Ecosystem mindset

This value I learned at Gympass. It was one of the company’s corporate values ​​and, in my opinion, every platform must incorporate this value in its culture. I often came across CEOs and heads of platform products who claimed that they do everything for the customer, that the entire company is customer-centric. However, when I dive deeper in this topic, I end up discovering that the client they were referring to was just one of the actors of their platform and the others were treated only as “necessary evil”.

In the description of the value on the Gympass website it is written:

Ecosystem mindset

We make decisions that create value for our Gympass ecosystem and help us achieve our mission.

The ecosystem mindset example I will describe below is the implementation of the live classes product that Gympass created during the COVID-19 crisis.

Diversifying – and digitizing – a product portfolio

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we diversified – and digitized – our product portfolio in record time. We went from an offline product, access to gyms and studios, to 4 products, 3 of them totally digital, in less than a month:

  • Access to gyms and studios: Access to more than 50,000 gyms and studios in 14 countries;
  • Live classes: for those who like to train in groups or want to relive the feeling of the class with colleagues at the gym;
  • Personal trainers: for those who prefer a more personalized approach and like to exercise in their own time;
  • Gympass Wellness: app package with over 60 apps for those looking for options to improve physical and mental well-being (from nutrition to therapy session).

Below I explain how we did it.

Product Vision

When I joined Gympass in mid-2018, one of the first things I did was to build a product vision. We had a very strong purpose: to defeat inactivity. However, to build a digital product, we need more than a purpose.

Gympass product vision

This vision guided the definition of the Gympass product development organization. As I commented in the chapter Team structure, we set up teams around each of the marketplace participants, in addition to a central team that worked in the payment flow collecting the payment from the companies and their employees, doing all the calculations, and determining the amount to be paid to each gym partner.

When I was building this product vision and discussing it with different people in the organization, it was easy to see many opportunities to expand that marketplace. There are a lot of new service categories that we could add to our marketplace:

Gympass expansion opportunitties

There are 3 types of elements in a market:

  • Supply: goods or services available for consumption.
  • Demand: people or companies that may need goods or services offered by the supplier.
  • Market: where demand meets supply and a transaction occurs.

These three elements are related as follows:

  • Value delivery: the market adds value to demand and supply. The value delivered to the supply is people or companies interested in their goods or services. The value delivered to demand is a varied number of suppliers of goods and services.
  • Payment: To have access to goods and services offered by suppliers, demand pays the market and the market pays for the supply. The market typically retains a fee per transaction. This fee can be fixed or a percentage of the payment.
Dynamics of a marketplace

Given the dynamics above, we can expand a market as follows:

  • Diversification of demand: you can offer goods and services from your marketplace to new segments and geographic regions.
  • Supply diversification: you can offer new goods and services to your demand.
  • Delivery of new value: you can offer new value to your supply and demand.
  • Financial payment management: as the demand payment to the supply passes through the marketplace, you can offer financial services for both demand and supply, such as advance payment and credit, and you can manage the spread.
Marketplace expansion opportunities

However, we had a lot to do with our main product at that time, so we didn’t have enough energy to focus on expanding our marketplace and left the plans in the drawer.

New endeavor

In October 2019, we reached a point where our product development team was well structured and working properly to address our challenges in our core product, so we decided to focus on expanding our marketplace.

We decided to work on an idea called “Gympass end-user partnership hub”. The plan was to partner with wellness apps and provide them to our users.

This new idea had two main hypotheses that we needed to test:

  • Application providers willingness to partner. Application providers, like gyms, are used to the recurring monthly revenue model. Would they accept to be paid per day of use?
  • Our user base willingness to pay. Is our user base interested in paying a monthly fee to access the applications?

To test our first hypothesis, we built a deck with the value proposition that we planned to deliver to the partners and talked to some potential partners. We presented the opportunity to 8 potential partners, of whom 6 showed interest and 4 decided to join our proof of concept. NEOU, a workout app, 8fit, a workout and nutrition app, Tecnonutri, a nutrition app and ZenApp a meditation app.

Okay, our first hypothesis was validated and we needed to validate the second hypothesis, the willingness to pay. Is our user willing to pay to access these applications through Gympass?

To test our second hypothesis, we built a simple form, where we described the product and asked for name, email and company. After the user provided this information, he was directed to a Paypal subscription page, where he had to provide his credit card details to subscribe to the service. The user would receive an email with the activation link for each application. There was no real product, no logged in area, just a form to test interest and an email with links to the applications.

Initially, we call it Gympass W, the W meaning wellness. We added a beta so that everyone could understand that it was not a finished product. Later, we renamed it to Gympass Wellness to make its value proposition clearer.

Our plan was to test this proof of concept with 5 corporate clients in the USA and 5 in Brazil, which would provide us with a potential user base of 15,000 employees. Our expectation was to have around 200 subscribers. We launched internally – eat your own dog food – on March 9, 2020 and had 66 subscribers from our 1,200 employees. Then came COVID-19.

COVID-19

When a company is hit by a crisis, it needs to look at these two perspectives:

  • preserve cash;
  • identify and adapt to changes in customer problems and needs.

Although product managers and product development teams play an important role in the former, their primary role is in the latter.

