Different Perspectives, United Vision: How we Enhance Product Innovation with the Product Field

The product field helps to find a common language for product development across all departments by following a holistic approach. Tobias Mikl and Helen Single describe how their teams at Porsche Digital benefit from it.

Photo by David Travis on Unsplash

Product innovation is not simply a question of novel ideas. It is about translating promising ideas into tangible action. Yes, the idea of coming up with a perfectly thought out and bullet-proof product while taking a shower is a trap. That’s not how it works.

While there is no silver bullet when it comes to product innovation, a clear vision and a set of guardrails to guide decisions and actions will have a substantial positive impact over time. Moreover, there are certain tools and methodologies that can help organizations make innovation systemic, repeatable and reliable.

At Porsche Digital, we have innovation in our DNA. And yet for us, innovation is not an end in itself, but rather a means to a higher-end, namely to create value and spark excitement through digital engineering. We want to create value for our customers with new or enhanced digital products and services. As part of this, we constantly look to improve our approach and processes around how we innovate and identify and develop new digital products, solutions and businesses. The Product Field is one such tool that helps us to find and develop digital services that meet customer needs.

Porsche Digital Ludwigsburg
In the office in Ludwigsburg, the teams work with pen and paper to visualize the Product Field

Meet the Product Field

As such, I, Tobias, was excited to stumble across the Product Field last year, when I had the pleasure of attending the Push UX conference in Munich and listening to a talk by Michael Schieben, one of its inventors. What immediately fascinated me about the approach of the Product Field was the clear connection that was drawn between different disciplines involved in the innovation process, such as user experience, software engineering and marketing.

The Product Field, in contrast, conceives of product innovation as “a complex system of interacting agents and dynamic forces.”

All perspectives of the product development process are not separated from each other but intertwined.

Approaching product innovation in a holistic and systematic way

The Product Field not only allows us to design and market better products but also lets us improve internal structures and processes. Moreover, with the Product Field, we help our cross-functional teams, mostly existing of business managers, UX designers, marketing experts, software engineers and agile coaches, to establish a strategic context by approaching production innovation in a holistic and systematic way. The creators of the Product Field describe it as a “sense-making framework for product innovation, that is a tool for teams and organizations to collaboratively make sense of what they are doing.”

Product Fields at Porsche Digital
A glimpse of how we use the product field method in our daily work

The four steps of the Product Field

There are four steps to the Product Field method: frame, map, check and find.

1. Frame the field

We all know that different disciplines bring different perspectives to the table. So the first step is to create a product field canvas and to build a common vocabulary for all in a very visual and easily comprehensible way. This is very important since product innovation is a collaborative process that is mostly carried out in interdisciplinary teams, where boundaries and functional lines are continually crossed.

Michael Schieben, Product Field
Michael Schieben explains first step of the product field at Push UX conference

2. Map your product

The second step involves gathering facts and assumptions to obtain and compile the current state of knowledge about the product. To establish what the final product should look like, how it will be build, how it should be marketed etc. requires thorough discussion and analysis. The aim is to make knowledge explicit and generate a structured and comprehensive picture of all the facts shared and understood by the whole team.

3. Check the fit

Step three is about analyzing links and tensions between all the aspects and helps us to validate the consistency and practicability of the product idea. In this stage, you will be able to see if the aspects in itself are coherent and if all perspectives have been incorporated enough. Often you will see that while one aspect of the product is very clear to the team, there are blind spots somewhere else and the team needs to dig deeper in order to understand the dynamics at play.

4. Find your priorities

The last step is all about identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the product, to visualize patterns, and generate powerful action items for the team. To identify clearly what the most critical facts or assumptions are. Each team member votes for items he or she evaluates to be the strongest or respectively weakest links within the whole product dynamic. This gives a strong indication of what do do next, which assumption to test and what kind of strategy makes the most sense going forward.

After having used the framework for numerous products and early-stage ideas the results are encouraging. The tool really convinced us and is now part of our innovation process. It allows us to help our cross-functional teams build consensus on what to do and how to measure success, giving them clear objectives to work towards.

What we love about the method is that it creates a workshop context, in which we not only collaboratively work on the Product Field, but also question and critically reflect on existing assumptions and preconceptions.

The tool reinforces discussion and strengthens cross-functional collaboration.

Right from the beginning, the teams come together, discover new ideas and perspectives and collaborate across functional lines leading to better and more robust concepts. Though it’s the clear and visual form factor and easy interaction the Product Fields allows easy participation for all team members.

How we use the Product Field at Porsche Digital — also in times of remote work

Currently, real workshops and face-to-face meetings are not possible due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which presents us to new challenges in the ways we are working together. But this does not prevent us from working collaboratively. Instead of a physical product field, we now use a digital whiteboard to do virtual Product Field sessions. And it works pretty well! One key advantage we noticed is that large amounts of information can be better managed on a digital canvas than on numerous post-its — and no one can complain about illegible handwriting anymore. 😉

For those who want to take a closer look at the method, I can highly recommend reading the Product Field Guide available online here and start understanding the dynamics and perspectives of your own products better.

Tobias Mikl, UX Design
Helen Single, Marketing, Growth & Communications

Tobias Mikl is Manager UX Design and Helen Single is Growth Marketing & Communications Manager at Porsche Digital.

About this publication: Where innovation meets tradition. There’s more to Porsche than sports cars — we’re tackling new challenges, develop digital products and think digital with a focus on the customer. On our Medium blog, we tell these stories. It’s about our #nextvisions, smart technologies and the people that drive our digital journey.

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