How to Learn Product Sense

Product Sense (also called Product Intuition or Product Judgement) is the ability to understand what makes a product great. It’s the ability to hone in on the important problems a product solves and come up with ideas to make it even better.

While the name sounds like you’re either born with it or you’re not, Product Sense is just a skill… and like any skill it can get better with practice. Intuition is just the fast thinking that comes from lots of practice and experience. Remember when you learned to type and you had to think carefully about each key you pressed? The same way typing became intuitive, product sense can become intuitive.

Great product sense looks like:

  • Deeply understanding the goals of a product, both for the business and the customer.
  • Constantly evaluating how well the product is serving those goals, and what elements contribute or detract.
  • Finding opportunities to better serve the goals. Often by drawing inspiration from how other products, similar & dissimilar solve their goals.
  • Identifying the most important and impactful opportunities by considering the fundamentals and how well comparable opportunities have done.
Photo by Michael Prewett on Unsplash

Ready for your 10,000 hours of practice? Pick a variety of products and run through these exercises.

Goal Practice

  1. Write down all of the goals you can think of for the product.
  2. Consider who built the product. For example, for the US Highway system is owned by the government. The government has goals like fairness. Add any new goals to your list
  3. Who purchases and who uses the product? What motivated them to buy or use it? Is this a luxury good or a mass market good? Is it for entertainment or productivity? Add those goals to your list
  4. Look at the PR & Marketing material for the product — do any new goals come to mind?
  5. Repeat with another product. Consider technical and non-technical products, and be sure to pick mostly products where you are not the target audience, since those will stretch you less. Try it with your own product and competitive products. The more variety the better.

Product Teardown

Use a lot of products and pay attention to how they work, what they’re doing that’s new or unique, what they’re doing that’s common. Form your own opinion on how their design helps or hinders them in achieving their goals. Learn more here: https://medium.com/we-are-yammer/product-teardowns-at-yammer-e2c4d5f0e2ff

Review the Highlight Reel

Read lots of product reviews by many people. They’re basically the highlight reels of products: they point out what someone loved and what they wish was better. Don’t take their reviews as the truth though, remember that they might have bad product sense and might be asking for bad features or misunderstanding the goals. Write up where you disagree.

Cross Training

If the phrase “It’s like Uber for ___” can teach you anything, it’s that great ideas often come from cross-applying a ideas from one domain into another. Stretch your creative muscle with this game.

  1. Write a bunch of products from lots of different categories on separate cards
  2. Pull out 2 cards at a time and brainstorm ways that ideas from one of those products could be applied to the other. For example, Yelp has an active map where you can zoom in and redo a search… Maybe WebMD could make a zoomable map of the human body to search for symptoms.

Read the Scoreboard

Find the talks, blog posts, and articles where product people talk about what worked and what didn’t work for them. For example, Patreon recently wrote about doubling their activation success. If you’d like to give back to the community, write up a list of the articles you find — I’m sure a lot of people would love to read them!

Know of any more product exercises? I’d love to hear them!