Over the last 5 years, Product Management has matured in leaps and bounds. It has advanced in the areas of product process (Discovery, Design & Delivery) and product-led advocacy. But that doesn’t mean we have self-actualised as a practice, there is a way to go yet.
One key opportunity for improvement is to expand our sights beyond the 6 to 12-month roadmaps, give ourselves the space to imagine and accelerate new product possibilities. For Product Management to be the engine of growth, we must anticipate the future to help businesses transform and conceive new products repeatedly.
According to Dr Nadya Zhexembayeva,
To ride the wave of change, organisations need to reinvent their products and their businesses every 3.5 years.
We all know the next big crisis is coming. We don’t know when, why, or what will take place, but history is clear: business is cyclical, and a new crisis is just around the corner.
Nadya spoke about the rapid force of change and reinvention in 2015, 7 years before COVID accelerated our pace of life and work. Her message held true in 2015 and is even more important today. If we don’t plan to change, or ‘ride the wave’ of change, change will be forced upon our products and organisations.
A study by Gulati, Nohria and Wohlgezogen showed that;
17% of the 4,700 public companies did not survive the 1980 crisis, the 1990 slowdown, and the 2000 bust. They went bankrupt, were acquired, or became private.
Notably, according to the authors, “only a small number of companies—approximately 9% of their sample—flourished after a slowdown, doing better on key financial parameters than they had before it and outperforming rivals in their industry by at least 10% in terms of sales and profits growth.”
But, predicting the future and working to defend our organisations is challenging.
Michael More an Accenture Researcher writes;
We mistakenly base our predictions on our past experiences. We interpret new information as fitting into our existing mental models and beliefs.
Using a framework to guide our actions is one way to reduce our inherent biases.
The Product Navigation framework is a new approach to anticipating and charting a path to an uncertain future. It is also the next evolution of our practice.
McKinsey’s Three Horizon Model
When conceptualising our next evolution as a practice, a useful model is the Mckinsey Three Horizon Model. This model has helped guide the sequencing of product investments over a period of time.
- Horizon 1 ideas provide continuous innovation to a company’s existing business model and core capabilities in the short term.
- Horizon 2 ideas extend a company’s existing business model and core capabilities to new customers, markets, or targets.
- Horizon 3 is the creation of new capabilities and new business to take advantage of or respond to disruptive opportunities or counter disruption.
Horizon 1 and 2 aptly describes Product Management’s focus areas.
Product Management practitioners wield the typical Discovery, Design and Delivery processes to create a new product idea, feature or product experience. We’re well-schooled in supporting organisations to become product-led, shifting cultural attitudes that are the antithesis of good product behaviours.
We’ve expanded our boundaries to work synchronously with design, engineering and growth experts for the greater good of customers. We’ve demonstrated time and time again that we can delight our customers, keep our competitors at bay and contribute to business goals.
We perform well in solving challenges presented in Horizon 1 and 2. But the problem is, our ability to exploit the future will be reduced if we spend close to 100% of our efforts and resources on H1 and H2.
What’s Next For Product Management?
The next advancement in Product Management maturity will be to chart ways to deliver new, yet to be explored forms of value in environments that are evolving quickly. Product Management has to conceive new ways of operating to enable its practitioners to tackle complex problems such as climate change, ethics, digital pollution, infectious diseases, food insecurity and poverty.
We have to cleverly navigate the deluge of new technology. We also have to consider how to fruitfully use new technology in the coming decade. Technology trends are moving faster than our ability to create usable products. It is casting shadows on our roadmaps.
Trends from connected devices to distributed IT infrastructure, artificial intelligence, next-generation materials, bio revolution and more will have a noticeable impact on our work. The Pandemic has also made the future visible. The ‘future’ is not distant or inaccessible. The future is here with us in the present, giving us limited time to react.
Horizon 3 Is Already Here
Our current product approach is insufficient to embrace and take advantage of the deluge of change. We need to add a new, nimble and pragmatic approach to draw our gaze beyond the current environment. An approach that enables us to secure our future and build Horizon 3 experiences today.
