Building better product: a matter of principle

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

As any good product person knows, reflection is essential for growth; be it personal, for enhancement of our processes or in the performance of the product we build. Which sits pretty neatly with our mantra at carwow of ‘how can we make it better?’.

Armed with a box of Post-its and our trusty Sharpies, we recently took some time out to reflect on what, in the way that we work, is important to us as a team of product managers. We framed the conversation within the 6 carwow values, identifying the principles that we believe should shape our practices and behaviour.

It’s worth noting that some of the principles were aspirational. We know we’re not there yet on some, but like with any good journey, we wanted to know where we were heading.

And the benefit of doing this? Well, here are a few:

  • Clarity on what we as a team believe to be important
  • Management of expectations — our own, of each other and those of others who work with us
  • Provide guidance when we need it (difficult decisions are easier with principles in place)
  • Improve communication — between Product teams and across the business
  • Make better decisions
  • Reduce waste (focus on the important stuff)
  • Increase individual and collective learning
  • Identify fit with potential new team members

In short, we believe following our principles will help us be better PMs, a better team and build better product.

Our values and principles

Impact

We’re determined to make the biggest impact, quickly

Principles:

We focus on making an impact, over being busy

It’s not about output, we care about outcomes. Do 3 things well that make things better or provide insight, rather than 10 things that look great in your Done column, yet provide little value.

We make an impact by learning as quickly as possible

Building a full, complex solution without knowing if it solves your problem can be expensive — the time to build and the lost opportunities. Look for the simplest way to learn whilst delivering towards the outcome you desire.

We create real value by solving actual problems

And how do we know what those problems are? We speak with our customers. carwow is a consumer-first business. If we focus on solving genuine problems of our users, they win, our dealer network wins, we win. Don’t get distracted, focus on things that matter.

Confident & Humble

We’re self-starters, with bold ideas and know we have lots to learn from others.

Principles:

It’s not our job to have all the answers, it’s our job to create an environment where the right answers emerge

Product managers can put too much stress on themselves to be the font of all knowledge, to have all the ideas, to make all the decisions, to do all the research. Don’t. Instead, ask the right questions. Encourage participation. Listen to others. Welcome input and feedback (even when it’s uncomfortable).

We test without fear

Tests fail. It’s a fact. But we don’t let the prospect of failure stop us from testing bold ideas or trying something different. We know that many will fail, but accept this is normal and necessary for us to learn what will help the business grow.

We’re approachable; we actively listen but know when to say no

We welcome input from others, it’s essential for us to be great product managers. It’s important to give people time and focus, but accept that we can’t do everything and sometimes we need to say no. Prioritisation and good communication are key.

Curious

We have an insatiable hunger to improve ourselves and our product

Principles:

We always want to understand ‘Why?’

Why? ← the most important question for a product manager. Unlocking the answer is the beginning of the journey to solve the problem. Whilst you might get lucky just jumping to shipping a solution, the likelihood is you’ll miss the mark and waste precious resource in the process. Good solutions come from understanding the cause of the problem, not just the effect.

We believe that every experiment has something to teach us

A test might not win, but it only fails if you didn’t learn from it. A well-constructed test, with a robust hypothesis (you did start with one, right?), should yield insight regardless of whether your chosen metric went up or down. Insight requires analysis, so a test isn’t finished until you’ve properly assessed the data. Only then can you iterate or ship.

We don’t settle; we seek out inspiration and knowledge

Doing the same thing over and over again, without adding anything to the mix, leads to stagnation. We don’t want that for ourselves or our product. We look at good ideas from outside of our company and industry to inspire us to take the next leap. Personally, we’re self-motivated to learn new things and not settle for what we know.

Force for good

We do things that have a positive impact and empower others

Principles:

We put the user at the heart of every decision

We firmly believe that putting the consumer first will help build a stronger business, in which all involved — the consumer, dealers, manufacturers and us — benefit. To do so, we focus on providing the best experience possible for the person trying to buy a car. Sometimes this means we can’t do something that just benefits the business and that’s okay. It’ll be better in the long run.

We support each other

It’s not always easy being a product manager. People don’t quite get what you do and everyone wonders why their thing wasn’t built yesterday. And there are always more things to do than time available. Sometimes we just need a helping hand. Thankfully, we’re there for each other, with supportive advice, a task taken off your plate or a much-needed coffee.

We look beyond our own area for opportunities to improve our product

No “it’s not my aisle” mentality here. We may have our own area of focus, but it doesn’t stop us looking out for other opportunities to improve the overall experience. We may have some insight from our own work that would benefit others. We’re always thinking ‘how can we make it better?’

Clear

We strive to be clear and simple. Confusion lies in complexity

Principles:

Simplicity, the art of what is not done, is essential

Paraphrased from the Agile Manifesto, this applies as much to how we build product, as to the product itself. We try to find the simplest way to achieve our goal. Anything that isn’t adding value — to the product or process — should be removed.

We share knowledge to improve clarity and understanding

The value of knowledge is magnified when shared. When we experiment and learn something new we document it and share with others. We all get smarter and the boat goes faster.

We always know the problem we’re trying to solve (and how to measure it)

Based on [what we’ve observed], we think that [change] will cause [impact].

We always have a hypothesis — it connects the problem we want to solve, with the experiment we want to run to the outcome we want to impact.

Wow

We aim to wow. We want to be the best, not ‘good enough’

Principles:

We ship product we’re proud of and customers love

Smiles on faces, that’s the goal. Both for our customers and ourselves. We don’t ship crappy product. When we compromise, we do so with fewer features, rather than lower quality. That way we’re still adding value.

We build product competitors want to copy

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, they say. Our product is so valuable to our customers, others cannot help themselves. Copying is one thing, but keeping up is another; we never settle, constantly innovating to solve customer challenges.

We strive for world-class product practice

Being good at our jobs is satisfying but being great is something else. It takes work. We commit to question, to test, to learn, to reflect and to adapt.


Now that we have our principles, we’re focused on following them. This requires self-discipline but also supportive challenges from each other. We’re personally reflecting on how our own behaviour matches these principles and considering if and how we need to change.

We’re also intrigued how we can use our principles to find good matches when recruiting new members to the team. We’re currently recruiting for Product Director and Senior Product Manager roles, so it’ll be interesting to see how their own principles gel with ours.


Please let us know your thoughts. Have you discussed principles as a team? What behaviours do you think are important for product managers?
— Gary, Despina, Chris, Holly, Jen and Jack