Applying Product Principles to Guide Better Product Decisions
Like a sailor who navigates a path through stormy seas, a product manager needs to navigate their product through the needs of customers, business partners, and stakeholders while following the product vision (the end state for what the product will deliver in the future). This includes making numerous product decisions in a consistent and coherent way. There are thousands of articles that describe how to build a product once requirements have been set. It almost goes without saying that a product manager takes the product vision and knows what to build: from deciding upon small day-to-day issues to making more strategic decisions. However, in most cases these decisions are not made in a structured way.
So, what is the compass that guides a product manager when making product decisions (new functionality, UX, UI)? How can these decisions be taken in an effective and efficient manner?
This compass is known as product principles. Product principles provide a framework for product decision making at all levels in an organization. They describe the nature of the products we create and reflect a company’s beliefs, values, and overall vision of the product.
“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” Roy E. Disney
Write Your own Product Principles – The Dos and Don’ts
1 – Make a Clear Decision
Do: Take a stand by preferring one alternative over the other(s). State clearly that one thing is more important than the other.
A good example of this is Google’s declaration that the user’s interest comes first. When Google builds its products it is user-centric. This means that other personas (marketers or publishers) are less important. It made a clear decision (at least declarative) to prefer the user over all others.
Don’t: Use vague statements. The above is great, but it is more of a company culture statement than a principle. You can not make product decisions based on this statement.
2 – Describe how you Want to Build Your Product
Do: Describe how to build the product and not what to build or what to optimize. It’s not a roadmap or a KPI.
A good example of this is Klarna, a Swedish payment company. Klarna makes online shopping simple by allowing the user to buy without the use of credit/debit cards using only top of mind information (address, email, ID number etc). When Klarna builds a product or enhances an existing one everyone is aligned with its priorities and trade off (conversion vs profitability) so it is much easier and faster to make product decisions.
Don’t: Write a wishlist (roadmap). The roadmap describes what you want to build. It does not tell you how to build it and which trade-offs you need to make along the way.
3 – Make it Personal to Your Company
Do: Use terms that people in your company can relate to. If you want people to remember and adopt the product principles, they need to feel connected to them.
A good example of this is Augury (Augury.com), which brings predictive maintenance to new markets. By “listening” to a machine Augury can tell if it is working properly or has a malfunction and can even predict future failures.
When creating its product principles, Augury decided to use a terminology that everyone in the company can relate to. “Machines are our patients” might be a vague statement for other companies, but Augury can make product decisions using this principle. It puts the machines in the center and would do its best to protect them in an honest and transparent way – as if they were its patients.
Don’t: Use a fluffy sentence every company can relate to. Make your personal statement unique to your company.
4 – Make Them Easy to Remember
No more than three to five principles are needed. Less is more.
5 – Let Them Evolve Over Time
Product principles are not the 10 Commandments. They can change. What you strongly believed in yesterday might not be relevant today and vice versa. Challenge yourself and the organization by making sure your product principles are relevant and useful.
Several years ago Amazon had a principle to “Not get in the users’ way when they make a purchase”. When it invented the product suggestions, this principle became irrelevant and was updated accordingly.
How we Applied Product Principles at Pay.com
Pay.com is an e-wallet with an associated Mastercard prepaid card and is used as an alternative to traditional payments and money transfer services. The product was soft launched on mid 2016 throughout the EU with a main focus on UK and Italy.
When we develop Pay.com, these are our product principles:
- We are not a bank. We disrupt banking
- Sense of security and privacy is key
- Merchants are the gateway to customers, so our products must “wow” the merchant
When the product team designed the new dashboard we had many product/UX dilemmas – which functionality to expose and how to present it. One example was how to display the card’s CVC code (the three-digit security code on the back of the card).
We had two options:
Option 1 – the user needs to click on a button (“Reveal CVC”) and a pop-up with the CVC code is presented.
Option 2 – the CVC appears on the front of the card
We had a dilemma over security versus ease of use. Should we make the design more user friendly and present the CVC upfront or add another layer of security, which meant an extra click? All stakeholders had many arguments about this but when we revisited our product principles the answer was clear. Only a couple of months before we had agreed that a “sense of security and privacy is key”. We, as a company, believe that security is an important aspect of the product. Therefore, Option 1 was the natural decision to make.
As in the case of Pay.com, by offering a framework for product decision making, product principles can assist the product manager and the rest of the organization to make decisions in an effective and efficient manner while staying aligned with the company’s beliefs, values, and overall vision of the product.
Go find your own product principles, and good luck!