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Product Navigation: GAZE

By Adrienne Tan
Gaze

Product Management is changing.

Initially, Product Managers were only expected to manage the products that were already in the market (Horizon 1).

Over the last 20 years, Product Managers have moved from managing products to becoming drivers of change, orchestrating development for ideas that are yet to go to market (Horizon 2). This is a direct result of the digital transformation that has given ubiquitous access to internet and mobile services (and much more).

We are now on the cusp of the next evolution of Product Management. This is being driven by the science fiction-like changes that are presenting themselves in our current world. We now live in a world where we co-exist with artificial intelligence, the first self-driving cars, virtualised and distributed workplaces, personal 3D printing machines and so much more. Among these, we are enduring world-changing disruptions in the form of pandemics and conflict that will forever transform our experience.

It is in the face of this change that Product Management must now also embrace “future” products. Largely, the time scales that we use to consider for Horizon 3 initiatives have been compressed to the present day.

To help us frame this journey into an uncertain future, we will be guided by the time-tested rules of nautical voyage planning. The rules of voyage planning allow a ship to set sail on a voyage to a land it’s never seen before and arrive safely at that chosen destination.

The Product Navigation Framework comprises the following steps:

  1. GAZE
  2. APPRAISE
  3. CHART
  4. VOYAGE
  5. MONITOR
  6. ARRIVE

Gaze

Gaze is the first step in the Product Navigation framework. It is perhaps the most exciting step because it signals the beginning of the journey. It is a chance to pioneer, let our imaginations take hold and carve out new ambitions in faraway lands. It offers a window into Horizon 3 opportunities and beyond.

What is it?

Gaze gives us permission to step out of our day-to-day and to meet the future head-on, no matter how uncomfortable it may be. Our imaginations should be stretched by outside-in knowledge, allowing us to conceptualise where new adventures await and where opportunities lie for new products and organisations in the future.

Gaze is more than a lightweight review of direct and indirect competitors in the current marketplace (Horizon 1 and 2). It is a thorough assessment of what the future might hold. It is broad in scope and must cover challenging factors such as health, conflict, politics, social changes, the environment as well as technology.

Goal

The goal of Gaze is to place a bet and set a new destination to an uncertain future. To do that, we’ll explore multiple futures and discern how to benefit from the onslaught of change rather than be disrupted unexpectedly. Unlike the product processes applied in Horizon 1 and 2, at the end of Gaze, the team selects a future option to pursue and Appraise.

How do we Gaze?

Gazing isn’t something we are taught or even asked to do as Product Managers. In many ways, Gaze is counterintuitive to our current product processes.

To Gaze, we have to set aside the space (digital, physical and mental) and time to give ourselves the capacity to imagine what the future holds. We have to engage with a wide range of stakeholders internal and external to gaze effectively. Together, we should derive an option that we might find difficult to conceptualise.

We must push ourselves beyond our comfort zone and Gaze into the future to:

  1. Explore – Patterns impacting our future
  2. Imagine – A multitude of potential futures
  3. Set – A destination for the future

1. Explore

Exploring a new, exciting destination requires a multidisciplinary team. Form a team of people that are curious and ambitious, and who are prepared to dedicate time to Explore. The team should include external participants and internal stakeholders (“Explorers”).

Explorers should share their insights and wisdom about the future with each other. Having a broad data set will enable Explorers to collectively look for signals and weave these into impactful patterns of the future.

Ways that Explorers may choose to envision the future are to:

Look Back To Build Confidence

It’s an easier exercise to look back at how far we’ve progressed as a society than to look forward. Even though the past does not predicate the future, using this technique as a mental exercise gives Explorers the permission to be brave. When we look back we can see and track the large societal, economic, technological, environmental and political milestones that have changed the way we do business. Consequently, we get a strong sense of how much has changed. We begin to feel confident that we can make similar or greater strides in the future. This enables Explorers to ignite their imaginations and begin to anticipate futures that look nothing like today.

Look For Signals

Read extensively and think broadly. Don’t limit research to current news and world affairs. Break out of any comfort zone or field of expertise, consider differing opinions, explore other industries or alternate professions. Hear the concerns of different socioeconomic groups and explore social and political trends impacting other areas of the world.

The information presented during the discussions may be divergent, but be curious and open at this early stage. Share information openly with your fellow Explorers, probe and ask questions of each other. This is not the time to consider feasibility or limit options to those close to the current state.

As you share information, cluster the data that you’ve gathered, identify signals that are strong and weak, and which are relevant (or irrelevant) for our organisation.

Gartner writes that a strong signal is,

A piece of information, activity and/or event that indicates an impending change that might have an impact on your business pattern.

To look for strong signals, place each data point on a (physical or digital) post-it note and make it visible to the whole Explorer team.

Example:

  • Social Signals:
    • A focus on reducing individual impact on the environment, consumers have anxiety over choosing the most environmentally-conscious option and are spending a lot of time researching
    • Greater expectations from consumers of companies to have a social & environmental impact
  • Technological Signals:
    • Transport & logistics are developing electric fleets now that battery life & range is increasing
    • Recycling technology is improving but is having issues with demand for recycled products
    • Plastics that are not made from fossil fuels are in infancy (e.g., bio-packaging from waste)
    • Carbon-neutral energy is getting cheaper & cheaper
  • Environmental Signals:
    • Climate warming caused natural disasters & extinctions more this year then ever before
    • Waste buildup in the environment is causing extinction & food chain toxicity
    • Air quality is decreasing in industrialised areas burning fossil fuels & waste (after temporary improvement in COVID lockdowns)

Identify Impactful Patterns

As a team, begin to identify and group similar items together to form a pattern. Steve Batty offers guidance on pattern recognition from signals.

