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Radical Product thinking: how to iterate less and build more

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We’re in the middle of an iteration epidemic. The wholesale adoption of Lean Startup has many Product Teams to be constantly iterating and losing focus on what’s important. Radhika Dutt shares her experiences on how to avoid common Product Diseases to build more successful Products.

Radhika Dutt is Advisor on Product Thinking to the Monetary Authority of Singapore (the central bank of Singapore) and Co-founder of the Radical Product Thinking movement. An entrepreneur and product leader, Radhika has participated in four acquisitions as a result of the products she built; two of which were of companies she founded.
Radhika is holding a small group workshop on 18 and 20 November, 2020 on how to build successful products in a changing market . Find out more and register here.

Radhika Dutt’s talk at Leading the Product in 2019 challenged the universal truths that we’ve learned as product leaders. As Radhika puts it, “Iteration has become the solution, to the point where organisations work to develop a competitive advantage by trying to iterate. But we don’t question whether or not we have to iterate so much.”

In 2001, Lean Startup became a phenomenon. But it led to an iteration epidemic. Why? Because it made it less important to focus on a clear vision. It made it ok for companies to start their journey and develop their vision as they progressed. As Radhika explained,  “Our collective mantras remind us to iterate quickly, move fast and break things, fail fast and learn fast. But trying one strategy after another until something works has led to a ‘graveyard of companies’ which never made it.”

There are a few ‘diseases’ of product management which need to be avoided, which Radhika has seen across industries and has caught along the way herself.

Radhika Dutt

Sketch by Rebecca Jackson.

For example:

Pivotitis

Rapid, frequent changes in product direction lead to confused customers and a confused product team.

Radhika had an experience heading up marketing at a startup which was aiming to be the next Visa. They pivoted and became a loyalty solutions company for merchants. But the market was crowded. So they became a credit services company for merchants. After a few months, there were so many different versions of their brochures, even Radhika didn’t know what she was asking people to sign up for.

Hypermetricemia

Obsession with metrics and analytics can lead to failure to consider why you’re measuring things in the first place.

Radhika shared that at one company they had so much data but failed to measure big-picture results about how the company was actually doing.

Obsessive Sales Disorder (OSD)

When your salesperson says, “Let’s win this big deal with one custom feature,” it seems harmless but by the end of the year it is the salespeople driving the roadmap.

“It’s not to say we should never make these tradeoffs, but when we keep doing it repeatedly, we lose what we stand for,” says Radhika.

Trading off the long game for quick gains leads to a fragmented product and distracted engineers.

Narcissus Complex

Looking inwards and focusing on your own needs will disconnect you from customer needs. Radhika’s example in her own startup was the inclusion of features she really wanted. It turned out the consumers didn’t want them so much.

“I once witnessed an executive saying ‘For us to be successful, our customers need to come back often’. This presented a level of disconnect… because the business was a hospital. To have reason to return, customers would need to be sick!”

All the above problems occur in the absence of clear product vision and strategy. Iterations should be driven by vision and strategy, not impulse responses.

Why can’t we just ‘Lean and Agile’ our way out of trouble?

While Lean and Agile are techniques we rely on, they are risk-mitigating execution techniques, not value-creating product strategy tools. As a result, we catch the above diseases.

“Lean and Agile are good for helping us get where we need to go but they don’t always point us in the right direction”, says Radhika. “If you’re trying to fundamentally change something like user behaviour, you need to think more radically.”

Radical Product vs iterative product

Consider electric vehicles the Tesla Model 3 and the Chevy Bolt. When you examine the Chevy Bolt under the hood, it looks like a traditional model gas car. It has three separate cooling systems, for the battery, the cabin and the engine.

Compare this to the Tesla, which has a single system for heating and cooling. This cools the entire car.

Traditional vehicles had talked about taking this approach, but they never got there because each ‘part’ of the car was so siloed.

