Product or Experiments?
Words matter. We use them to express thoughts, feelings, and actions. They shape the way we perceive the world and take part within it.
I was keen to unravel ‘product’ from a creator’s perspective to further unite our understanding.
My motivation was that we think we know what a product is, but do we understand it to agree on a definition? The difference between knowing and understanding is frequently encountered as a problem of definition. Finding a global definition for ‘product’ can be challenging because it is created by disciplines with different opinions and working terminologies.
I started with a Google search for “what is a product” with the assumption that definitions would be similar.
Product coach and author
“Product = Customer x Business x Technology”
Founder of Agile Alliance and Scrum Alliance
“I define a product as something (physical or not) that is created through a process and that provides benefits to a market.”
Software product management company
“A product is any item or service you sell to serve a customer’s need or want.”
My assumption proved correct with this small sample. However, I wanted to strive to do better because definitions are similar, but not consistent.
Time for divergent thinking.
As I started to break down the concept of product, I wanted to consider a macro and micro perspective. I considered customer at the micro level, and the interplay between customer and business at the macro level. A combination of the two orientations could yield a fuller and richer picture in the real world.
At the micro level, products are designed to solve problems for customers. The jobs to be done theory goes beyond the form, function, material and expression of a product. It considers the context of the situation and the deeper motivation that leads a customer to buy a product to complete a job. Since the theory emphasises the progress customers are trying to achieve, we are then less likely to think about the product first.
At the macro level, I think of products at the intersection between a customer job and the business. This mental model quickly leads to thinking about products as an interface. We can think of an interface as a shared boundary across which entities exchange information. Ideally the interface is porous to allow for feedback loops. As a business, understanding your customers and their needs is far more crucial than trying to persuade them to buy another product. Unless it is a revolutionary product that no one actually believed they would need.
A combination of the job’s theory and the interface metaphor, directed my intuition into the sciences. I wanted to further untangle and simplify interfaces.
Time for convergent thinking.
Physics teaches us to reason from first principles rather than by analogy. First principles thinking is the act of breaking down a process to the fundamental parts that you know are true and building up from there. In theory, first principles thinking requires you to go deeper and deeper until you are left only with its fundamental building blocks, its essential elements. So let’s ask again, what is a product?
If we think in terms of interfaces, on one side we have ideas and observations of the world around us, and on the other side customers with wants and needs. If we agree that there is no dominant side, we can think of the product management discipline as a mindset. It is a way of approaching problems which requires being intentional to gain a deep understanding of customers.
So if ideas and observations are actioned with a product mindset, what is the missing essential element?
Remember back in high school science class teachers shared a framework for helping us learn? It was an experimental evidence based approach. We were asked to make observations about the world around us, then attempt to form an explanation or hypothesis to explain what we had observed. We then tested this hypothesis by predicting an outcome based on our theory – if the outcome was achieved, we had proven our theory. We could then apply this learning to inform and test other hypotheses by constructing more sophisticated experiments, tuning, evolving or abandoning any hypothesis as we made further observations from the results we achieved.
I propose that a product is a result of experiments.
Time to reflect.
I believe that experiments are the atomic unit that unites our product understanding from idea to scale. What do you think from a data, design, engineering, marketing, and product standpoint?
Evidence supports this model. An experiment lead approach in the form of split tests is already predominant during product optimization. Similarly, more product teams are executing dual-track development across discovery and delivery.
Sometimes we are scared of experimentation because we think we have to be a scientist or we do not like to be proven wrong. Hopefully we all had the opportunity to experience the value of experimentation outside of work. But if we do not practice, we forget about its power.
A culture of experimentation prompts a shift in the way we think, behave and organize. Are you ready?