What is ‘THE WHY’ behind the product? Why it is essential for every Product Manager to identify it?
All of us intend to build and evolve better products. However, we lose the plot blindly chasing competition and trying to appeal every customer that comes our way. Eventually, the product loses its purpose without any direction. How many of us can unambiguously articulate the THE WHY behind the product that defines its purpose in a single tweet?
I am sharing my thoughts on why it is essential to define THE WHY behind the product even while conceptualizing it and how THE WHY can transform the way we build our products and how it will convert our relationship with our customers from a transactional into a relational engagement.
THE WHY behind the product can unambiguously articulate why the product is built both from the perspective of Organization and customers. Further, the Organization beliefs lay the foundation for the purpose, together they define how the product is built and evolved, and they provide a framework for decision-making governing the product. Whatever a Product Manager does in relation to the product – strategy, vision, roadmapping, marketing, pricing etc. is eventually tied to one single element called ‘THE Purpose’.
What does your Organization believe in – Is the product built upon that foundation of belief? New product built without any belief sans purpose. What the new product could do and how it could do does not define the purpose. Those are transactional items purpose is much bigger. Purpose underlined by a strong belief puts every stakeholder involved with building the new product in a state of self-actualization where they are inspired and motivated to do what they do. Purpose can also define the marketing message that will make customers believe in the product believe in what it does. The difference between good and great product lay in its ability to define why.
The difference between good and great product lay in its ability to define why
Conceptualization of the new product should happen upon a fundamental foundation that characterizes the belief of the Organization. The belief that eventually dictates what the product should stand for, why does it exist and how it is intended to achieve the desired functionality. Food for thought, what does great companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix (or even older companies like Toyota) etc. believe in, are n’t their products direct reflection of what they believe. Therefore, every new product built should embody the beliefs and the new product vision should be a reflection of those beliefs.
What does Apple believe in – Shall I state ‘Innovation, Simplicity and Building Great Products’.
In the words of Tim Cook, following are the values that define Apple.
We believe that we’re on the face of the Earth to make great products.”
We believe in the simple, not the complex.”
We believe in saying no to thousands of products, so that we can really focus on the few that are truly important and meaningful to us.”
– Tim Cook
Values are rather action words that are born out of beliefs and purposes. Are n’t the above-stated values provide a foundation for how Apple build and evolve its products? Therefore, any new product idea conceived in Apple should adhere to the above beliefs
- Can the new product idea transition into a great product?
- Does the new product idea epitomize the principle of simplicity?
- Can the new product idea be transformational for the Organization? Can this idea be the next big bet?
It is not about building unique products, but building products uniquely that no one else dared to build so. There are limitless possibilities for building products uniquely, If Organization believes in something unique and if it has the commitment and conviction to stand for what it believes in. iPod is not a unique product, it entered the market after the market was flooded with lots of music players. What makes an iPod unique is in its approach to building a simple and elegant music player that had powerfully integrated the device, software (iTunes) and music unlike any other device has done before or done after. Apple did follow similar unique approach for iPhone too and I believe they will do it repeatedly for any product that they will ever conceive in future.
It is not about building unique products, but building products uniquely that no one else dared to build so
Any new product that is ever conceived should pass the belief test, everything else that is associated with the conceptualization of the new product (idea validation, product-market fit, business review, and new product approval) are mere transactional. Product Manager had to take care of those transactional items as well, but passing belief test will hold the key for the new product success as it will transform the entire new product development from a transactional engagement into a relational engagement. How does entering into a relational engagement makes any difference?
Transactional vs relational engagement
Simon Sinek thoughts on ‘Start with WHY’ are very profound that it should find its place in identifying the belief behind the new product. When Product Manager embarks on the journey of building the new product – (s)he should start her journey with a belief that lays the foundation for building the new product, a foundation that succinctly articulates why are we building the new product both from the perspective of Organization and customers. Product Manager should articulate the bigger purpose of building the new product, through creating a vision of the world that does not exist yet. The vision that can unambiguously communicate how the new product will transform lives of customers thereby helping the Organization scale greater height.
Simon Sinek has talked about 3 levels of engagement How? What? and Why? as part of his Golden Circle concept that explains each level of engagement.
When the focus is only on WHAT the new product does? and HOW does it does? The Organization is creating a transactional engagement among all stakeholders both internally and externally sans any purpose.
When the focus is on WHY? The Organization can succinctly articulate its belief and the purpose of its existence. The belief of Organization will lay the foundation for building all new products, a foundation that defines why we are building the new product both from the perspective of Organization and customers and a foundation that can also define how to build and market the new product. The belief imparts the purpose within each stakeholder, so all stakeholders know why they are doing what they are doing. Revenue, growth etc. will not define the belief or purpose. All those elements are by-products of the belief or purpose.
It is not what we make or sell. It is what we believe makes a lot of difference both internally and externally. Belief is contagious and it would spread across to every stakeholder involved with the new product – who sells it, who builds it, who markets it, who supports it, who evangelizes it, who conceptualizes it etc. unifying everyone with a common purpose and vision. There would be now absolute clarity on why we are doing what we are doing. So everyday battles that all of us fight will be around identifying how we can collectively realize the vision of the new product instead of being skeptical about what we are doing. Everyone will be a guardian of the new product vision and struggle to realize it. There will no more be voices that utter – are we doing the right thing. However, voices will instantaneously raise when there is a deviation from the new product vision, which eventually implies that there is a potential conflict with the belief and purpose as well.