Example:

Social, technological & environmental trends are pushing towards zero or a minimal human impact future as it comes to carbon emissions & waste

To further cement our findings, test our thinking by asking the following question;

“What are we confident & less confident in with this pattern?”

Example:

We are confident that consumers will continue to pursue social change as it comes to the environment. We are confident environmental impacts will continue without this change.
We are confident zero-emissions energy & transport will be the way of the future – the recent past has seen it get cheaper and more reliable. We are confident we will be able to find suppliers to aid us in adoption of these technologies in the near future.
We are less confident in the fate of waste management. Indications are for building waste and lack of cyclic consumption of recycled products. Waste is a big issue for us going into the future.

Create A Destination Impact Statement

Weave the pattern into a Destination Impact Statement and understand the impact of the future destination on the organisation. The Destination Impact Statement should contain the following information to guide Explorers during the journey:

We will offer <the future destination> by <timeframe> to <solve this problem for society> and <secure this future> for our organisation. If we don’t reach our <destination>, <society will not progress in this way>. If we do not offer this future, <The organisation will be worse off in this way>.

Example:

We will offer a carbon & plastic net-zero shopping experience by 2030 in all our stores to reduce the impact of shopping on the planet. If we don’t significantly reduce carbon and plastic waste, the earth’s temperatures will rise and waste will continue to build up. If we do not offer this future, our customers will find alternative solutions, our revenues will diminish and our organisation may become obsolete.

2. Imagine

We should imagine a distant future and derive several options for our organisation. To do that, use the Destination Impact Statement and challenge the narrative and its impact on our organisation.

Ask “What If”

‘What If’ thinking helps us consider different possibilities and challenge assumptions at the same time. It helps Explorers create scenarios and consider what barriers would still be present if some of the adjacent problems were solved. This will help the team identify long-standing problems in a market that has advanced past a certain point in the future.

Example:

What if we had zero emissions energy and electric fleets available today? What would be our major barriers to a zero emissions & plastic waste future?
In this environment, our assumptions are that suppliers have eliminated our carbon footprint from energy & logistics. In this future, waste and consumer confidence is still an issue, including:

  • The production of packaging & food waste is high
  • There is a limited demand for recycled products
  • Consumer confidence in selecting options with environmental impact is still low
  • There is limited wider industry uptake of technologies to reduce plastic waste & carbon emissions – for example, our product suppliers have not changed their choices

At this early stage, Explorers should spend the time devising multiple scenarios so that they can diagnose different problems.

Undertake Scenario Gaming

Next, we need to immerse ourselves in these scenarios. Scenario Gaming allows us to steep ourselves in that future world and find options that exist at that time. While Scenario Gaming is not predictive of our final destination, it does offer an opportunity to test the validity of our scenarios and options to address them in a simulated environment. This will help us prioritise and decide on the destination we want to Appraise.

Scenario Gaming sessions must be carefully constructed. To begin, utilise the ‘What If’ scenarios we imagined to form the basis of immersive environments where all gameplay takes place. Assign each Explorer a role in each Scenario Gaming session to determine the course of the story. During this process, the narrative is driven by each player as they make decisions and face consequences.

After these sessions, as a team, document each scenario and turn each scenario into Destination Options to help us select a way forward into the future.

The Destination Options should include:

  • What meaningful change will your organisation make to take a step towards securing the future destination?
  • How will this benefit the organisation of the future?
    <Future option>. This will <providing organisational benefits>.

Example:

We will use our ready access to carbon-neutral energy to work on Destination Options to:

  • Give consumers ready information in-store or online to assess products for carbon & waste impact. This will encourage suppliers to change as consumers vote with their feet, and give us a competitive edge as this proprietary information & rating algorithm will only be available when shopping with us.
  • Re-use the waste we produce to create renewable or reusable packaging that does not depend on natural gas and petroleum. This will create an additional revenue stream, re-use the waste we create and encourage suppliers to use packaging with lower environmental impact.

3. Set

It’s now time to place bets on our future. It can be difficult to choose an option, but making a choice for what we want the future to be is essential for the next step of Appraising.

As a team, select a Destination Impact Statement and Destination Option that the organisation should pursue and invest in. The selection criteria should be based on:

  • The probability of the Destination Statement occurring,
  • The magnitude of the impact of that option on reaching the Destination,
  • The velocity of the impact of that option on moving us to the ideal Destination.

Create a Final Destination Statement
Once you have selected the highest impact destination and option, combine them together in a final Destination Statement. It can also be useful to turn this long-form destination statement into a ‘marketable’ statement.

Our Destination:

We will offer a carbon & plastic net-zero shopping experience by 2030 in all our stores to reduce the impact of shopping on the planet. If we don’t significantly reduce carbon and plastic waste, the earth’s temperatures will rise and waste will continue to build up. If we do not offer this future, our customers will find alternative solutions, our revenues will diminish and our organisation may become obsolete.
We will re-use our waste to create renewable packaging that does not depend on natural gas and petroleum. This will create an additional revenue stream, re-use the waste we create and encourage suppliers to use packaging with lower environmental impact.

Our Destination (marketable statement):

Create renewable plastic packaging from re-used waste and non-fossil fuels.

By the end of Gaze, we have a Destination that we want to pursue for the future. The team must have a strong affinity with the Destination and want to find ways to deliver on it.

Bring your team to LTP DIGITAL 2022 |APAC on May 18, 2022, for an immersive, one-day product conference where we will unveil this new framework and watch them bring back a new toolkit to drive greater outcomes for your organisation.

In the coming weeks, we will explore each of the Six Phases in the Product Navigation: How to Chart a Course to an Uncertain Future in the countdown to LTP DIGITAL 2022 |APAC .