5 Steps to Product Strategy Powered by Stakeholders

5 Steps to Product Strategy Powered by Stakeholders

By SANDEEP GONDEKAR

As product management evolves into a critical strategic function in organisations, its effectiveness in driving both customer and business value will increasingly depend on
– and be influenced by – people outside the product team.

No wonder the bar keeps getting higher and higher for product managers to be brilliant at cross-functional collaboration!

However, most organisations focus purely on the day-to-day delivery aspect of product management as the key area for cross-functional collaboration.

Don’t get me wrong, working effectively across teams is essential at all levels, but if done only at the delivery level (no matter how effective an individual product manager is), misalignment with and poor collaboration from other teams will continue to be a recurring issue.

Like any problem, this must be fixed right at the source.

For product teams to continually focus on the most pressing customer problems, the entire organisation must understand and support them.

This is where a well-defined product strategy comes in handy.

But having a product strategy is only half the battle. Ensuring key senior stakeholders support the strategy is the other half.

This is important at two levels. The first is that senior stakeholder support streamlines funding, capacity, and prioritisation. The second is that it ensures product managers spend most of their time identifying, validating, and solving customer problems. Without such support, product managers typically spend their time fighting prioritisation battles – which they often lose!

Bringing stakeholders along on the product strategy journey is a crucial responsibility of product leaders. Achieving strategic alignment and buy-in from stakeholders eliminates several downstream challenges experienced by product teams.

This may seem easy, but most product leaders find it hard to do – especially in large complex organisations. But with an ongoing structured approach, it becomes much easier to achieve.

Here are five steps that product leaders can take to get strategic alignment from senior stakeholders:

1. Build Trusted Relationships with Individual Stakeholders

Product leaders must invest time and effort in building trusting relationships with key stakeholders individually. Not many do.

When it comes to planning or alignment, stakeholders are usually managed as a group, which leaves gaps. Product leaders must know what drives each senior stakeholder and should have clarity about their expectations from the product team.

A significant part of a product leader’s time should be spent with key stakeholders discussing, reviewing, and analysing the business, market and competitive insights and ensuring a collective understanding of product performance.

Product leaders can build robust relationships by doing the following:

  • Create a stakeholder map and identify the role you expect them to play
  • Be crystal clear about ‘what’s in it for them’
  • Set up regular 1-to-1 time with each key stakeholder
  • Ensure alignment before key operational and planning meetings

2. Share Context Early & Frequently

Most non-product leaders – whether engineering, sales or marketing – find it hard to understand product and customer context. This primarily happens because they are drip-fed information, resulting in them not getting the full context.

Product leaders must regularly share information and insights that help build a common understanding of customer problems. This includes product performance metrics, competitive analysis, and market and UX research insights.

Stakeholders should never hear about a problem or an area of opportunity for the first time in a planning meeting. The product leader’s job is to ensure key stakeholders are primed with context continuously and that it is not a one-off exercise.

Some steps product leaders can take to build customer context with stakeholders are:

  • Invite stakeholders to research meetings (customer interviews, usability sessions, metric analysis, etc.)
  • Provide access for stakeholders to performance dashboards and research reports
  • Present insights and findings from research to stakeholders and their teams
  • Publish insight reports for the entire organisation to read

3. Co-Create Strategy

One of the most effective ways to get alignment on product strategy is to involve key stakeholders in strategy formation. When stakeholders can contribute to the direction, they will naturally be more supportive of it.

An added benefit to this approach is that your product strategy will be more holistic, giving due consideration to inputs from different parts of the organisation.

A product strategy considering input from engineering, marketing, sales and customer support will deliver better customer and business outcomes.

A few things product leaders can do to co-create product strategy include:

  • Create and socialise a structured planning process
  • Align your planning and strategy cadence to that of your stakeholders – organising your planning meetings and sessions at the same time as the rest of the business
  • Invite key stakeholders to planning sessions and make them an integral part of strategy creation with a clearly defined role and expectation
  • Play back your strategy to close the loop with agreement from the stakeholder

4. Align Goals and Outcomes

Your product strategy will find support and be successful only if it is aligned with the business strategy.

