The shared ride company Via has recently launched its service in Tel-Aviv. Being surrounded by product people, my social network feeds are buzzing with product reviews on the new (and long waited) service.
But wait! Is it a product or a service that they are reviewing?
Honestly, as product people, who are in charge of bringing value to customers, these boundaries between product and service are artificial. In the customer’s mind, they don’t exist.
As a customer, I don’t care if you have a great app but it’s unable to bring me enough value because of things outside of the app. And this is true not only in a service company — it’s true for every product which aims to solve people’s real-life problems.
If you want to bring real value to the customers you need a holistic view of the problem. And for the customers, the problem is almost never limited to the digital world. It is immersed in their lives. And so should be your view of the product.
Where Does Your Product Start and End?
The answer — as always — depends on your perspective. Or in this case — on where you are looking for it.
When you are looking at it bottom-up, the product is clearly tightly related to the technology side of the company.
In Via’s case, for example, technology plays a major part in the solution: the core algorithm that plans the shared ride’s route, the passenger’s app, the driver’s app, and the in-ride display are only a few examples.
In these areas, anyone would agree a product manager is needed.
But I see too many companies who stop there. There are many companies where the Head of Product is only responsible for the digital portion of the product and the technology surrounding it.
To be clear — I’m not saying this is the case in Via, and as far as I can tell from the outside it’s actually not the case. I’m using the company only for the sake of the example, without any insider knowledge.
While owning the technology portion of the product is undoubtedly necessary, it is not sufficient.
When thinking about the above question top-down, you get a different answer. When I first entered the VP of Product role, I was told that my primary responsibility is to bring the company to product-market fit.
In order to get to product-market fit, great innovative technology is not enough. Even a great all-around digital product is not enough.
In order to get to product-market fit, you must have a deep understanding of your customers’ problems, and a similar understanding of what it takes to fully solve it.
I often use fairies (or witches, or genies — whichever works for you) in thinking about the solution. I’m asking myself and my customers the question: if your customers met a fairy that was able to solve the problem, what would they ask her for? It helps to think beyond the tech or feature boundaries and getting to the essence of the value the solution should bring.
Looking at it this way, it’s clear that the technology portion is just the beginning of the solution (or the end, or as it usually happens — the middle).
It’s not Via’s algorithm or app that solves the passengers’ problems. It’s the entire experience, which includes, among other things, the waiting time, the air-conditioning in the car and the communication with the driver during the ride.
As long as we don’t take all of it into account, we won’t be able to fully solve our customers’ problems, deliver the end-to-end value and get to product-market fit.
Delivering End-To-End Value to Your Customers
So how do you take these things into account?
Great question! I’m glad that you asked. I split it to 3 stages.
Stage 1: product management awareness
As a product leader, you must understand what happens outside of your technology product’s boundaries. Understand what your users do — in the real world — before and after they use your product. Understand their mood, their state of mind, and their constraints. Remember what they are trying to accomplish, and take it into consideration when you are defining the functionality of your product.
Here again, this stage is necessary, but not sufficient.
Stage 2: company awareness
As a product leader, thinking about the problem from the holistic perspective mentioned above, you are in a unique position to identify gaps in other areas. As a product leader, it is your responsibility to raise these gaps to the company level and make sure someone in the company addresses them.
For this step, think of yourself as the CEO of the product. If you are the CEO, anything broken should concern you, not just the core part of the product you naturally own.
I see this stage as getting to a minimally viable product.
Stage 3: synergy
This stage builds on top of the previous one. To operate at this level, you need to not only make sure all the parts are working well but also to make sure they are working well together. Own the end-to-end problem as well as the end-to-end solution.
You might want to add measurements of things that don’t naturally belong in your product, but definitely impact the overall solution. Or holistic measurements from the full solution point of view and not just within the product boundaries.
This stage requires not just being the CEO of the product but also being a good CEO who knows how to make the whole bigger than the sum of its parts.
Note: you will not always get this responsibility as a formal one. In some organizations, if you ask for it they will even tell you it’s not your business.
Don’t let it stop you.
Responsibility starts with a mindset, so make it your business — whether you get the credit for it or not.
This is a critical part of your ability to deliver value to your customers. I would like to believe that most companies will appreciate that, eventually.
Which stage are you operating in? What is stopping you from getting to the next one? Share in the comments or via email and let’s get the discussion going.