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How to transform from a Project to a Product Mindset

How to transform from a Project to a Product Mindset

Advice from Radhika Dutt, Author of Radical Product Thinking

Our recent webinar Transforming from a Project to a Product Mindset with Radhika Dutt, author of Radical Product Thinking: The New Mindset for Innovating Smarter offers practical advice on transforming your organization, plus actionable tips on aligning your team. It’s a valuable resource whether you’re an individual contributor influencing upwards or a product leader driving the transformation effort at your company.

There were so many insightful questions from attendees that we didn’t get to all of them, but Radhika kindly took the time to answer the remainder. Read on for her excellent insights. 

Who should lead product-led transformation in a company? If you are a product manager, what’s your role in lobbying for the transformation?

Product-led transformation should have an executive sponsor. There should be a clear why for transformation defined at the executive level and communicated to the rest of the organization. Change is always hard, so without clarity of purpose and communication, it’s hard to get the rest of the organization onboard to adopt new ways of working. 

As a product manager, you can lobby for transformation by building awareness of why the change from a project to a product mindset is necessary. You can do this by talking about product diseases that you might be observing in the organization and how they might be hampering growth or innovation. You can also set the example for other teams by defining and communicating a clear vision and strategy for your product. In the webinar, I talk about the Radical Product Thinking approach to crafting a detailed vision and strategy –  you can watch the recording and download the free toolkit to get started. 

What if you have team members on your team that do not want to evolve or change?

To find the solution, you’d first need to understand the root cause for this resistance. There are typically three dimensions you’d want to explore. First, check if you’re aligned on the vision behind transformation – there may be no buy-in on why the company needs to transform. When the company transformed to Agile, it might have been pitched as the solution to all problems. So in moving to a product mindset, it might feel like the leadership team is pursuing the next shiny object after the glamor of Agile faded. Take some time to align the team on the why behind transformation.

If you’re aligned on the vision, it might be that your incentives might be very different. For example, in an organization where the sales team insisted that they should set the requirements, the resistance to adopting a product mindset was that the sales team didn’t want to lose their ability to shape the product. You might need to align or address incentives in this case to get buy-in on transformation. 

Finally, if you’re aligned on both the vision and incentives, it could be an issue that there’s a skillset that needs to be developed. You can learn more about Radical Product Thinking trainings. Remember that building new skills requires mental and emotional bandwidth –  if your team members are overworked, explore how you can create some space for them to engage in a training course.

How do you influence upwards to get senior leadership onboard with product led strategies?

There are two tools I recommend for influencing upwards: 

  1. Crafting a strategic plan: craft a strategic plan – including a detailed vision, strategy, and metrics – and solicit feedback from senior leaders to get buy-in from leadership while keeping ownership of your product vision and strategy.
  2. Communicating priorities visually: instead of just sharing a list of priorities, share the rationale behind them so you can get your leaders to understand and support the tradeoffs you’re making. A visual framework is helpful for communicating this; use the Vision Fit vs. Survival rubric to explain how you’re balancing long-term vs short term priorities. 

Both of these tools are particularly effective in influencing upwards because they help you take a facilitative approach as you communicate and get buy-in.

Does this mean Strategic Product Management is a thing?

Every product manager should be thinking strategically. This is why I don’t recommend titles such as technical product manager or strategic product manager. Every product manager (even if entrenched in technology), should be thinking strategically to take ownership of the vision and strategy and help the team systematically translate those into priorities, execution, and measurement.  

What can you do if engineers have a big role in your product, but they don’t want to participate in planning?

Engineering teams are often judged by the velocity of their sprints, or how fast they’re able to deliver features. If your engineering team feels measured by just the number of story points they’ve delivered, there’s little incentive to participate in strategic planning. After all, they get no credit for the time spent on this important team exercise to shape the product. 

In such a culture, you may need to get buy-in from the leadership team and allocate time in the sprint to do strategic planning as a group. Emphasize why this is even a useful exercise. Most visioning or strategy sessions are fluffy and devoid of actionable outcomes – so you might need to introduce some of the Radical Product Thinking ideas to your team to explain why this is different and how it leads to an actionable vision and strategy. 

Should feedback from users change your vision?

You should treat your vision as a hypothesis and change your vision if you’re convinced that you’ve invalidated your hypothesis. But the key question is, how will you test your hypothesis? Avoid “socializing” your vision; just asking users what they think of your vision will most likely lead to unreliable results. You’ll need to conduct user research to validate the answers to your who, what, why, when, and how questions in your Radical Vision Statement.

User research is different from user feedback – in conducting user research, you’re genuinely trying to understand users’ needs without presupposing a solution. User feedback typically presumes a solution that you’re testing with users. User research is more valuable than user feedback in evaluating if your vision needs to change.

Would you say the last part in the ‘Radical Vision Statement’ is my hypothesis, i.e. in the last part of the vision statement you describe what you think is the solution to the problem, but it might not be?

You should consider your entire vision statement to be a hypothesis. Your answers to the who, what, why, when, and how questions in your Radical Vision Statement are your best guesses based on the information you have. Especially if you’re a startup, you’ll need to validate the answers to each of these questions. But even in a larger company, you’ll find that as markets and technologies evolve, the answers to these questions might also need to change. If you consider your vision a hypothesis, it makes it easier for you to adapt to changes and communicate to your team what has changed. By explaining to your team what part of the hypothesis you’ve disproved and why you’re pivoting, you can avoid the common product disease I call “Pivotitis”.  

Want more? 

Here are a few resources: 

A huge thank you to Radhika for sharing her time and expertise with us! Go check out the full recording of the webinar if you haven’t already.

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