Product leaders must know & understand what is important to the broader business. Business strategy and goals are critical inputs for product strategy.

Without a business strategy, the product team will only be making up a wish list of things to do rather than defining a strategic direction for the product.

To align your goals and outcomes, try to:

  • Get clarity on business priorities and goals, and why they are in place
  • Share with your team and make sure they understand
  • Know exactly which business priorities and goals product will influence
  • Ensure business priorities and goals cascade down to the team

5. Position as Shared Strategy

Once your product strategy is ready, make sure you take the time to share it with the rest of the organisation. And although it is a product strategy, make sure to position it as a collective strategy that represents thinking from different teams.

When a strategy is viewed as a collective effort, people will be more likely to buy into it than if it were presented as something created in isolation.

Some steps product leaders can take to position product strategy as a shared direction between key stakeholders includes:

  • Organise a strategy roadshow and ensure key stakeholders present relevant parts of the strategy (primarily alignment with business strategy).
  • Create strategy on a page artefact and ensure it is displayed across team locations
  • Prep and empower stakeholders to represent product thinking and respond to questions from the rest of the organisation

Using the five steps above, product leaders can create a holistic product strategy and ensure the entire organisation backs it, resulting in successful execution. A strategy supported by key stakeholders will empower product managers to focus on solving real-world customer problems with the backing of the entire organisation.

Now, who wouldn’t like to work in such a team?

Scenario Gaming: How Resilient Is Your Product Strategy?

Scenario Gaming: How Resilient 
 Is Your Product Strategy?

By JANA PAULECH

Strategic resilience as a topic has been cemented high on every board’s agenda thanks to the pandemic and widespread geopolitical risks (McKinsey global survey, 2021). With the rapid rise of technology, resilience is also key in the planning of technology and digital strategies by CTOs and tech leaders.

However, the topic of product strategy resilience rarely if ever surfaces when talking to product leaders about their product strategies. This is despite being one of the biggest detractors to creating big, bold, long-term product strategy.

One of the most common ailments espoused by product functions is their inability to consider the long term. Why consider that when things change so fast?

“Our market changes, our regulatory environment changes, and our business priorities change. We can’t create a long-term strategy with all this change and, if we try, we’ll just have to throw it out and start all over again.”

This thinking is symptomatic of ‘fragile’ strategy – a strategy that does not consider change in its inception, and therefore really only ever plans to change the plan.

Moving beyond ‘fragile’ strategy towards ‘resilient’ strategy means that product leaders consider change not as a possibility, but as a certainty. Change is our constant companion, and therefore must be included in our strategy along with all the other usual suspects – competitors, market, customers, business priorities, risks etc.

Scenario gaming invites strategy makers to identify and create likely scenarios.

They then ‘game’ those scenarios out to consider what could be done differently. From these insights, we create a strategy that can rapidly adapt to change.

When we consider strategic resilience in our product strategies it will not only help us chart more transformative horizon three destinations, but also elevate the level and gravitas for the discussion of our horizon one and two strategies to the board-level concerns of strategic resilience.

One of the most useful techniques for developing a change-resilient product strategy is scenario gaming.

This technique invites strategy makers to identify and create likely scenarios that may eventuate, and that would have material and rapid impact on the organisation and product. They then ‘game’ those scenarios out to consider what could be done differently.

By combining the insights of many scenarios into the product strategy, we create a strategy that can rapidly adapt to change.

To find out more about scenario gaming and the Brainmates ‘Identify > Game > Adapt’ framework for scenario gaming, you can watch the video below.

Play Video

How To Prevent Common Mistakes In Product Development

How To Prevent Common Mistakes In Product Development

By JANA PAULECH

Product development can be a difficult process to get right. Not all products are created equal, and an alarmingly high number of products produced will fail. In fact, around 40% of the products launched by organisations fail to meet their intended objectives.

