4 Steps framework to cultivate Product Thinking

Product Thinking? You probably think that the answer is obvious but like the term “strategy”, the term “product thinking” is elastic. As an entrepreneur I often use this term and sub-consciously evaluate product thinking quotient of people I meet, only to find that most do not understand or still care.

What exactly is Product Thinking?

A product acknowledges that teams are really working to ensure superior experience. It encourages the delivery of small features, frequent releases, continuous flow and releases that cover more than one “project”.

Every product provides some sort of a service to its user. Facebook is a product but it provides communication, photo sharing as service. Mobile handset is a product but it provides ubiquitous communication as service.

Services have always been differentiated by its quality and customer experience e.g. Dell and Apple both are examples of fantastic service quality and customer experience respectively.

In order to ensure highest standard of service quality and customer experience, the organization structure, systems and processes need to be efficient, smooth and must have a feedback loop to feed improvisation, leading to a cheaper, faster and better output. The fact that the service design is now a never ending process brings it closer to product design process. The ability to apply product design framework is precisely the product thinking.

Confused? Read on.

How to cultivate Product Thinking?

More often, the cue comes from user experience by breaking it into as many distinct logical steps. Watch out for the 4 steps framework below to design better experience

  1. Optimize the time and motion in one or multiple steps
  2. Embrace obvious ergonomic convenience
  3. Eliminate dependencies on external agents
  4. Eliminate maximum possible manual effort

Let’s take the example of commonly used “hand soap” used for washing hands and try to break down its user experience in distinct logical steps with respective exit points.

S.No. Action Exit

1

Open the tap Water supply begins

2

Pick the soap Wet hands/soap

3

Rub the soap Soap layer between palms

4

Leave the soap n/a

5

Rub the palms Lather creation

6

Hands under water Lather washed

7

Close the tap Water supply seized

 Note

  • Soap has an ergonomic issue with multiple people using the same bar.
  • The external agent here is water.
  • User engages with the soap in steps 2, 3 and 4 and hence require manual effort.
  • Exit column identifies necessary outputs through sub-processes and it is this column that matters more than the Action column.

Now look at the picture below

soap-vs-dispenser

Think about it, isn’t it interesting how someone would have thought of replacing soap bar with the liquid soap in dispenser.

As a product thinker, we can safely begin with user experience and one could take varied approaches. Keeping the above 4 steps framework in mind, I came up with following questions

  1. Can the three steps (2, 3, 4) be reduced to one or two steps to optimize the time and motion?
  2. Can we remove dependency on the external agent (water) in 2nd step completely?
  3. Step 3rd requires specialized manual effort, can we completely eliminate it? If yes, then step 4 could possibly be eliminated, being an extension to step 3.
  4. Water supply begins in 1st step and seizes only at the end of process, hinting at the wastage of a potential resource.

While this is the way to think, actual insight can come through any of the above questions. Whosoever came up with the idea of liquid soap using dispenser achieved few important things

  1. It eliminates ergonomic problem associated with the soap bar, providing key mental convenience.
  2. External agent is eliminated in the early part and gets introduced later, ensuring efficient use of a resource.
  3. Eliminates step 3 completely, improving the time and motion.
  4. Overall manual effort reduced.

You can apply similar steps on existing systems and services around you and it is guaranteed that over a period of time you’ll start to conceive not only innovative but scalable product ideas.

An aspect that I have purposefully not covered is the cost-effectiveness of solution. This has got a lot to do with its market size and perception and the subject requires detailed discussion. I will probably write a separate post on it soon.

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