How to think about Products


You know your customers’ problems inside out and have strong views (weakly held) about where the market is headed. Leadership expects you to think big and not succumb to incrementalism. Meanwhile, your designers/engineers need stories for next week’s sprint. Also, Sales is asking for a product roadmap by Friday so they can close that tier-1 deal.

A good framework to use is to think of your product’s evolution in “states”. Engineering-oriented folks will readily recognize this as it’s often used in system design. A state is simply a way of describing the environment a product finds itself in. Is it growing share? Priced at premium, or down market? Lots of challengers entering, or retreating? Fragmented customer base, or with a few whales?

Think of your product’s evolution in terms of “states” – a series of business situations

Almost 50% of your time should be spent on understanding the current state. Misreading where you are currently, relative to competition and market dynamics can be hard to recover from. Once there, feel free to dream up big audacious future states – but in a structured way. What are the key variables that future states would evolve around? E.g. you could grow via partnerships initially and then consolidate once network effects are strong enough to be dominant. Or, another vision could be around proprietary and defensible tech that will zoom decades past competition. Or, you could think through hard to imagine disruptions that would create entirely new performance variables, e.g. self driving cars won’t be measured on mileage/range primarily.

Then, wheel yourself back towards pragmatic reality and think through short term milestones that approximate towards these future states – showing a path to get there – a “product state machine”. You won’t have enough data initially, but you should try to approximate probabilities around how realistic each path is. As your product and market evolves, some of these paths will darken, and some will recede. Remember, your role is to take calculated risks in the short term, but continually de-risk the success pathway in the long term.

Your role is to take calculated risks in the short term, but continually de-risk the success pathway in the long term.

Hope this framework helps product folks everywhere. Now go ship ’em.

The Product State Machine

Product management models

(This article originally appeared on my blog, Ash.Money)

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