How to be sure your product can go the extra mile
Written by Jared Johnson
I am a product design strategist by trade, but a recreational runner on the side. Lately, I’ve realized that from intentional planning & preparation for a product launch to considering what direction you’re heading for a jog, there are many parallels between delivering digital products and going for a run. Here are a few things to guide your product team along the path of kicking-off a new product, collaborating continuously, and learning from where you’ve been to inform where you go next.
Preparation is key
Before starting a run, I always spend time preparing my body and mind with stretches and warm-ups. Similarly before you start building a product you take time to prepare.
- Setting up team working agreements are helpful in aligning how your team members will work together. Same goes with the business partners you collaborate with. Identifying what your organization cares about and circulating that information amongst your team will help keep the team heading in the right direction while executing daily tasks. Using tools like the North Star framework can help with this.
- When going out for a jog or building a product, you need to identify the why behind that decision. If an organization is simply looking to make money on a product chances are they won’t stand out from the market competition—or at least not for long. Intentionally thinking about why an organization cares about this product – why it’s worth the time, effort, and energy to create it, and why it matters to those it will serve – will aide in finding valuable motivation that is worth documenting to look back on when the going gets hard.
- Asking these types of questions begin to frame-up some other user-centered artifacts and documentation that can help collect feedback and build empathy for those who will be using the product or service once it’s launched. Creating items like an Empathy Map, Customer Journey/Experience Map, or a Service Blueprint can identify ways user needs (wants, feelings, path to completion, etc) overlap with how the business shows-up and can meet that why for the audience the product is intended to serve.
- In “The Product Mindset” blog series, Jason Scherschligt—Product Coach and fellow SDG consultant—maintains that getting to know users directly is always time well spent. The more we learn about their known and unknown needs, physical or logistical wants, pain points with other parts of the business, or their own process workflows, the more we’re able to build a product on their behalf. By sheer exposure to this information on a consistent basis, we are able to better retain and understand user needs than any acceptance criteria on a JIRA or Azure ticket could ever deliver in and of itself.
Success isn’t how far you go, but the distance you traveled from where you started.
Steve Prefontaine, American long-distance runner
Roll with the punches
Recently I had the pleasure of running a team race that covered a couple hundred miles of terrain. Although we planned and prepared as individuals, we also came together as a team to agree on how we would work together to cover the miles set before us. During the actual event, rain came, winds blew (so did tires on our pace vehicle), but we worked as a team to accomplish far more than we could as individuals.
Similarly, when building a digital product or solution, things invariably change. Whether it’s a collective understanding of our users, the priorities of the business unit funding the product, or simply timeline changes outside of the team’s control, there will inevitably be changes the team will need to adapt to and overcome. To deliver a quality product on-time that is within-budget and meets the needs of its users, communication and clarity is crucial between the business itself, experts of the technology, and the end-users. Having collaborative mechanisms for capturing and sharing insights and prioritized problems to-be solved is critical for the delivery team to know not only where they are headed but how to get there. As an experience design consultant, I can support this process of documenting user needs, creating resources that help translate abstract ideas into visual or digital experiences, as well as working in tandem with the rest of the product and delivery team—and their leadership. Just like that team race, when we are aligned on the direction we are headed in, know the incremental steps to get there, and lean into our individual expertise & knowledge, we are able to go further faster than if we went it alone.
Champion the wins
When we finish our individual runs or larger team events—like that team race—it’s helpful to think and reflect on how things went.
- What decisions did we make that got us here?
- How could we do things differently?
- Where could we improve next time?
Similarly, traditional Agile ceremonies like Retrospectives (to assess how the team worked together during the last Sprint) and Reviews (to show & tell what was delivered the previous Sprint) are helpful ways to look backward to help inform what to do next. Finding ways of assessing performance, identifying success (as your team defines it), and celebrating achievements is essential in the process of creating new products and solutions.
I have learned a lot about myself as a recreational runner, but I was able to cover more ground and grow more as a person anytime I have run as part of a team. Whether you are a team leader, individual contributor, or somewhere in between, I hope you’re able to support the product you’re building with some intentional preparation, rolling with the punches, and championing the wins as they come. That’s how you can be sure your product can go the extra mile.