Mindful Product
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Mindful Product

Are we really prioritizing the most important things for our products?

Or are we just trying to make the best from our guess?

“A group of people brainstorming over a laptop and sheets of paper” by Štefan Štefančík on Unsplash

Know what to prioritize to improve our product is not the easiest thing to do. Especially when we don’t know enough about the jobs our product support people to do in their lives.

In Design Thinking, a well-known process of people, the early stages are Empathy and Define. Curiously, they are the ones we normally forget in our process to build products. Or, in many cases, we just pretend to do it.

Desing Thinking stages

When we skip these stages, our prioritization can turn out a disaster and our product can become useless.

How could we Define the right problem without having a deep knowledge coming from Empathize stage?

It’s common to see teams spending time in ideation sessions and building solutions based only on assumptions and feature requests from internal stakeholders and from customers.

I believe that to make better products we need a foundation and a useful roadmap (refs: 1, 2, 3), not a fixed list of features to launch. When I’m referring to a foundation I’m talking about the Problem Space: what does our product aim to support?

We need to invest time listening to people to understand their guiding principles and intents. Only then we can really support an ecosystem.

"…instead of that phrase, fall in love with the problem, I like to say build an enduring relationship with the problem" — Indi Young

If we build something without this foundation, we increase the chance of the our product succumbing in the long term.

It’s our mission to understand the target people, their intents and to validate our assumptions. Also, it’s our mission to know what to build, not them. They know their own struggles to make progress in their lives — and we need to learn from them — , but they don’t know the best possible solutions to support it.

Problem Space & Solution Space by Indi Young

Let’s not be naive, there are business that gets straight into Solution Space, launch a product and improve it through experiments. There are several out there. But as soon as possible they need to support it with knowledge from Problem Space, otherwise, they are almost doomed to fail.

It’s important to note that quantitative data from our analytics tools are part of Solution Space; qualitative data from Usability Tests are also part of Solution Space. It doesn’t mean that they have no value, they do, but we really need data from Problem Space to know why along with what and how.

So, returning to the issue:

How can we prioritize something in an efficient way without knowing deeply the jobs that people intend to do using our products?

At best, we’ll make a blind guess and try to get the most out of it.

We know how hard is doing it. It’s like walking in the dark with no clue where to go.

It’s not enough to use the best product prioritization techniques. If we don’t have the information to do it, we’ll end up prioritizing the less important things and building useless or incomplete features.

We’ll get many outputs (things) but not many outcomes (incremental progress that your product enable people to do towards their intents), if any.

Mental Model and Opportunity Map by Indi Young

So, what do we need to do?

Aligned with the product vision and business goals we need to know better about the Problem Space, where are the gaps between what you know about the target people, their mental model, their jobs to be done and the current solutions, so we can prioritize the right problems, plan initiatives, ideate features and prioritize them.

And so maybe we’ll be able to build useful, delightful and lasting products.

If you want to get tips on how to explore Problem Space, I’d recommend:

There are many processes and frameworks for research and innovation, but I have chosen to highlight only these one hoping that they encourage you to explore further.

I would love to hear from you! Please feel free to share your thoughts.

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