What is Product Thinking
Product thinking is about approaching your work with specific users in mind. It helps identify user problems and techniques for how your product can solve them. It also answers crucial questions such as “What makes your product useful?” and “What value does your product bring to your users/customers?”
Product thinking has a holistic approach to the problem-solving process, meaning that it sees the product as a whole rather than just focusing on some parts or features of the product.
Product Thinking vs. Design Thinking
Design thinking focuses on a human-centered approach to the problem, with the user “at the heart of it.” In the end, it’s UX Designers who care and advocate for end-users and their satisfaction….just like Product Thinking, you’ll say! So how are they different from one another?
Design thinking delivers desirable and viable features and solutions. It is strongly user-centric and focuses on understanding users’ needs, pain points, and behaviors. But there are no features without the product and its purpose.
Product thinking focuses on business goals, objectives, and success metrics in addition to the users. It’s not just about building one flow or a couple of features but seeing the product as a whole entity. This approach ensures the experience is cohesive, making each interaction purposeful. It’s also important to note that both product and design thinking empathize with the user, prioritize and validate the problem—they just do it on a different level and scale.
Why Product Thinking matters
We need to make sure that the product is meaningful and to do that, we need to know who we are building it for and why we are doing it. Generally, product thinking starts with asking the right questions and identifying the big “Why?”.
Great product thinking mitigates the risk of creating ineffective software products.
You can create a great feature based only on your assumptions without knowing why or who you’re designing it for, and it might even look beautiful and visually appealing. Still, it's meaningless if it doesn’t bring any value to the users or doesn’t solve a problem. This is precisely why reinforcing and cultivating product thinking is vital for a business to live and thrive.
Everyone on the team must know why the product exists in the first place and what it means to the customers and the business. It’s a high-level customer service core value that cultivates and motivates the company to put the user first when making design decisions. This approach prevents us from building products that nobody needs or wants to use.
It’s not only the leaders or managers responsibility to consider product value. Each team member should have this mindset to see and understand the purpose and logic behind each decision.
There are many great ideas and spectacular user experiences that designers create, but not all of them can be executed and developed. So, in that case, product thinking helps prioritize and put together a set of features and solutions that are needed to build a great, and most importantly, impactful product that brings value into people’s lives.
How to improve your Product Thinking skills
Here are some steps to help you start improving your product thinking skills, so you can build meaningful and delightful products:
Identify your target audience and define the problems they’re experiencing.
Ask yourself questions that reveal the core needs of your target audience, and how your product will help fulfill them. Here are some examples of questions to ask:
- Who are we designing for? Who is involved?
- What are the needs?
- What are the assumptions?
- What is the problem?
- Why are we solving this problem? What value does it bring?
- How could it be solved?
- Are there any opportunities?
- How is impact and success measured?
Identify the expected outcomes and how you will measure success.
Always think about the product as a whole. Don’t think about features in silos, think of how they’ll work to make an effective product. How does ‘a’ affect ‘b’ and how does that affect ‘d’?
Product thinking is a holistic approach. You need to think about the user, the business, the market, and all the challenges that might be encountered along the way. To be able to address them you will need to have a shared vision between designers, stakeholders, and engineers.
After doing all of the above and answering those questions, you can start developing some problem statements and defining possible solutions. Once the problem statements and solutions have been defined then create your hypothesis. Don’t forget that every idea that you think of should be able to be tested for your hypothesis.
Okay, so now you know the problem, the context, objectives, and requirements, what’s next? The next step is to unleash your creativity with problem-solving.
If a similar problem has been solved before, you can transform solutions (or at least a part) from one area to another. Or you can combine several existing ideas and solutions and transform them into one great solution! Honestly, there are no limits.
Not every idea is viable, but each idea (even the craziest one) can bring opportunities for finding better solutions. Just keep in mind your users and business objectives.
The last thing I’d like to add is that “practice makes perfect”. Your solutions don’t have to be perfect nor they have to fully satisfy both users and business. But you never know until you try them, test them, learn from them, and iterate. It’s not a failure if you’ve learned something from it.