This means that we have to run multiple product tracks discovering and delivering new products for each of the 3 horizons.
Steve Blank writes;
The three horizons are no longer bounded by time. Today, disruptive Horizon 3 ideas can be delivered as fast as ideas for Horizon 1 in the existing product line. It’s the speed of deployment of Horizon 3 products, strategies, and capabilities that are a devastating upset to the status quo.
Steve offers four ways to counteract our complacency and begin building for Horizon 3. He summarises that companies can:
- Incentivise external resources to focus on your goal or mission
- Acquire external innovators who can operate at the speed of the disruptors
- Rapidly copy the new disruptive innovators and use the incumbent’s business model to dominate
- Innovate better than the disrupters
Who Best To Innovate Better Than The Disrupters?
Of Steve’s advice, point 4 is within Product Management’s sphere of control. If we cast our eyes across the organisation, Product Management is the most likely function that is capable of innovating. We have the know-how, the experience and more importantly, the desire to bring to bear new human experiences. We need to expand our systems to accommodate Horizon 3 and run parallel product management paths to create products for today and tomorrow.
Product Navigation: How to Chart a Course to an Uncertain Future
Product Navigation is the new product framework based on the time tested rules of voyage planning. Voyage planning is;
A procedure a crew must comply with before relocating a ship from one mooring to another. It comprises a theoretical planning stage before the departure as well as a practical implementation stage during navigation.
The rules of voyage planning allow a ship to set sail on a voyage to a land it’s never seen and arrive safely at that chosen destination. A passage plan is the output of voyage planning and according to sailors, it is vital for successful ship relocation. Conversely, a lack of a plan leads to serious consequences.
The Product Navigation Framework offers a plan as well as practical tools. The product team can use the framework to imagine the customer of tomorrow and chart the route for new products successfully.
The Product Navigation Framework comprises the following steps:
At a high level;
Gaze outside-in to identify new trends that will materially impact our future. Social, behavioural, economic and technological changes are happening faster than ever Gazing allows us to see the Horizon 3 opportunities that allow us to make quantum leaps forward.
Gazing helps us discern how to benefit from change rather than be disrupted as we set a new destination in an uncertain future.
Appraise what is required to be able to reach the chosen destination.
The organisation may need to create a different operating environment, amass brand-new technology and systems, or appoint new people to lead the charge into the future.
Appraising identifies the organisational gaps and barriers to making the immense leap forward and avoiding running aground along the way. It ensures the organisation understands what’s required to take this quantum leap forward.
Chart a course to ensure the team and organisation understands the path we’re taking.
Every course has uncertainty, but charting produces a Voyage Plan with milestones and expected course changes. While it is essential the team is comfortable with the unknown, the Voyage Plan offers our stakeholders assurance that we are meeting the key criteria of success.
The Plan helps track and makes our progress visible for all to see. With a Voyage Plan, we are set to sail.
This journey is unlike the journeys we’ve taken before.
We have to prepare the team and the organisation to Voyage into an uncertain future. Make it clear that there will be rough seas and uneasiness during this time. Delivery is not immediate, motivation wanes, unexpected hurdles surface, funding diminishes and plans deteriorate.
But, there are principles to follow and proven tasks to execute that keep the team and organisation safe along the way.
Voyage helps us treat the Voyage Plan as a living document and to course-correct as new information arises so that we can arrive at the final destination.
Monitoring helps us manage the uncertainty of the journey, enables us to refer to our Voyage Plan and course-correct along the way while we head towards the final destination.
Establish the information we need to monitor, including any early warning signs for each course. Log the data and keep our stakeholders informed of our progress.
Monitoring helps us decide which route to persevere with and which to abandon when we experience difficulties or key decision points along the way to our final destination.
Take a moment and celebrate the successful voyage with the team and organisation. We’ve changed our world and our customers’ lives.
Share the learnings and shepherd the successful journey to a team that can nurture its customers and lifecycle.
Then, take those learnings and return to Gaze once more to set a new destination to take us into our next uncertain future.