How to Build a Product Mindset

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Author: Product School

April 5, 2023 - 8 min read

Updated: January 24, 2024 - 8 min read

“There is only one boss. The customer. And [they] can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending [their] money somewhere else”.

— Sam Walton

What is a Product Mindset?

Card: Building a Product Mindset for Yourself and Your Organization

A Product Mindset is a way of thinking that focuses on creating product solutions that provide real user value. It’s the foundation of Product Management, really. Good Product Managers know that keeping the customer front-and-center is the best and most sustainable way to create successful products. 

Developing a Product Mindset means pushing yourself to understand users and revisit your value proposition on an ongoing basis. People with a Product Mindset aren’t interested in creating products and pushing out features for the sake of it; rather, they are wholly focused on how effectively their product solves the user problem they set out to solve.

A Product Mindset is the backdrop to all other Product tasks. No matter if you’re working on a roadmap, prioritizing your backlog, or launching a product, the goal is to keep the customer present in all processes and decisions.

And working with a Product Mindset isn’t limited to Product Managers. Indeed, your entire company can benefit from developing a customer-centric way of thinking.

For more on this, read: Product-Led Growth Strategy for Product Managers

Building a Product Mindset for Yourself

If you want to be a Product Mindset evangelist within your company, you’d first better walk the talk. To practice a Product Mindset, the most important rule is this: Engage with your customer, and learn about their authentic wants and needs. And when they talk, listen. 

The tricky part is getting them to talk, knowing how to listen, and then acting on the insights you gather:

Brush Up Your User Research Skills

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Here are some common user research methods to get in tune with the people who use your products:

  • User interviews. One of the most common user research methods, the key here is well-formulated questions, directing the conversation to the core of the user problem, and post-interview analysis. 

  • Field studies. Similar to user interviews, but instead you go to the user and observe how they use the product in their environment. This can be a physical visit or a recording of the user’s screen activity and reactions. Observe user actions and draw conclusions from there.

  • Focus groups. Like user interviews, but in groups. Focus groups are valuable for broader market research or for a temperature check on how users respond to your product or messaging. 

  • Surveys. Useful for gathering both qualitative and quantitative data. Surveys aren’t as personal or in-depth as other research methods, but are great for getting insights from a broad group of people. 

Customer Insights vs Voice of Customer (VOC)

Your job as a Product Manager is to know your customers better than they know themselves. And sometimes, what customers say isn’t the full picture. This brings us to the difference between customer insights and voice of customer (VOC). 

Often, there’s a gap between what users say they want, and what they actually do. It’s dangerous to develop products fully based on what people say they want, because actions and words don’t always align. A Product Manager’s nightmare is investing time and resources into a product users are clamoring for, only to face soul-crushingly low adoption rates.

VOC is the items customers demand, but customer insights are the nuggets gleaned by researching and evaluating how customers behave, interact and feel towards a product. This is why a combination of research methods is helpful: you can back up what you hear in user interviews with what you observe in field studies. And if there’s a disconnect between user actions and words, this is an opportunity to jump in and find out why. Insights come from being empathetic to customers, removing biases, and looking at the data.

Make Connecting With Users a Habit

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With the hustle and bustle of daily PM life, it’s easy to put off connecting with users. This task doesn’t feel as urgent as an upcoming development deadline, or a launch, or that meeting with an important stakeholder. 

With all the tasks you’re juggling, it’s important to remember that strategy is an essential component of Product Leadership. Countless top Product Leaders have told us that regardless of how busy their schedule gets, they make a point to carve out time in their schedule to think and strategize. Part of that time includes connecting with users. 

When you make connecting with users part of your routine, it doesn’t fall through the cracks. You’ll be surprised how many insights come out of regular user interactions, and how these insights help support decision-making and operational tasks. Create user check-in processes that work for you. 

You can connect with customers in direct or indirect ways:

  • User research. The intensity of user research varies depending on what stage of the Product Process you’re in. During discovery it’s more intensive, but once a product is launched you can simply have periodic check-ins with users. 

  • Customer journey map. Revisit your customer journey map every so often to update it with new research and touchpoints. If you notice a usage dropoff at certain touchpoints, chances are you can pin down the problem by looking over the map. 

  • Talk to customer service. Customer service has a unique window into the challenges and friction points that come up realtime for users while engaging with your product. Don’t overlook this resource!

Building a Product Mindset in Your Organization

A Product Mindset doesn’t stop with you, or even with the Product Team. Think bigger. When you create a Product Mindset on an organizational level, you get cross-functional alignment for the entire team. Not every team member has to become an expert in user research, but everyone should be able to easily answer this question: what value are we providing the user? 

Help your organization internalize a customer focus and understand the customer, the customer problem, and exactly how your product addresses that problem. Here’s a quick temperature check you can do with your team to check their understanding:

customer check-in PM

Employees from almost all departments can benefit from Product Management training. Product is at the intersection of many key functions in any organization. Training establishes a floor of Product knowledge across functions, a shared baseline understanding that everyone in the organization can use to move forward together. Here’s how:

Engineers 

Engineers are incredible at execution. When you give them a problem, they’ll figure out a way to solve it. But they don’t alway question why they’re being asked to solve that problem. The value engineers get from understanding Product is context. They understand how their tasks fit into a larger strategy, and how their outcomes are related to user needs. And understanding the end goal empowers them to come up with even better solutions!

Design

Your designers are the members of the team most bought into customer-centricity – it is a concept that Product Managers adopted from design, after all. Designers benefit from a Product Mindset in a different way: sometimes they need help understanding the business side of things. Product strategy takes into account what’s best for customers and the business. It’s important to keep your designers happy and aligned with strategy so that they buy into their projects.

Ultimately, products do need to help bring in a profit so the company can continue operating. Sometimes we need to get the product out, and it’s not possible to include every single feature and design element that would elevate the user experience. When designers are connected to this reality, they can hyper-focus on addressing core user needs. Then, when time and resource constraints pop up, they’ll learn how to let go of nice-to-haves for the sake of the big-picture strategy. 

Sales

When your Sales Team can communicate the core value of your product, their job becomes 10x easier. Their role transforms from convincing to informing the customer; they can think of the customer as someone they’re trying to help find a solution rather than someone they’re pitching to. The more the Sales Team understands the customer problem and how your product solves it, the more easily they can usher in the customer to try the solution. 

Marketers

Similar to sales, marketers are all about the messaging. Often, terrible user experiences happen because users were marketed false promises. Users go into the product expecting the experience they were marketed, and leave disappointed. This doesn’t happen in a Product-led organization. 

Marketers need to understand the customer and the product value so that their messaging is aligned with reality. By getting to the root of this, they can target their messaging more effectively. They know just what buttons to push to get into potential users’ heads. And when users convert, they’ll get exactly what they were marketed! That’s the power of an entire organization working with Product Mindset. 

Updated: January 24, 2024

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