Product Mindset in Program Management

Project vs Product Mindset

  • A product-centric delivery model demands focus on the eventual goals of an organization rather than short term achievements. 
  • Here the teams give more weight to the final outcomes and their ROI rather than factors such as timelines and budgets.
  • The  success metrics of product mindset principles are around creating a great customer experience, building a roadmap that ensures frequent releases, and focusing on building a great product. 
  • A project mindset is an approach to achieve certain activities and purposes in a set period of time. 
  • A project may complete within the set restrictions but can often turn out to be an invaluable product since the focus is oriented towards task management – a central differentiating element between project vs. product management.
  • Focus on outcomes not outputs

Product Mindset Benefits

Product mindset witnesses quicker business outcomes, improved customer experiences, reduced friction within the organization, and more flexibility, faster time-to-market, lower cost, and elevated code quality.

  • Increased Software Delivery Velocity
  • Enhanced Ideation Process
    • Improved market fit from the get-go
    • Improved cross-organizational alignment (Enhanced Business and IT partnerships and Funcing agility
  • Improved Customer Experience
    • Customer is at the core of the solution

Product Development

Deploy to realize value today, and capture learning to increase that value tomorrow

  • Understand Broadly
  • Emphasize with Users
  • Define the Problem
  • Ideate, Prototype, Test, Iterate, Build the Solution. 
  • Deploy to Users

The team needs to be able to understand the think broadly about the environment and the problem space, empathizing with the users operating within that environment, defining those users’ needs and problems, prototyping and testing potential solutions, quickly learning from and prototyping the partial solutions to build a viable initial solution and finally delivering and deploying that viable solution to users with the intention of iterating further. This will increase the speed at which we are able to realize the value of the solutions we are delivering. 

The complex problem definition and solutioning demands ideating, prototyping and iterating.  Learn fast, refine a team’s understanding of both the problem and its potential solutions, and iterate. 

Otherwise we cannot deliver products and transformational outcomes that are truly successful. 

Emphasize with Users

  • Day in the life. 
    • We need to understand what the day in the life of the users our solution is targeting is like.
    • The users in our case will include our sponsors as well as end-users
    • This can include observations (shadowing) and interviewing people asking them to tell stories of the tools they currently use, their pain points and needs.
      • Ask users to do a quick demo of how they interact with and use their existing tools. 
    • Create a matrix of user Personas to help us understand our user groups.
      • Lightweight surveys or 5 users in our user group will bring a lot of value
    • Create “Customer Journey Maps” to help in our understanding of the existing tools as well as their benefits and shortcomings. How do users feel about their work and what they are able to accomplish?

Understand Broadly

  • Explore users community’s broader environment
    • What is our users’ vision and its timeframe
    • What are the top 10 pain points
    • What are their top 5 strategic business or operational strategies / initiatives
    • To what extent is our user community capable of changing. 
      • To what extent does the existing culture enable / prohibit change. 
    • What does value mean and how it’s measured. 
    • Understand business unit’s leadership and management strategy.
    • How mature and experienced is our end-user community.
    • Our users’ culture, values, lifestyle and preferences (this knowledge will inform our choices about which user group we need to emphasize with the most in the context of the design we are delivering. 
    • Teams’ locations, time-zones, culture and work climate. 

Define a Problem

  • Clarity about the problem definition / problem statement. (arrive at a consensus around initial problem statement, higher-order themes)
    • Understanding big picture (vision, mission statement, charter, etc)
    • Bringing what we’ve learned from previous two steps of board understanding and emphasizing with our users.
      • User stories, feedback, etc
      • Looking at our personas and customer journey maps
      • Use 5 Why’s technique to learn more and then refine what we know into a discreet problem statement.
      • Looking beyond the obvious to see some higher order emerging themes. 
      • We should also consider some of the edge cases when thinking about our solutions.
      • The above steps will give us a general problem definition and themes with an understanding that this definition we continue being refined as we move forward.

