Product Thinking leads to Project Success

A look at how a simple exercise in product thinking can lead to your projects’ success

37% of projects fail because of a lack of clear goal (src)

Here is a compelling statistic for you: the most common reason why a project fails is a lack of clear goals. Look back at your past several projects and ask yourself, did you have a clear goal set for you? If yes, how relevant was it to the end-users? Did you know who was going to use the output of your project?

If your answers are in the negative, you have a problem. A serious problem.

Personally, every project that has failed to meet the expectation has been due to a lack of end-goal envisioning by the project sponsors/stakeholders/managers. And contrary to popular expectations, I blame the team that worked on the project. That the project owners failed to instill the end-user vision in you, isn’t their fault. These things have to come from within — no matter the organization setup.

What is Product Thinking?

Simply put, product thinking is ascertaining the end goal of the work you’re doing and working backward — identifying the problems, the end-users and the possible solutions. Some may also identify it as going from the problem space of the customer (or your end-user) to the solution space of the business (or your project team). The thinking is achieved by asking the following questions:

Questions to ask during Product Thinking discovery

And when your discovery is completed, you create this wonderful statement that encompasses your vision for the project:

Problem Statement Definition

Who should do the product thinking?

Surprisingly, the common opinion is that product thinking is the domain of only Product designers/managers. Unfortunately, it is not. Every developer, analyst, stakeholder should be involved in the thinking process. The artifacts from the thinking should be shared with the team. But, you say, we have a Project Charter! When was the last time you looked at your project charter with those fancy sections and an array of jargons which seem completely unimportant to the task you’re doing?

I believe everyone should be thinking ‘product’ before and during the project lifecycle. Every project, whether it is internal OR external, should have a product thinking exercise embedded into its lifecycle.

What is the advantage of product thinking?

Adding the product thinking exercise will help you with the following:

Ensuring Success

The project will not fail, at least, due to intrinsic factors. By ensuring everyone knows the objectives, you’re priming yourself, your teammates & the stakeholders for success.

Alignment

With the powerful statement, as described above, you’re ensuring that everyone is aligned. Any misconceptions or questions can be accurately answered by the statement and the team is aligned to the goals of the project.

Motivated Team

I believe that there are seldom team members who do not wish to add value to the organization they’re part of… this exercise will make the team part of a bigger organization motivation — that is aligned to delivering value, and putting to rest any thoughts that the work they’re doing is of no impact.

How can you implement Product Thinking?

It’ll depend on your organization manages products, but I’ve seen two major variations, pivoting around methodology. I’ll not write about Agile driven product thinking as that is pretty much common knowledge.

Waterfall driven Product Thinking

I know what you’re thinking — uhh, waterfall and product thinking? Are you bonkers? Well, no. Waterfall isn’t as bad as they make it out to be… introducing product thinking in a waterfall project will actually improve the chances for project success.

You start by adding a step within the Requirements gathering phase. Call it whatever you like, but the goal of that step is to ensure the delivery team & the stakeholders arrive at the statement above. For any new members coming into the project team, ensure they read this one statement.

This statement is then used as the north star for every other step in the process:

Design — does the design of the solution meet the expectations of the statement? Does it further the goals in the statement? Are we capturing enough to ratify the statement after launch?

Implementation — does the timeframe of implementation change the statement? Does it deter the goals implied by the statement?

Verification — does the final experience/use-case meet the statement standards?

Wrapping it up

Teams need a vision & motivation to deliver spectacular value. Personal biases and interpretations tend to be a bane of any project/product delivery. Implementing product thinking at every layer of the delivery organization will greatly improve the chances of success.

There is something to note though — just by doing product thinking you’re never guaranteeing success. The success of a project depends on a lot of factors, the least of all being uniform communication. However, maintaining all other factors, having a common vision derived through product thinking greatly improves your chances of success.

Thank you for reading. If you’d like to know more about Product thinking and the various methods by which you can attack a problem, please read this extremely helpful article:

Simplifying Complexities for a Living | rkakodker.com

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