It is not what we make or sell. It is what we believe makes a lot of difference both internally and externally
In a transactional engagement, employees know what they are doing albeit with little clarity on why they are doing what they are doing. There is also little clarity on where they are heading. They come, they work, and they go with lots of ambiguity in direction and purpose. Under such circumstances, each employee is a mere foot soldier acting upon certain instructions and when they had to make certain hard choices, they always falter, because employees did not embrace any purpose or values.
On the contrary, in a relational engagement, the belief and purpose will define a set of values (refer to Apple example provided earlier) and those values when imbibed into the DNA of each employee will give them enough knowledge on how to react in any situation by upholding those values. The decision-making will be flat and it does not always have to traverse from top to bottom. Employees always have best knowledge and wisdom to take a decision. Organizations make better products and survive longer if employees take decisions. However, Organization should aid them with guidelines. Belief and purpose are the only way to provide guiding principle or tenets for the decision-making process.
Organizations make better products and survive longer if employees take decisions
Look at Walt Disney’s purpose – ‘We create happiness’. Irrespective of their business, they believe in creating happiness. When customers start believing in Walt Disney, start believing in their ability to create happiness, they patronize their products irrespective of movie or theme park. Even employees of Walt Disney will use the purpose and belief of creating happiness as the foundation for conceptualizing new products (movies or theme parks) or evolving any of their existing products (probably theme parks).
Transactional vs relational engagement does not affect internal stakeholders alone. It does influence the way customers perceive about the Organization, perceive about products. It even influences the way customers’ interfaces with Organization and makes a buying decision.
So, Did you find your WHY?
When Organization finds its WHY? It is defining the future that the Organization is attempting to create, it is leading the change, and it is envisioning a new world. The new products are merely facilitating the future. When customers understand the WHY (i.e. purpose), they do not see products they see the future. Doing so, Organization is not selling the product it is selling the future. Customers get a palpable sense of the world that does not exist yet. Finally, customers will find something promising. So please do not wait, let us find WHY? to pave way for building a great product.
When organization defines its WHY? It is defining the future that the organization is attempting to create, it is leading the change, and it is envisioning a new world
When customers understand the WHY (i.e. purpose), they do not see products they see the future
In a transactional engagement, the horizon is blurred. None has the bigger picture and overall direction. Thereby interactions happen at a product level, at a feature level. Interactions and discussions always happen relative to what others do. Competitors do it, so we need to do it better. Customers require it, so we need to accomplish it. Multiple conflicting priorities pull everyone in multiple directions without any unifying purpose and direction. Choices of customers, competitors, partners etc. will influence our directions and purpose. Finally, Product Manager will lose sight of what really differentiates the new product.
How often has a Product Manager noticed following comments when interacting with customers – I see something missing in your product that is available in competitor products, the product does not follow standards, I don’t know how it will add value to my business, your product is too pricey – I get competitor products for cheaper price, competitor is offering more etc. What those conversations mean to all of us, more specifically to Product Manager, the engagement with customers is merely transactional. In a transactional engagement, we will always be at the mercy of someone who can yield influence with customers. If the new product should not go through those conversations and if it should not be influenced by external stakeholders, then start with WHY? and articulate to your customers, so they believe in what you believe.
Why do you think people buy Tesla? Do people buy Tesla because they believe in the vision of Tesla to build powerful electric cars? Do they buy Tesla looking at the specifications of Tesla models, convinced about the underlying technology and technically impressed at the built of Tesla? I bet that majority of customers belong to the former category. When customers start believing in what Organization believes in, they trust the ability of the product to redefine future. Details of the product will not dominate any conversations with customers. Customers do take pride in associating with such Organizations and its products. They take pride in being part of the journey that transforms the future.
Defining WHY? is essential but what is more important is the commitment and conviction to deliver.
Commitment and conviction
Organizations should believe in something that is unique and they should have commitment and conviction to deliver. Exploration is the first step in identifying a belief, which is bold. Boldness in belief does not take us anywhere without a stronger determination for execution. Any fundamental change affects three parameters (i) people, (ii) process and (iii) business. All those three parameters should align with the belief and aid in flawless execution. A candid introspection of the current state of the Organization, what events or actions lead to the current state, and where the Organization intends to head from now can help identify what changes are required to the following three parameters (i) people, (ii) process, and (ii) business. Any form of history always fascinates me and it definitely offers some concrete knowledge on how to build our future based on our past actions. On those lines, I want to quote the words of Andy Grove – Author of ‘Only Paranoids Survive’ and Ex-CEO of Intel.
I have seen far too many people who upon recognizing today’s gap try very hard to determine what decision has to be made to close it. But today’s gap represents a failure of planning sometime in the past.”
– Andy Grove
To get the buy-in of everyone internally, Organization has to show the sense of urgency on why we need to transform now. The urgency has to be articulated to employees, shareholders etc. There is also need to articulate – What is in it for everyone – What is in it for employees. It is not always about monetary benefits. Sometimes, there is a need to articulate the bigger purpose. The inclusive approach will make employees feel that they are playing a bigger role in driving change. Shareholders should also understand what is in it for the Organization. They need to understand the results of transformation and why defining a belief would work. People embrace change only upon realizing what is in it for them.
People embrace change only upon realizing what is in it for them
Customers and employees do not instantly believe in what Organization believes in. It takes time. Until then Organization should walk the talk and exemplify its belief through its execution. Otherwise, it would be tough to gain the trust of both employees and customers. Belief is contagious only when more advocates believe in what Organization believes in and who can radiate the belief to others on behalf of the Organization.
Call for Action
If you have not defined ‘THE Why’, do it today. Start by identifying what does your Organization believe in and how it can articulate the purpose of the product. If you agree with my views or if you have different point of view, please drop your thoughts in the comments section below.