This Is How 4 IT Groups Adopted a Product Mindset
June 9, 2020

This Is How 4 IT Groups Adopted a Product Mindset

by Brian de Haaff

"Our number one priority? Moving from a project to a product philosophy." This is how a customer started a recent call with our Customer Success team. This type of transformation is undoubtedly a big effort — but it is not unique to any one company or industry. At Aha! we are seeing all types of organizations pushing their teams to embrace a product mentality. The process requires fundamentally changing how you think about delivering value.

A product mindset is a holistic approach to delivering value for customers — prioritizing continuous evolution, data-driven decisions, and customer delight.

So what does it look like in practice? Teams with a product mindset are strategic, agile, and customer-driven. They typically take a long-term view of what they offer, delivering and iterating frequently to improve the overall experience. They focus on outcomes rather than output, and measure success by the value they create for customers and for the business.

Compare this to a traditional project mindset, which is often more tactical and inward-focused. IT projects start with what is possible with new technology versus what problem customers are trying to solve. (Those customers can be internal or external.) Project thinking is about functionality not outcomes. It is about technology not people.

Increasingly, IT groups are working to solve business problems and delivering solutions instead of capabilities.

IT groups are learning to partner with end users and empathize with what those users need. Continuous value exchange in the form of meaningful interactions deepens that relationship. Shifting to a product and customer-driven way of thinking is a massive undertaking when you have been insular and focused on speeds and feeds. It requires upskilling teammates, bolstering knowledge of product management principles, and selecting tools to facilitate new methods of working.

This is why almost every IT group that our Customer Success team at Aha! works with is talking transformation. Based on our experience, here are the biggest areas of challenge we see teams face when adopting a product mindset — with four real-life examples from customers we have helped:

Prioritization

Strategy should inform everything you do. Tying the “what” of your work back to the “why" enables you to make strategic decisions about where to invest resources. Instead of spending months pursuing unrelated projects or waiting for a behemoth spec to be completed, you can focus on the releases and features that deliver value to customers. But you need tools to help you prioritize what is most important.

Our Customer Success team worked with a pharmaceutical company that wanted to break their work down along product-centric lines to get releases out more quickly. So they implemented a prioritization methodology using scorecards to assess the impact of each item in their backlog. Different teams could see a quantitative measure of the value of each item and understand how it aligned with the broader company and product goals.

People

Inertia is powerful. Big companies move especially slow. It can be difficult to convince folks to move away from the status quo (even if it is clearly not working). This is why it is crucial to gain buy-in from the rest of the organization. Executives, portfolio managers, and product managers will need to convince the broader team of the benefits. A huge part of driving this change is increasing people's knowledge of product management principles.

For example, we worked with a major financial services company that came to Aha! after deciding to apply a product mindset. They hired a group of experienced product managers and trained existing employees on the fundamentals of the discipline. Leaders also reorganized and expanded teams to include representatives from business, product, and IT to create de-facto product teams. This encouraged cross-functional collaboration and a more seamless approach to the work.

Process

Any transformation will include significant process changes. First, define and document a product management lifecycle process that all teams can use. Include clear phases, approvals, and status workflows at both the initiative and release level. Then build internal applications or find third-party tools that help everyone work more efficiently. This increases visibility into plans and unites everyone around a shared goal.

We helped an IT portfolio team at a global technology company with process improvements. They wanted to easily create a roadmap and highlight how their work was serving different internal groups. So the team began using Aha! to identify personas across all the IT organizations and link new planned capabilities to them. Bringing end users into their planning process allowed them to report on upcoming workloads for all personas and share how IT work impacted other teams throughout the company.

Progress

Focusing on the costs of technology can feel safe and is always known. No gray area. But just focusing on the investment is no longer enough. As I mentioned above, helping the team and the company achieve its goals is what really matters. IT organizations need new data-driven ways to report on their real impact for the business.

A telecommunications company came to us looking to make this type of transition — from only reporting on costs to delivering what end users actually wanted and to start tracking how it benefited them. Tracking efficiency and revenue-generating metrics was key. After every program and sprint, they asked themselves a few foundational questions. "Is revenue increasing? Is customer acquisition going up? Are costs going down?"

Moving to a product-driven process is a major transformation — everyone must work together to put customer needs first and continually improve delivery.

There is a reason that IT groups at most companies are referring to these monumental shifts as being transformational. It takes considerable time and effort to change how an entire ecosystem functions. If you are at the beginning of this journey, have patience.

Start small. Identify a few forward-leaning people and projects that can be reimagined from a product mindset. Set goals, put customers' needs at the center of your planning, create visual roadmaps, and measure the business outcomes. Show success and then repeat.

How could adopting a product mindset benefit your organization?

The road to building better products starts here.

Brian de Haaff

About Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 roadmap software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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