Originally posted in the Modus Create Blog.
Product management teams are overwhelmed. I can say this authoritatively because Modus has been providing product consulting to clients of all sizes for nearly a decade. The root cause: there is no universal definition of what product management is, and as generalists, product managers end up doing everything.
Knowing this, Modus has created a well-defined practice made up of individuals who are generalists, specialists, and versatilists who understand product. We have developed a product strategy practice to strengthen our product team and enable them to avoid getting overwhelmed with tasks outside of this practice.
There are ten key precepts that form the foundation of the Modus product strategy:
- We are a partner that can assess, assist and do what is necessary to help your organization build more effective products.
- We must understand the product development maturity of a client before driving organizational change.
- We believe in user-centric design thinking.
- We believe in evidence-based prioritization.
- We believe in an iterative development process.
- We are thought leaders who contribute to the discussion about the evolution of product management.
- We believe that product strategy is at the heart of every successful digital product.
- We believe in alignment and collaboration with engineering, UX and all other stakeholders.
- We are always on the lookout for implicit assumptions and ways to innovate and disrupt.
- We are, above all, builders and makers.
Anyone who works on the Modus product team is a product strategist. As consultants, we don’t generally manage a product so we aren’t product managers in the traditional sense. But we do help strategize on how to help our clients conceive and build their products in the best way possible. Then, of course, we roll our sleeves up and do the work — that is the “Modus way.”
As outsiders, we have a unique perspective and mission: we need to understand the best practices of product management across the board in order to help our clients rise to the top. We need to understand what product strategies to apply at every step in the product lifecycle from preconception to post-launch and everything in between. The first task to improve our chances for success is assessing the maturity of the client product team.
Product Development Maturity
Product development maturity is, quite simply, how experienced the product team is, how they are adapting to real-world pressures, how they play with design and engineering, and whether they are implementing best practices to build successful products. In a low-maturity environment, we may find product managers who are inundated with tactical dilemmas, unclear product visions, or more commonly, simply focused on generating code regardless of the value it is providing to the business or the users.
We tend to look at product maturity through the following key lenses:
- Strategy: does the product team have goals and the time and ability to be forward-thinking or are they reacting and focusing on merely outputting code?
- Collaboration: how well does the product team interact with UX ,engineering and the rest of the business?
- User Validation: are ideas user-validated, or are product managers making decisions based merely on assumptions?
Modus Product Strategy: Build — Measure — Learn
The Modus product process boils down to a fairly simple strategy: Build — Measure — Learn. This process means we always rely on measurable data to determine intelligently what to build. We iterate fast and put results in front of users as soon as possible. This mitigates risk so that the riskiest assumptions are eliminated before there is too much spend. Let’s look at these steps, beginning with the ideal starting point in this cyclical process:
- Learn. In the learning phase, we take whatever data we have: usage analytics, customer support requests, customer satisfaction or net promoter score (NPS), competitive analyses, the results of user interviews and we analyze it so that we can best learn about the problem space and how to craft a better solution.
- Build. From those learnings, we then work to build what we think will meet the needs discovered in the Learn phase. This phase focuses on small, impactful deliverables.
- Measure. Finally, we implement an analytics or user research plan to best determine whether what we built matches the needs of the customer. From here we will iterate back to the Learn phase and determine whether we should pivot in a different direction or persevere.
Modus product strategists are always looking for ways to disrupt, or provide some new feature or application that is new to the marketplace and will drive user adoption. Innovation is not just an art, it is also a science. Our process of innovation requires us to have a greater understanding of the following:
- Users. First, we need to understand for whom this app or feature is intended. Then we engage them as often as possible, formally and informally, online and offline.
- Opportunity. It’s important you understand where your product could fit into the market, where there are gaps in that market, and how your business has the best chance for success.
- Problem. If you understand the problem you are solving, you can ideate and experiment to discover the best solution. We do this by spending time with our users (which brings us back to 1).
Once you have this understanding, then the next step is to find the great ideas that hide behind the good ones. We do this through our workshops and engagements: collaborative sessions, brainstorm sessions, lightning demos, Wardley mapping, business model canvases–whatever it takes and it’s different for every project. Capitalizing on the talent in the room, we have had great success coming up with innovative solutions.
Modus product strategists then guide us to continue iterating. Just like there are really no “overnight sensations” in the music business, product-market fit almost never happens instantly when you first launch your product. It is something that takes new app design and feature tests, many user interviews, much data analysis, and a lot of brainstorming. It takes time, effort and trial-and-error.
Modus product strategists know that the focus should always be on measurable outcomes. We believe that having a North Star analytic to focus on keeps us constantly working toward the right goal. A North Star is a leading data point that best illustrates the trend we are working toward. It might indicate greater engagement, it might be more users, it might be a way of re-engaging old users — or it might even be a single indicator that highlights all of the above.
If not a North Star, we could also have Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that show us application trends, as well as more directed Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) to work toward and measure. The bottom line is that finding the right analytics will empower and enable product teams to move the needle in the right direction instead of simply praying for better outcomes. Whatever the goals, we look to these data points to discover failures and risky assumptions, then seek to validate them with trial-and-error using new designs, new features, A/B testing, enlightening these new elements through whatever data we can obtain, including speaking directly with users whenever possible.
Beyond growing a single product, Modus aims to help our clients create a culture of growth. By working with Modus to create frameworks and processes, supporting objective experimentation and evidence-based prioritization and goal-oriented product management, organizations that once struggled for success with their apps find they are more focused, less overwhelmed and more successful.
Modus product strategists believe it is part of the product manager’s responsibility to work with the engineering team to ensure we are making a better, evolving product that performs well. We recognize that part of growth is more technical in nature: managing defects and technical debt. We recognize this on every project, and can offer services to assess these elements and find the optimal way to get them done while minimally disrupting other initiatives.
Product-Led Growth is all about bringing product to the front and center of the company. It is about using your digital product(s) to acquire new customers, retain existing customers, and grow their interaction and dollar spending with the company. To have a product-led company, it is critical to have an optimal and tailored user experience, easy paths to upgrade, and seamless customer support. In other words, it is about being on top of your product game. Modus believes PLG is a key aspect of digital transformation and our product strategists can help you get there faster.
Modus is committed to bringing the best product strategy consulting as technology evolves and we move towards Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, voice apps, Virtual and Augmented Reality, blockchain, Internet of Things and anything else that emerges. Our strategists are curious and are given the opportunity to manage products for our Modus Labs initiatives, giving them insight into these technologies and the unique parameters required for managing, concepting, and growing them.
Product management itself is a young and ever-expanding field. At Modus we are not only constantly learning, but we contribute to the conversation and evolution of our industry by writing blogs, speaking at conferences, mentoring and following the Modus mantra of being Active, Visible and Relevant in our field of practice.
Modus is all about product, and our product strategy team is prepared to help your company adapt and optimize your product management processes. We recognize that most product managers are overwhelmed and we offer an array of workshops, assessments and consulting engagements that can help you be at the top of your product game. Competing in today’s economy requires digital transformation, and building the right product the right way is often the key to survival. Modus can help your company be at the top of its game.