This happens because something goes wrong in the product development process somewhere between having that great idea and launching the end product into the market.

In a previous insights, we covered The Five Most Common Mistakes in Product Development, which were:

1. A Lack Of Customer Benefit
2. Inadequate Customer Research
3. No Clear Differentiation In Market
4. Poor Design & Execution
5. Ineffective Product Marketing

But what steps do we need to be taking to ensure that we don’t let these common mistakes derail our product development?

Most Lethal Failure Points Occur In Product Discovery

It is important to note that of the five failure points above, some are inherently more lethal to the future of a product than others. If you have a product that solves a deep problem for a defined target market and delivers true benefits, it may be able to outlast some hiccups with execution or product marketing to grow over time.

This assumes that those issues don’t fundamentally debase the customer perception of the product or organisation’s brand.

However, the converse is not true.

No amount of flawless technical execution or product marketing will save a product that solves no problems, provides no benefits, and has no customers.

This means the most critical thing that can be done to avoid these product failure points is to cover the ‘product thinking’ basics every time:

  • Who is the product for?
  • What problem does it solve for them?
  • What benefit does it provide to them?
  • What benefit does it provide to us (e.g., will they pay)?

Validating these basics with real customers rather than assuming that you know what the customers want avoids stacking the case with false data. Finding and talking to customers will help validate if you have the right target market and if the problem is one they want to be solved and would pay for.

Your Product Process Should Focus On Checking
 For Failure Points

If most product failures could be avoided by sticking to the product thinking basics, then why do we still launch so many failing products and fail too few ideas?

The most likely culprit is the lack of a repeatable and structured product process that emphasises the basics of product thinking and embeds checks for product failure points along the way.

A successful product management process should:
1. Test for each of the product failure points during the process.
2. Provide structured decision points when an idea can be culled or continued.
3. Provide a common language for stakeholders to understand how decisions are made.

Dividing your product management process into phases or stages can help to identify failure points and provide a common language for where an idea is in the process.

Ensuring the most lethal failure points are tested early also helps assess more ideas and reduces any sunk cost or anchoring bias.

Take the Brainmates product management process for example, which occurs over three phases:

Innovate Phase

A structured process for innovation & discovery that focuses on testing many ideas fast. This phase is key to avoiding the most lethal failure points. Structuring product thinking – for who, what problem, what benefits and positioning – into this phase and testing with customer research will help to remove bad ideas early. The majority of ideas should be removed in this phase. Remember, for every successful product, there are about 2999 failed ideas. We need to fail more ideas earlier in our product management process.

Design Phase

A phase focused on deep ‘as is’ current state customer understanding. The aim is to identify real problems for real people, and guardrails to guide solution design and development. Guardrails should be focused on the customer and market needs required to solve the problem, rather than what can be delivered by a specific date. Prioritisation of these guardrails can reduce scope creep in the final phase.

Implement Phase

A phase to focus on preparing for product launch and testing solution readiness against the design phase guardrails. A common understanding of customer and market guardrails across the solutions team means solutions are tested throughout development and avoid poor customer outcomes on release. Product managers spend the majority of their time in this phase preparing for a successful launch in collaboration with their marketing colleagues.

The Brainmates product development process focuses on testing for each product failure point and failing bad ideas throughout the process.

Fail More Ideas To Launch Fewer Failing Products

In summary, failure will happen – but failing where others have failed before doesn’t have to!

Having a process that focuses on avoiding the most common failure points is the best way to avoid making the same mistakes and minimise the cost of failure to your organisation.

Weed out the most lethal failure points early with a process focused on the basic elements of product thinking – who is our customer, what problem are we solving and for what benefit (for us & them). Most ideas will fail the test, which is to be expected with strong product innovation.

The final failure points can then be avoided with strong customer and market-centric guardrails for solution design and development and increased focus across product and marketing on preparing early for launch, because you can never be too prepared.