The visions for each car were also very different:

Chevy Bolt’s vision: Beating the Model 3 to market with an EV with a range of more than 200 miles between charges.

Tesla’s vision: Building an affordable car that doesn’t require a compromise from the driver to go green.

Tesla’s vision was so much more about seeing change in the world. The result has been very visible. While the Chevy Bolt is described as ‘a good little car’, the Tesla’s Model 3 is revolutionary and has been outselling many brands combined.

Defining Radical Product Thinking

Radical product thinking aligns organisations. It’s a way of thinking to create vision-driven change and cure the common product diseases….using a shared language of product vision, strategy and execution.

To systematically engineer this change, consider the following:

Vision: What’s the change you want to bring to the world?

Strategy: How will you create change?

Execution and Measurement: How do you deliver on the vision?

Prioritization: In what order will you deliver?

Finally, communicate your rationale across your team and within your organization

Defining your vision

At Leading the Product, Radhika broke down how products and companies can define their vision. “Today, having a good vision seems to be about changing the world. If you have worked at a startup, people talk about Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals (BHAGs). So we tend to create vision statements saying ‘Empower/disrupt/revolutionise/be the leader in… and we inflate our vision statements because they need to sound heroic.”

e.g. Snapchat’s vision is “Contributing to human progress by empowering people to express themselves.”

As Radhika says, “Your vision has to be your compass. When your vision is too broad, it makes things challenging. Create a more detailed, actionable vision.”

Your vision should articulate:

●Whose world are you changing? This may not necessarily be your direct customers.

●What does their world look like today? Unless you know what their current world looks like, you can’t hope to change it.

●Why does their world need changing?

●How are you going to change it for them?

Include the Who, What, Why, and How in your vision.

Consider this worksheet when creating your vision:

If this statement sounds long and awkward, think of it as the source code to your vision. You wouldn’t publish this code on your website but it is very helpful behind the scenes. You can ask; are we being true to this vision? Your marketing team can create a ‘clean build’, which you can communicate with the world.

Radhika often helps companies create this radical vision, to bring teams together and help convert the vision into strategy, priority, execution etc.

When it comes to applying this in practice, a radical product approach gives you the direction to contribute to your vision and strategy. Lean and agile thinking give you the speed between strategy and execution.

“Combine radical product thinking, lean and agile to create velocity.”

“Radical product thinking is not a process but a way to align everyone on your vision and strategy before you start iterative development. It has everyone heading in one direction instead of iterating like crazy without any alignment. Hopefully, you’ll now need fewer iterations to get more done.”

Leave behind the iteration epidemic and build radical products with forward velocity.

Join a global movement! Access radicalproduct.com to find your free toolkit on radical product thinking and discover more about a less iterative way of thinking.

Question and Answers

Product managers vs product owners: Every company has a different understanding. Regardless of the title you have, even if Product isn’t in your title, product is a way of thinking. We can all apply it and we can all look at anything as our products.

Should the vision be defined at the customer offering level, team level or corporate level? We can have visions individually or as ‘teams’ within an organisation. You can have a vision at an organisational level, and for every team. Radhika encourages every team to develop their own vision statement. When you have a large number of products, you can use them as APIs.

How often should a product vision be revisited? It depends on the maturity of the product. As a startup testing out answers and accuracy, you should revisit your vision statement every couple of months. Alternatively, a mature organisation would revisit every six months or year. Make conscious decisions to avoid pivotitis.

Where does customer research fit into the vision creation process? Often, creating a vision ends up leading to more questions. E.g. ‘Whose world are we trying to change? What does it look like? How do you want it to look? If you don’t have customer research data to allow you to know the answers, have a stake in the ground. Create a draft vision statement then prove or disprove the answer.

Image by Freepik

Want to learn more from Radhika?

  • She is holding a small group workshop on 18 and 20 November, 2020 on how to build successful products in a changing market . Find out more and register here.

Jake Waddell