(38) What is your product philosophy?
A few years ago, I created a mission statement for my life being inspired by Steven Covey. It took me many weeks to craft one for myself and I still revisit it occasionally and make little tweaks to it as I continuously evolve as a person in my life’s journey.
According to Steven Covey, Mission Statements define the purpose of our life and provides direction to that purpose. During moments of despair and disillusionment in life, your mission statement acts as a guiding light to help you pick the right choices. Your mission statement becomes your inner constitution.
A few years later though, there came a point where I began to draw a parallel to the craft of product management. In early 2016, I bumped across Graham Kennedy’s personal culture deck where he shared his own product philosophy. Graham is Director, Product Management at Zendesk. It was inspiring to see him share his core beliefs and values publicly that he holds dear for building products. Until then, I wasn’t even sure if product people should have a philosophy. I had him on my podcast and we talked briefly about the need for owning a product philosophy. When I asked him why should one have a personal product philosophy, this is what he said:
“I believe that we should all have an existential crisis from time to time to help us identify and remind ourselves of our purpose and strengths. As a product leader, my purpose is to ensure that every day my team is motivated to drive maximum impact for our customers. I use my strengths to achieve my purpose. Taken together, my purpose and strengths become my product philosophy.” — Graham Kennedy, Director, PM, Zendesk
That was enough shot in the arm for me to begin crafting a product philosophy for myself.
But do we need a product philosophy at all?
I want to answer this by sharing what William Ervine, author of the very popular “A Guide to the Good Life” said about the same question with regards to life:
“The most important reason for adopting a philosophy of life, though, is that if we lack one, there is a danger that we will mislive — that we will spend our lives pursuing goals that aren’t worth attaining or will pursue worthwhile goals in a foolish manner and will therefore fail to attain them. Whatever philosophy of life a person ends up adopting, she will probably have a better life than if she tries to live — as many people do — without a coherent philosophy of life.
Having a philosophy of life whether it is Stoicism or some other philosophy can dramatically simplify everyday living. If you have a philosophy of life, decision making is relatively straightforward. When choosing between the options life offers, you simply choose the one most likely to help you attain the goals set forth by your philosophy of life. In the absence of a philosophy of life, though, even relative simple choices can degenerate into meaning-of-life crises. It is after all hard to know what to choose when you aren’t really sure what you want.”
Author and angel investor Tim Ferris refers to philosophy as the ideal “personal operating system”.
How does this map to our philosophies towards building products? What core beliefs, and values do you hold dear that defines you as a product leader? Writing it down for yourself serves as your inner constitution that you can always go back to when caught up in the whirlwind and disillusionment of organisational chaos. It becomes the criterion by which you measure everything else at work. Your written product philosophy becomes a solid expression of your vision and values. It acts as your north star.
How to craft your product philosophy?
Since your product philosophy is a representation of who you are as a product leader, I would encourage you to bring to use your own stamp of individuality and personal brand into this. Crafting your philosophy is not something you do in one sitting. It takes long introspection, careful analysis, thoughtful expression, and many rewrites to produce it in the final form. Eventually, it becomes something that you are proud of and you will thank yourself for having crafted it.
Even though writing it is a personal endeavor, I would like to offer ways to get started with it:
- Find blocks of time in a distraction-free environment.
- Begin answering the following questions with utmost sincerity:
* What defines you as a product leader?
* What is it about your craft that drives you to work everyday?
* What are your core beliefs and values that you hold onto in your day to day
work as a product leader?
3. List out all the books, product leaders, materials that have influenced and shaped you in your product career. After all, we are all products of different influences in our life.
4. Identify broad themes around which you want to craft your philosophy.
5. Once you have everything dumped at one place, frame a coherent philosophy in no more than 750 words. Anything more than that would be philosophical meanderings. If possible add graphics and illustrations to heighten visualization and sensory impact.
Remember that a philosophy ought to evolve and shape over the years. It is as dynamic, living and breathing an entity as you are — remember it’s an expression of your vision and values. So, it is important for you to keep revisiting your philosophy and updating them.
My product philosophy?
We are all products of various influences in life. My philosophy is also a product of multiple influences from varied authors and product leaders I have read and interacted with in my life.
I would like to write my philosophy in a style inspired by the lyrics of Frankie Laine, in his song, I Believe.
On Building Products
- I believe in building products that make the world a better place. I use Nir Eyal’s Manipulation Matrix to stay the course.
- I believe that your product is not “the product”. Your business model is “the product”. — Inspired by Ash Maurya.
Closely related to this is also the concept of Whole Product Model that I am keenly focused about that increases possibility of mainstream market success.
- I believe in being revenue-driven with my product decisions. I believe revenues are the truest validation of delivering value to your customers. When a customer parts away his money to buy your product, you know you have delivered real value.
- I believe in building for outcomes, not outputs. I don’t measure success with the number of features shipped but the extent of impact it has had on customers.
- I believe in striving for building less, and yet delivering more impact. For this, I need to learn to be ruthless in prioritization.
- I believe launching products or features is not success. I would never celebrate a product launch. Success is when customers validate its value through positive feedback.
- I strongly believe in the Lean Startup and Agile principles of product development.
On Customer Immersion
- I believe that I am first and foremost a customer advocate. I strive to provide value to my customers with what I build for them.
- I believe that I must strive to understand my customers better than anyone else in my organization.
- I believe in building products in collaboration with customers as close development partners. I follow Steve Blank’s Customer Development principles.
- I believe in investing at least 20% of my time with customers if not more. 80% of the value I bring to work comes from the investment of this 20% of my time.
On Being Data and Metric Driven
- I believe in being data-aware instead of being data-driven.
On the Nature of my Role
- I believe my primary identity is of being a value creator for my product. I strive to make my product more valuable to the market than it currently is.
- I believe in investing in product discovery efforts than anything else. Product development and implementation though is very important, comes only next to right product discovery.
- I believe I am responsible for simplifying complex information and building shared understanding for the teams.
- I believe communication both written and verbal are important elements of my role and I must continuously strive to improve upon it.
On Structures and Alignment
- I believe in striving for alignment from vision to execution for my products. This includes mastering stakeholder communication and reviews.
On Attitudes and Mindset
- I believe in inculcating a mindset of deep empathy for my customers.
- I believe in loving the problem and not the solution. And that is why I am a big believer of the Jobs to be Done framework.
- I believe in mistrusting my opinions and building tentatively by identifying and testing right hypothesis through experiments.
- I believe in staying humble and always be prepared to be proven wrong with my decisions.
- I believe in being conscious of not falling into the trap of confirmation bias. The default position is to find evidence for invalidating my own assumptions and hypothesis.
- I believe in practicing 10X moonshot thinking. Product managers need to be bold visionaries. I do not want to limit myself to features and functions but stretch my imagination to a big, hairy audacious future. — Inspired by Ken Norton
- I believe in inculcating a Craftsman mindset in product management. I dedicate my life towards mastering my PM skills.