The Five Most Common Mistakes in Product Development

The Five Most Common Mistakes in Product Development

By JANA PAULECH

New products fail all the time. On average, about 40% of the products launched by organisations fail to meet their intended objectives.

Some quotes put this higher – even up to 95% – but 40% is what empirical evidence indicates (see Castellion & Markham 2013). Even if this is an underestimate, that makes product failure an even bigger issue for organisations.

“Now, hold on a minute,” you might say. “Isn’t product failure just the inevitable cost of product innovation?”

To that, I unequivocally say NO!

Developing and launching a product only to have it fail is the complete antithesis of the ‘Fail Fast’ innovation motto. You have just invested thousands of work hours and millions of dollars in developing and launching this product. In no way, shape or form is that fast.

On the other hand, a high volume of failing ideas (i.e., ideas killed before they are developed or launched) should instead be thought of as the signpost of strong product innovation. Conversely, however, we are not failing enough ideas.

Even if we took the oft-quoted “95% of products fail” (most commonly attributed to Clayton Christensen) to mean “95% of ideas fail”, then that means we’re still taking far too many ideas through to production and launch.

Estimates indicate it takes about 3000 raw ideas to make one commercially successful product (Stevens & Burley, 1997), and in some industries much more. In reality, most companies are reviewing and failing ideas several orders of magnitude less than this.

We are not failing enough ideas, and we are launching too many failing products.

Something is occurring in the broad spectrum of product development between thought and launch, leading us to keep making the same mistakes.

Below is an attempt to categorise the five most common mistakes seen in product failures with the benefit of hindsight (and maybe a sprinkling of common sense).

#1 - A Lack Of Customer Benefit

A product or product improvement needs to provide genuine benefits to a customer. These benefits will come from solving a deep problem a customer has.

Product Management 101 is ‘problem before solution’, but it still appears the message is not getting through, as too many products and product improvements are launched without a real benefit to customers.

Think of the last time someone said “we’ll put AI/ML into this”. A secondary concern is whether these benefits are enough to justify the cost. But no amount of cost-cutting or even a freemium model will solve the failure point of delivering no benefits to customers.

Juicero is a widely mocked example of a product that provides no benefit. A Wi-Fi-enabled juice dispenser that presses juice from single-serve packets is an example of a technology solution searching for a problem.

In 2017, when a Bloomberg article showed the packets could be more effectively squeezed by hand rather than with the $400 machine, this was the last blow in a 4-year journey that saw investors lose over $200 million to this failure point.

#2 - Inadequate Customer Research

A product or product improvement needs to fulfil an unmet need for a sufficiently large group of people who are willing to pay for it.

If PM 101 is ‘problem before solution’, then PM 102 must be ‘who will pay and why?’
This lesson is still frequently forgotten, as evidenced by the most common answer to the question “Who is your product for?” still inevitably being “Everyone”.

General purpose products rarely succeed, and product managers need to do the research upfront to identify whom they are solving a problem for, whether are there enough customers who want this solved, and if they will pay to have it solved.

A recent survey estimates that less than half of product development ideas are validated with customers at all, which still doesn’t guarantee that the right questions are being asked to identify a suitable target market or willingness to pay.

Segway is a well-known example of a general purpose product that no one actually needed. Most people’s transportation needs were already sufficiently solved by the current methods of transport – foot, bicycle, motorcycle, car, etc. – yet Segway touted it would solve all individual transportation needs.

In other words, this is a target market equalling ‘everyone who moves’. In reality, its use was relegated to low-volume, niche transportation cases in urban settings like police, postal services and tourists.

#3 - No Clear Differentiation In Market

A product needs to be sufficiently different enough in a buyer’s mind to sway them to purchase.

In a world where your product is never the only solution to a problem, you are asking a customer to choose you over another solution that may provide similar benefits.

It may be that even if your product has no direct competitors, the competitor is customers ‘doing things the way they have always done things’, which offers much less activation energy to change than ‘doing things with your product’.

