At a recent all-hands meeting, I read something like the following conversation in the chat:
- We want to be product-centric, put the product team at the centre of how we operate
- But what about the customer experience? The services we provide? Marketing? Sales? Customer support?
This is not the first time I’ve seen a dialogue like this. Every time I hear it, I die a little.
Let’s go back to basics. Wikipedia defines product as:
[…] product is an object, or system, or service […]; it is anything that can be offered to a market to satisfy the desire or need of a customer. […] A service is also regarded as a type of product.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Product_(business)
So, Product is anything (and everything!) that we offer in the market. A service is a Product. Why are we talking at cross-purposes? The problem, not unique to this dialogue, has to do with business organisation.
In many businesses, modern Product Management practices are still an unrealised aspiration. Instead of empowered cross-functional teams where diverse people with all kinds of skills are commonly accountable for the success of their product, separate organisations try to work through processes, committees and rigid frameworks while quantifying their contribution against that of others in search of that elusive year-end bonus.
When one of those organisations calls themselves Product, confusion arises. People read “product-centric” as “we’ll take all the credit and you don’t matter”, and the corporate immune system flares up, drowning any progress towards modern, proven, superior ways of working. Handoffs increase, silos narrow, speed plummets, quality worsens and the customer becomes an abstract idea to be used in the pursuit of confirmation bias.
The Product equation
Let’s go back to basics: Marty Cagan tells a story of a manager of his describing Product as an equation:
Product = Customer x Business x Technology
and goes on to tell us that a successful tech product has to solve for the customer, has to solve for our business, and has to solve for the technology. I like it, although I may generalise it to:
Product = Customer x Business x Resources
so I can state that a successful
tech product has to solve for the customer, has to solve for our business, and has to solve for the resources we have available, of which technology is one.
Viewed this way, it is easy to understand the drive towards businesses becoming Product-centric. The Product Equation tells us that everything that is important for business success can be combined in the concept of Product, and the whole practice of modern Product Management has been developed around this amazingly powerful insight.
When viewed this way, it is clear that there is plenty of space for everyone in a Product-centric organisation. Your skills are essential to the success of the product, and the best way to contribute is to be in the Product Team.
Sports teams are Product teams
Still don’t get it? Let me try with an analogy.
Product Teams are like football (soccer) teams: the 11 players on the field and the people on the bench, including the technical staff, all share a clear goal: win the game. Success metrics are clear:
Success = goals_scored - goals_conceded
The team use leading indicators to understand their progress:
Leading idicators = passes, shots on goal, possession, etc.
and constantly adjust their approach on the basis of these data.
Each team member has a clear, distinct, unique role and a set of skills that are particularly applicable to that role. A goalkeeper is very different from a central defender, who is hardly comparable to a striker. Not to mention the coach. That’s their strength: a team of 11 strikers wouldn’t be very successful. As the team learn from their experiments, they adapt the way they play and may even substitute a few players, evolving their strategy through data-driven build-measure-learn cycles.
We could be tempted to extend the analogy and claim the team are also the product, but I don’t think that’s the case. The product is the game itself. 90 minutes of player effort (resources) creating entertainment for their customer (the fan) and success for their business (the club).
Product = Customer x Business x Resources
Can you imagine a football game where silos, rather than teams, were the organisational model? When the goalkeeper has the ball, she confers with other goalkeepers as the rest of the departments play in other games. They then schedule a handover to the defense department, who replace them in the game and go on to queueing the request for passes or tackles until other tasks, perhaps in other games, have been taken care of…
Silly, I know, yet this is the way many companies choose to operate every day. If we use their products, our experience is impacted and our lives poorer for it. If we work there… we should be self-organising as teams and getting our game on!