find out if you’re ready to implement and what your next move will be.

Once you’re ready, you must identify what changes will make the biggest impact.

This could be to improve your internal organisational readiness or identify what growth initiative you implement first. You don’t need to put all your eggs in one basket (if you have existing growth motions), but if you don’t have any existing growth, start defining your strategy.

Do you need to review your organisation’s culture or structure? Start with a cross-functional growth team (rather than reporting lines) with clear success measures, and empower them with decision-making rights. Build confidence in the model before restructuring and disrupting the current state.

Ensure there is enough investment – including resources and learning – to get the data and reports you need to make informed decisions.

Consider which bets might make an impact, map out a new customer journey, test out your hypothesis, and then create and execute your plan to achieve product-led growth.

Always keep in mind that product-led growth is about putting the product’s value front and centre. You can unlock remarkable growth opportunities by aligning your strategy, fostering a product-led culture, and leveraging data to optimise the user experience.

Do you need any help becoming product-led? Brainmates can help you bridge the gap. We’ve created a Product-Led Growth Assessment Checklist that covers the ingredients needed to deliver product-led growth successfully, and can be used to help bridge any gaps when moving from theory to implementation.

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.

Product Management in the Age of Generative AI

Product Management in the Age of Generative AI

By MARTIN NORTH

It might be a cliché, but the one constant in product management is that nothing is ever constant.

But the changes that are now visible on the horizon, driven by the sudden emergence of functional AI tools, are difficult to comprehend even for product leaders who have become accustomed to rapid technological change.

Generative AI platforms like ChatGPT, Bard, GitHub Copilot and Midjourney are the forerunners in a wave of platforms about to revolutionise how all digital assets are created and managed. While we are still only beginning to explore how AI can be utilised, as AI systems become increasingly capable of generating websites, software, video, music, and animation, many of the skills that have been the foundation of the technology industry for decades will become redundant.

This isn’t hyperbole; this is happening now. The industry may be unrecognisable a year from now.

Any professional whose career depends on applying acquired knowledge should consider how AI will impact their future, and any company whose business relies on utilising these capabilities should be doing the same.

If product managers are still required in the future, the teams within which they work and the roles they play will be vastly different. As product leaders, we must recognise the impact this revolution will have on product management and the industries in which we work.

AI-Driven Product Development

As AI tools for creating software become mainstream, the number of engineers required to create and maintain technology platforms will dramatically decrease.

Instead of written requirements being used to guide human engineers, they are being processed by AI and used to create working software.

Technical roles such as DevOps, quality assurance, security and delivery management will be able to be replaced by AI services operating with minimal human supervision. The ability for infrastructure to be managed as code will even allow AI to manage its own hardware requirements.

With large engineering teams no longer needed, Agile product development methodologies – such as Scrum and Kanban – will also become redundant. These frameworks are designed to improve the effectiveness of teams collaborating on software development.

Once development can be completed by AI tools, the problems they are designed to help solve will no longer exist.

The discovery and design phase of product development will consume most, if not all, of the time required to build a new product or feature. With fewer engineering constraints, the speed at which new products can be built will be limited only by the speed of their design.

Product roadmaps will become a relic of the past. When the desired attributes of a product have been decided, the development cycle will be nearly complete. The question of “when will it be ready to release?” will no longer be relevant. Once you know what ‘it’ is, most of the work will already be done.

Implications for SaaS Businesses and the Competitive Landscape

The growth of the SaaS segment has changed the way businesses purchase software. For enterprises, the decision to buy or build software has been trending towards buy, as it has become more cost-effective to purchase and integrate software services than to develop them in-house. Smaller businesses have gained access to tools they could never have developed themselves, now at a price they can afford.

However, SaaS businesses rely on the fact that software development is a specialised capability as the source of the value they create. The ease, speed, and affordability of software development brought about by AI will destroy the value proposition on which the SaaS industry is based.

Enterprises will be able to develop software in-house or purchase services, both for a negligible fraction of the current cost. Service aggregators such as Google and Microsoft will provide smaller businesses with complete suites of tools to run every aspect of their business.

As all software becomes essentially free, product differentiation will become a matter of choice.

If any feature a product team conceives of can be added to a platform immediately – and then just as quickly copied by competitors – the question is no longer whether something can be done, but whether it should be.

The only criteria to consider will be whether customers believe a feature adds or subtracts value.

The Future of Product Management

In the age of generative AI, product differentiation will be driven by strategic choices and a deep understanding of customer preferences.

Very small, highly-skilled teams will discuss ideas, select potential changes to test, generate updated software and monitor the results of experiments – with each iteration potentially lasting only hours.

Product squads may be replaced by small teams consisting of a product manager/marketer and one or more producers who use AI tools to create any required assets.

Some aspects of the role of the product manager may remain as they are today, as businesses will still need to understand their customers’ problems and anticipate how products can create value. Still, much of this work will be greatly streamlined through the use of AI to compile research, run experiments, and analyse data.

As development becomes faster and product differentiation based on features is no longer possible, the typical roles of product management and product marketing will likely merge, as positioning products within selected market segments becomes even more critical to product success.

As planning, resource management and roadmaps become obsolete, product managers will need to focus on curation – filtering the overwhelming number of possible functions and features available to create a unique and valuable offering in a carefully selected market.

It seems clear that the use of generative AI will bring about unprecedented changes in how digital products are developed and managed – but right now, this may be the only clear thing.

Now more than ever, product leaders need to be focused on the future – anticipating challenges and targeting opportunities – to create the successful products, and successful product-led businesses, that will inevitably emerge.

 

Brainmates has partnered with hundreds of organisations to solve their product challenges and help them adapt to new technologies.

Talk to Brainmates today.

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