One final consideration is how your product will differentiate within your own product portfolio.

Coca-Cola C2 was a costly lesson in product differentiation within a portfolio. It was marketed as having the same Coke taste but with only 50% of the calories, and was targeted at a young male demographic concerned by calories but not interested in the perceived femininity of Diet Coke.

As it turned out, the benefit of fewer calories wasn’t distinctive enough from the current Coke offerings to sway behaviour. Low sales – primarily the result of the cannibalisation of Coke & Diet Coke sales – led to the discontinuation of the product in less than 12 months.

A year later, the more differentiated “zero calories, full flavour” product, Coke Zero, was launched successfully, making C2 a short but costly lesson in product differentiation.

#4 - Poor Design & Execution

A product or product improvement needs to be ready to meet customer demand & expectations at launch.

Untested or faulty products diminish the product’s reputation over the long term, and it may never recover. Worse yet, faults may do long-term damage to the organisational brand if it goes against a customer perception of brand quality, safety or security.

Unlike previous failure points, a successful launch can precede a product failure if a product fails to scale to demand. Performance issues or delivery delays can harm a product’s commercial success even if the original product is not faulty.

Windows Vista is a well-known punchline for how not to design and develop a software product. A host of compatibility and performance problems lead to a revolt in even their most loyal customer base.

This discontent even allowed their competitor, Apple, to monopolise – making the situation appear even worse with their advertising campaign featuring “I’m a Mac… and I’m a PC”.

While some issues with Vista were able to be solved, the Vista product never recovered its reputation and arguably cost Microsoft some of its reputation too.

#5 - Ineffective Product Marketing

A product or product improvement needs to create positive sentiment & awareness in the customer’s mind at launch.

There are about 30,000 products launched every year, so getting mindshare at the critical time of launch is imperative. The most common issue here is a lacklustre launch due to a lack of forward planning and support.

A poorly planned launch is unlikely to make the news (in fact, that is the point), but worse yet is product marketing launches that make the news for all the wrong reasons.

Launching products at the wrong time or with the wrong message may cause reputational damage. The saying “no publicity is bad publicity” doesn’t hold if significant customer loyalty, positive sentiment or goodwill is lost.

Airbnb’s campaign for ‘floating world’ stays launched amid Hurricane Harvey, which flooded large swathes of the USA. This is a great example of poor timing.

Sony launched the PSP white console with a print advertisement featuring an angry-looking woman dressed in all white grabbing the face of a terrified black woman alongside the words “White is coming” – never a good message.

How To Avoid Making These Mistakes

So, now that you’re aware of the five most common mistakes made in product development, how do you avoid making these mistakes?

It all comes down to having a process that focuses on addressing these failure points before they can derail your product development.

We’ll cover this in more detail in our companion piece on How to Prevent Common Mistakes In Product Development.

Product-Led Organisations Redefine Research

Product-Led Organisations
Redefine Research

By ANDI MASTROSAVAS

Customer research, performed continuously in product-led organisations, is used to identify pain points, uncover problems worth solving, and validate assumptions.

Undertaken proactively, rather than as a result of an unforeseen consequence arising, mixed methods research has emerged as a dominant practice.

No longer esoteric, product-led organisations have been integrating quantitative and qualitative research methods for some time now, and the benefits of combining both types of data are increasingly understood.

Example - Subscription Video On Demand (SVOD)

During the R&D phase of a new SVOD service, quantitative data of video usage metrics and surveys were analysed to help define the target customer at launch. The analysis uncovered an underserved segment of voracious viewers; teenage Hispanic males.It showed they watched significantly more hours of video content per day than their female counterparts.

If the research had ended there, with purely quantitative data driving decisions,an expensive phase of content creation and acquisition would have centred around this demographic. However, combining this data with rounds of focus groups helped to explain why this disparity in viewership existed.

What emerged from the candid discussions were persistent, familial gender roles that meant teenage Hispanic females attended to more domestic duties, such as caring for younger siblings, cooking family meals, and tackling an uneven share of housework. They weren’t inherently less interested in watching videos, they just didn’t have as much time.

