Dave Martin, Founder of Right To Left explores adopting a product-led approach during times of turbulence.
Today’s economic climate is challenging. Venture Capital backed companies are refocusing on profitability. Now more than ever, tech companies need to maximise the impact of their product development investment.
There was a time when it was not commonplace to have product management in software development. During the late 90s and early 2000s, the discipline evolved, and tech companies adopted a product-first approach to building companies. These companies enjoyed market differentiation by offering solutions to the root cause of problems and creating experiences the user could enjoy. These companies outperformed others. The discipline of product management gained traction and spread globally.
The old way of systems analysis and detailed requirements gathering coupled with long feasibility studies, which treated software development like construction, was replaced with an iterative approach. This “modern” methodology framed software development as experimentation aligning it closer to r&d than construction projects. Unlike projects, product development continues for the life of the product.
Adopting a product-led approach focused on customer and business outcomes is now considered best practice. But the story is far from over.
Many companies have recognised that they need product managers to make software. But unfortunately, many of these companies have yet to adopt the product-led approach and have fostered many bad habits contributing to an enormous level of wasted effort and wasted investment. More of these companies appear to be based in Europe. They have copied the organisation charts from Silicon Valley and some processes but need the mindset and focus.
Too many leadership teams have woven a comfort blanket from celebrating releasing new features. The irony is from their comfortable perspective, their investment in product development feels successful despite its complete lack of impact. A stat I have quoted before is from Pendo research, showing 80% of features are never or rarely used. Celebration of building features no one uses is folly, yet many leadership teams are addicted to the false sense of progress it gives them.
Too many companies need to pay more attention to the outcomes their technology generates for their customers. I am regularly asked by UK product managers and leaders, “Is product-led real or just a utopia… does any company operate this way?”
There is hunger to work in a product-led mindset and approach. However, organisations need to transform into fully product-led organisations. The first step is awareness of the current situation – if you are a product leader, you should share this article with the rest of the leadership team.
We need to stop calling the product led to help organisations understand the required governance and mindset. Words are important. We must frame our approach to making tech inclusive across the leadership team. We must focus on the mindset change, not just the process or job titles.
Over the last few years, as I have helped the leadership team’s transition, I have described the target model we all know as product-led as “outcome-led”.
To transform an organisation, the leadership team must buy in and desire improvement. Suggesting to the chief revenue officer or the chief marketing officer that the product managers should lead the organisation is a tough sell. It is made worse as the company already has product managers, and they might be viewed negatively due to the features they promise being late or never showing up.
Asking CxOs to adopt an outcome-led approach, where the millions of pounds spent on product development will be oriented towards achieving customer and business outcomes, is far more palatable.
I experimented with customer-led, which encourages building solutions the customer asks for, which might sound great but turns a tech company into a delivery agency. Customers don’t always see the underlying problems as they are too close. Customers don’t always know what is technically possible and limit the proposed solution. Customers often have a blinkered perspective as they don’t see how others in their market operate. Customers must be understood and their ideas considered, but the underlying desired outcome is what matters.
If these feature-focused organisations expect to grow or even survive, they must prioritise the outcome instead of the deadline or feature. You can’t increase profits by building features no one uses.
Is your organisation outcome led? What is stopping it?