Ideating and Brainstorming

  • Thinking about problems and potential solutions.
  • Any ideas that bring about even a partial solution are welcome at this stage. 
  • Use mind mapping or similar techniques to organize and explore ideas. 
  • Conduct premortems to try and see where the problem may arise in the future, creating an obstacle list.
  • Thinking about what could make the problem worse – Reverse Brainstorming techniques.
  • Refine our ideas through feedback gained through rapid prototyping, testing and iterating. 
    • Practice building to think mindset. Building prototypes or MVPs is worth it if we are getting a valuable feedback from our target user groups that will help us gain clarity of the solution that will align with their needs. 
    • Create mind-maps, storyboards, customer journeys, organizational structure diagrams, data flows, work flows, interfaces that will show how our persona users will fit.
    • Mock up high level roadmaps (with some key deliverables)
    • Hackathons are a great way to come up with some new ideas and prototypes
  • We should not try to solve the problem we cannot articulate.
  • We may need to go back to our users to hear their stories and  improve our broad understanding.
  • User feedback cycles are critical – poor connections back to our users can lead to poorly thought out tactical changes and strategic direction.
  • Configure and develop the Use Cases and scenarios
  • Iterate and elaborate on these Use cases or scenarios based on the feedback and other lessons learned.
  • Demonstrate the Use Cases or scenarios to the user community identified earlier and potentially iterate again.
  • Perform iteration or solution demonstrations, showcasing prototypes and in other ways executing our feedback loops.

Testing and Deployment

  • Embrace user-centric testing to identify gaps in our solutions’ capabilities, and or functionality.
    • This should include User Acceptance Testing to give our users an opportunity to work through real-world scenarios and provide feedback based on their experience
  • Deploy Solution to Users
    • Identify early adopters in our user community or users can be participants our pilot deployment.
      • What support will our user community need during the transition period. 
      • Do we have bandwidth and expertise to support our users well.
      • Make sure we have the way to capture, monitor and measure any issues and learnings along the way, which would include user engagement / adoption metrics.
  • Is there a resistance to change that needs to be addressed
  • We should plan  for user training to make sure it happens in a Just-in-time fashion before deployment.
  • We need to think about our rollout phases (plan and schedule) to accommodate our users and the overall organizational risk tolerance. 
    • At this stage we should think about any other systems that may be affected and or require changes. 
    • How would our new solution impact existing DR / Business continuity plans. 

General Principles

  • Regenerating through Combining
    • Think about how we can combine the old and the new in a modular way to make acceptance of the new ways of doing things easier for our user communities. 
  • Aligning strategy to time horizons.
    • Think short-term, mid-term and long-term. Realizing that our long-term vision needs to be prioritized to be realized.
  • Apply the Inverse Power Law
    • Introduce high number of small changes, fewer number of medium size changes, and very few large changes. 
  • Engage in Co-Innovation with our users and team members
  • Consider Time Pacing
    • Understand peaks and valleys of a solutions’ utilization to structure staffing and deployment changes and create the most effective / least impactful rollout strategies. 
  • Program Plans
    • Prior to creating plans and other program artifacts conduct some Empathy Mapping or perform lightweight Persona Analysis of its users and readers to make sure we are creating something that is specific for the teams that will use these artifacts. 
  • Silent Design can be an important feedback mechanism.
    • We should take time to observe the changes that users make to a solution to increase its effectiveness or usability after it has been deployed. 

Strategic Vision

  • What are the business problems we are trying to solve
  • What is our strategy for solving those problems
  • What does the success look like
  • How will we be different tomorrow that we are today. Why is this difference important to us as an organization.
  • How do we make sure our stakeholder are alignment on that vision and how do we increase our shared identity within our teams and organizations.

Published by Yev

Happy to meet you all. I am a Technical Program Manager who is passionate about learning, teaching and mentoring.

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