This qualitative understanding forced a re-examination of the quant data which found that teenage Hispanic females, despite their time constraints, were actually more highly engaged viewers. They were more likely to obsess over certain shows and stars, consider themselves fans, and watch an entire series over a random collection of user-generated videos online, as their male counterparts were primarily doing.

Had the service been ad-supported, targeting teenage Hispanic males would have made economic sense; the more time a viewer has to watch, the more ads they can be served. But SVOD has different audience dynamics. Retention is more important than watch time, and part of churn prevention is exclusive content that attracts highly engaged viewers. These findings redirected the content strategy towards a different target customer.

As barriers to entry for building software products continue to decrease, the need for continuous customer discovery increases.

What Is Mixed Methods Research?

The simplest definition of mixed methods is that quantitative data is used to describe what is happening and qualitative data describes why. But this simplification betrays the nuance of its benefits. The combination of data enables the translation of these findings into sophisticated solutions.

Quantitative data can be useful for testing objective theories and quantifying defined variables, such as behaviour. As such, it remains the main currency for analysing and optimising product features and use. Whereas qualitative data exposes subjective meanings, uncovers the underlying relationships between variables, and can strengthen or refute observed patterns.

But the benefits don’t end there. Utilising a single research method or type of data when seeking to influence change can be limiting. This holds true for research aimed at promoting policy reform or used to persuade key decision-makers in organisations. Mixed methods research allows the type of data most highly regarded by the intended audience to resonate more strongly, and enhances the validity of the findings to get buy-in for strategic decisions.

There are three main mixed methods approaches, outlined below. The SVOD example from earlier utilised a sequential explanatory approach, where the qualitative data helped to explain and build upon initial quantitative results.

Mixed methods research allows the type of data most highly regarded by the intended audience to resonate more strongly.

There are three main mixed methods approaches, outlined below. The SVOD example from earlier utilised a sequential explanatory approach, where the qualitative data helped to explain and build upon initial quantitative results.

Type

Characteristic

Purpose

Sequential Explanatory

Quantitative data analysis followed by the collection and analysis of qualitative data.

Qualitative data used to help explain the findings of a quantitative study.

Sequential Exploratory

Qualitative data followed by quantitative data collection and analysis.

To explore a phenomenon, develop and test a new instrument, or identify variables.

Convergent

Quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis is concurrent and complementary.

To confirm, cross-validate, or corroborate findings, to overcome a weakness in using one method.

As barriers to entry for building software products continue to decrease, the need for continuous customer discovery increases. Mixed methods research provides flexibility, ensures all points of view are considered, and collects comprehensive data to tell a more holistic story.

In product-led organisations, where understanding and serving unmet needs creates more value than other approaches, mixed methods will continue to evolve and be deployed to persuade important product decisions and direct strategic vision.

What to learn more?

My two favorite resources on the topic are:

Research Methods in Human-Computer Interaction

by Jonathan Lazar, Jinjuan Heidi Feng, & Harry Hochheiser.

Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches

by Creswell & Creswell.

Product-Led vs Customer-Led? It’s About Balance

Product-Led vs Customer-Led?
It's About Balance

By JANA PAULECH

It’s no secret that at Brainmates we see product management as the engine of growth in every organisation. This means that we see a ‘product-led’ direction as the path that modern organisations should follow to achieve sustainable and innovative growth.

We talk about product-led thinking, we have a Product-Led Program, and we even advocate to senior executives and boards across Australia and New Zealand that being product-led is the secret sauce of growth.

But, as many executives have in the past, you may ask yourself why product-led?

Don’t we want to be ‘customer-led’?

This gets to a fundamental misunderstanding. Product-led does put customers at the heart of decision-making, but customers are only half of the equation.

Product-Led Is About Balance

Product-led is about balancing customer and organisational value. Creating great outcomes for the customer and delivering great outcomes for the organisation.

