This is the fourth post of a five-part series on Product Management. (Start the series here.)

As we asked in the previous post, why are product teams so seldom aligned? Why do they struggle with achieving common agreement and end up building products that nobody needs?

The Culprit

I want to forget, at least for now, the obvious need for a clear overarching vision, trust, accountability and a culture of cooperation. Without these, you will not build a great product no matter what, so let’s assume that these are in place. (Wishful thinking, I know, but let’s not go there now.)

The main culprit behind the lack of alignment is the fact that everyone on the product team, exec team, and others across the org tend to have different mental models about the problem space the company is in. In other words, everyone has a different understanding of customer needs.

Similar but different: Indi Young crafted a design process around the notion of mental models.

Friends wouldn’t plan a trip to a new place without agreeing on a route to get there. An architect wouldn’t design a house without having its future inhabitants agree on their needs. A general at war wouldn’t fight without aligning his commanders over a battle plan.

Yet, somehow in business we routinely decide what products to build, which features to add, and what messaging to adopt without understanding the mental model of our customers–their goals, pains and solution alternatives… the way they see the world.

Generals wouldn’t fight w/o aligning commanders. So why do we launch products without aligning teams?

This is a big idea

We talked about one person not being able to do everything. So we built teams with experts in product strategy, product development, product marketing, design, engineering etc., but we fail to consolidate all our findings into one common mental model to align everyone. All our decisions about what to build and how to market and sell products are based on our individual understandings (or worse — assumptions) of the customers, their goals, pains, and understanding of existing solution alternatives. Simply put, we are rarely on the same page.

Ok, now we know the culprit. I will talk about potential solutions in my last post.

How do you think about this problem of misalignment? Share your thoughts! We’ll lend our ear. 🌽

–Hubert