Blog How to transform to a product mindset

How to Transform from a Project to a Product Mindset

How to Transform from a Project to a Product Mindset

At a recent webinar hosted by ProductBoard, we talked about how organizations can transform from a project to a product mindset to build world-changing products. We had over 525 attendees at the webinar and fantastic questions from the audience! If you missed the live event, here’s a link to the video.

Since we couldn’t get to all the questions during the live event, I took some time to answer them in this article.

Questions on transforming from a project to a product mindset:

Questions on crafting a Radical Vision Statement:

What needs to happen at an executive level to transform into a product-led organization?

To move toward being product-led, the organization needs to look at the power dynamics at the executive level. Does the product management function have power at an executive level? In organizations that are engineering-led, often the CEO goes directly to the head of engineering to ask for a new feature or a change to the roadmap. In sales-led organizations, the head of sales often has the most sway in executive decision-making. In either case, the role of the product management function is diminished.

At an executive level, it’s important to align on why the product management function is needed. Instead of saying that the organization needs to be “product-led”, it’s better to say that the organization needs to be “vision-driven” to systematically translate the vision for change into reality through the product(s) you build. Unfortunately in an organization that doesn’t have a product mindset, “product-led transformation” often sounds like a mutiny organized by the product management team.

How do you change the culture when the leadership team has a project mindset?

Change is always hard, so you’ll need to create awareness and alignment around why change is needed, otherwise you’re likely to face resistance. To create this awareness of what’s wrong with the status quo and why a product mindset is needed, you can talk about the common product diseases that might be hampering growth. The Radical Product Thinking book describes the 7 most common diseases - you could even organize a book club at your company so you can openly discuss your experience with these diseases at your company. Once you have alignment on the need for change, you can begin the work.

An important first step is to align the executive team on a shared vision. The team should come together for a group exercise to answer profound questions on whose world you’re setting out to change, what their problem is today and how they’re solving it, why this status quo is unacceptable, when you’ll know that you’ve accomplished your mission, and how you’ll bring about this world. Once the executive team has such a vision, each product team can craft their own vision for their product and make sure that it aligns with the overall company vision. Learn more about facilitated sessions and workshops to align your executive team and craft a compelling vision.

If you’re an individual contributor and cannot influence the executives to craft a shared vision, you can still do this with your own product team - they’ll thank you for your leadership.

How do you introduce vision, strategy, and a product-led approach to a company that has never had a product team?

In a company where the product management function is new, the role of a product manager is often focused on just the tactics and execution. The product manager becomes the Jira Janitor.

To elevate yourself from this role, you have to develop a clear product vision for yourself. Work through the vision exercises and run this with your team. You can then begin to introduce the shared vocabulary as you communicate your priorities to stakeholders or across the organization. Use the Vision vs. Survival rubric to communicate how you’re prioritizing features by balancing progress towards the long-term vision against the short-term needs of the business. By getting stakeholders and leaders to think about how often your organization is taking on vision debt vs. investing in the vision, you’ll begin to embed this way of thinking into the corporate psyche.

Culture change takes time. May the force be with you!

Can your vision statement be different for different user segments/roles?

You should have a single vision for your product. Anytime you’re tempted to create multiple vision statements for the same product, think of Freddy Mercury singing “One vision” - you need one vision to create alignment. Having multiple vision statements is like having multiple North Stars - which one should your team follow?

In a B2B2C model, should my vision incorporate both the end-customer and the businesses my product serves?

If your model is B2B2C, there are often conflicting priorities on whether you should meet the needs of end-customers or the businesses your products serve. And most likely, your team desperately wants to know whose world you’re really setting out to change. For example, say you’re building an educational product and your end-users are students but the schools are the ones buying your product, should your vision be about schools or the students?

You can answer this through the following thought experiment: if schools love your product but if it is making students’ lives harder, can you say mission accomplished? Hopefully, your answer was a firm “No”. In that case, the first part of your vision should describe the problem you’re setting out to solve for students. In the last part of the Radical Vision Statement, when you describe How you’re bringing about this world, this is where you can talk about your product for schools and how that will create the change you intend for students.

Doesn’t a detailed vision restrict innovation in the long term?

This question assumes that your vision must remain steadfast and unchanging. On the contrary, it’s important that you review your vision regularly and change it.

Giving your team clarity on where you’re going is always important. If you’re setting out to build a complex, architectural masterpiece, you can’t just show your team the 3D rendering and say “Build this!”. It might look visionary and inspiring but in reality your team needs detailed blueprints. They need to start with the foundation, when that’s done the vision is about building the first floor, and so on. When you always give your team a detailed vision, it helps every team member know exactly what you’re building and how they can contribute.

How do you create a vision for a complex product that solves a lot of pains for lots of end users and executives?

This is too much detail for your vision. Your vision should address whose world you’re trying to change but you don’t want to get into describing every persona in your vision. Your strategy is where you think about the different personas and their needs. Learn more about product management trainings and workshops to help you craft a detailed vision and strategy.