This balance avoids the pitfall of solving the wrong customer problems – ones that aren’t really valuable for the organisation to solve.

If you have ever asked the question “why are we building this”, and the only answer was “because XYZ customer wants it”, you would understand what happens if we don’t have balance when considering customer needs. It makes for products with no realisable market potential as they are built for one customer who yells the loudest.

Balancing both sides of this equation necessitates you knowing a LOT more about your customers than you may think.

Not only do we need to know their problem, but also how painful the problem is.

How many other similar customers (in our realisable target market) have this problem?

Is it sufficiently painful that they will exchange something of value with us to solve it for them?

How much would they exchange?

How often?

Being a product-led organisation means your whole organisation aligns around this balance of customer and organisational value. At a more tangible level for product leaders, it means your teams have the skillsets of customer research and commercial acumen in balance as they discover and communicate product opportunities.

Less than 50% of product teams actually engage with their customers.

Engaging with customers directly, continuously and meaningfully is still the best way to gain a shared understanding of their needs, and is essential to being truly product-led.

Product-Led Is About Customer Research

‘Know your customer’ – or some version of this – is the core tenant of many product practice theories, and most product teams think they do indeed know their customers.
 
In a recent study, over 50% of product teams believed they had a shared understanding of customer needs. However, 69% of them also said that the products and features they released were not consistently well received by customers.
 
This may have to do with the fact that less than half of product teams actually engage with their customers.
 
Engaging with customers directly, continuously and meaningfully is still the best way to gain a shared understanding of their needs and is essential to being truly product-led.
 
But how do we do this?
 
The three best ways are:
 
• Directly – Actually talk to them! Using product analytics, A/B & multivariate testing and other indirect, quantitative measures is important but not a substitute for actually talking to them. The old adage that numbers can tell you ‘what’ but not ‘why’ only scratches the surface of this – the colour and empathy you get from 5 minutes with an actual customer can never be expressed in numbers.
 
• Continuously – Make talking to customers a habit, and part of your weekly process. This ensures you are walking the talk and truly understanding the needs of customers. It also means you aren’t only talking to one or two customers, but many, to not skew research to the ‘best’ or ‘loudest’ customers.
 
• Meaningfully – being considerate of how you engage customers, and being planned and structured is essential to getting meaningful insight from customer research. Unstructured research is good, but a few minutes of effort to put together a research objective and a few questions will make it even more meaningful. Better yet consider an evergreen research plan that harnesses interactions all team members have with customers to gain meaningful insights for all.

Product-Led Is About Commercial Acumen

If ‘know your customer’ is a core tenant of product practice, ‘know your commercial models’ is the poorer sibling sitting in the corner.

It’s no good to generate customer insight without being able to translate that into a commercial model which the organisation can then benefit from.

Unfortunately in many organisations the commercial potential of a product-led approach is never leveraged or harnessed. This may be as simple as a lack of a baseline understanding across the organisation of the numbers that drive it (costs and benefits). It may be a lack of process for making commercial decisions using robust frameworks and commercial value models. Or it may be a fundamental lack of trust in product to make sound commercial decisions.

In a recent study by the Association of Product Professionals which interviewed over 50 non-product (CEO, CTO, VP, GM, EGM, COO) and product leaders, they found that senior executives “doubt the commercial skills of product managers [and therefore], define the scope and solution before handing over”.

Product-led organisations place an emphasis on all areas of the organisation, including product, being bi-lingual – speaking the language of customer value and organisational value.

They balance their assessment of investment opportunities on two fronts:

• Market Assessment – Focusing on who the target market is in detail and what compelling and painful problem we will solve for them.

• Commercial Assessment – Focusing on the value model for achieving organisational benefits, how we will achieve value for the organisation, how much value will be achieved (revenue & cost) as well as the business risks involved in securing those benefits.

Finally, product-led organisations gain alignment across the organisation more easily to sound opportunities (and see-through vainglorious ones) as they are all speaking the same two languages in balance.

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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