At Gympass we have 3 different clients and all of them deeply impacted by COVID-19:

  • gyms in many cities have been closed to support with physical distance measures applied to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and, consequently, are losing recurring revenue from users who were not going to the gyms;
  • users, employees of our customers, can no longer go to the gyms and have to stay at home, but they also have to remain active in some way, but their first reaction was to cancel or pause their Gympass subscription, because they didn’t have access to the gyms for a while;
  • corporate customers, whose employees are at home and no longer go to gyms, while HRs are concerned with how to keep these employees engaged and productive.

Gympass Wellness, the first digital product

We were able to adapt our Gympass Wellness pilot in record time to be offered to our entire user base, so that they can remain active, and also take care of their nutrition and their minds during these challenging times. With Gympass Wellness, we were able to address the problems and needs of users and our corporate customers during the crisis.

And here comes the ecosystem mentality. We must always look at all participants in our marketplace and ensure that everyone benefits from using it.

Live Classes, the second digital product

With Gympass Wellness, we were able to meet the needs of our corporate customers and their employees. But what about the gyms? When closed, they were losing revenue. Their customers no longer visited them, so regular gym users were likely to cancel their subscription, while those who used to go to gyms using Gympass did not go to the gym during the crisis, which would cause a loss of revenue for gyms as well. To help partner gyms cope with this very difficult situation, we decided and implemented 2 solutions in record time:

  • We provided the academies with a white-label application so that they can offer it to all their customers, regardless if they were or weren’t employees of Gympass customers, so that the gyms could deliver value to their customers, helping them to stay active at their homes;
  • We provided a platform for gyms to schedule and broadcast live classes to all Gympass users, so they can keep their instructors employed, while providing Gympass users with exclusive content. This platform is called Live Classes.

Personal Trainers, the third digital product

Live Classes provided a 1:N platform, which means that an instructor could provide physical activity guidance to N users. We soon realized that we could create another product in addition to Live Classes. Workout guidance 1:1, which could be made available in Gympass’ higher tier plans. Then we created our third digital product, Personal Trainers.

Summing up

  • Ecosystem mindset means making decisions that create value for all actors on a platform.
  • At Gympass, during the COVID-19 crisis, after offering Gympass Wellness for all its customers and their employees, an important part of the ecosystem was still suffering, the gyms. It was the ecosystem mindset that guided Gympass to create Live Classes product, which allowed gyms to continue operating even though they were behind closed doors.

There, with this chapter we conclude the second part of the book, on Principles. Here we saw my personal leadership principles:

  • People: priority #1, always.
  • Leading is like being a doctor.
  • Leading under pressure.
  • Mentoring is a two-way street.
  • How and when to delegate.

We also saw what corporate culture is, a set of ways shared by a group of people working together on how to solve problems and react to situations. We also saw the 5 values ​​needed to create successful digital products:

  • Don’t waste time looking for culprits, focus on learning.
  • Don’t compare work situations with war, nobody wants to kill anyone.
  • Profit and revenue are a consequence, should not be the main focus.
  • Transparency, the foundation of a high performance team.
  • Diversity, the basis of the best products.

Finally, we saw a set of four values ​​that are in fact the core of the entire digital product development team. These are the values ​​that make up the product culture, which is the set of behaviors of the digital product development teams that produce the best results:

  • Release early and often
  • Focus on the problem
  • Result delivery
  • Ecosystem mindset

In the next chapter we’ll start the third and final section of the book, about tools! \o/

Digital Product Management Books

Do you work with digital products? Do you want to know more about how to manage a digital product to increase its chances of success, solve its user’s problems and achieve the company objectives? Check out my Digital Product Management bundle with my 3 books where I share what I learned during my almost 30 years of experience in creating and managing digital products:

  • Startup Guide: How startups and established companies can create profitable digital products
  • Product Management: How to increase the chances of success of your digital product
  • Leading Product Development: The art and science of managing product teams

Result delivery

Result delivery

In the previous chapter, we saw the difference between a team that solves problems and a team that implements solutions. While a problem-solving team needs to have a deep understanding of each problem it will solve, the people who are affected by it, the context in which it occurs, and the motivation people have to have this problem solved, the solution implementing team focus on implementing what is asked, no matter if what is implemented will bring any results.

The measurement of result delivery for these two types of teams is often quite different. Through the way a team reports its results, we clearly know what kind of team it is. Something like:

Tell me about the results you deliver and I’ll tell you what kind of team you are on!

While the solution implementing team usually measures its delivery of results based on the number of features delivered, the problem-solving team measures its delivery of results based on how well the problems have been solved.

Feature Factory

Solution implementing teams are those “feature factories” that we already mentioned in the previous chapter, that is, whose main metric is the quantity and speed of feature delivery. As this is its main metric, this team is now measured by its deliveries. The team said it was going to deliver that functionality that day, so that’s what the organization expects and that’s what the organization will ask the team.

This situation is not as unusual as you might think. At Locaweb, before implementing OKRs, the product development team was primarily measured by its planning assertiveness. If the team said it was going to deliver X on day Y, that was what was expected of the team, with no concern whether X was the right thing to do and whether it was actually going to bring results for the company or customers. By implementing OKRs, we managed to make the team increasingly focused on understanding and solving problems.

When I joined Lopes, I found something very similar. A portal team, a CRM team, and an app team, all of them with predefined deliveries planned up to 6 months ahead, because that was what was agreed with the company’s management. Lopes had even hired two consulting companies that, when presenting their results report, showed the number of features delivered as their main result, because that was what was demanded of them, delivery of features.

It is important to note that a situation like this does not happen solely because of the product development team. It is also the responsibility of the people who are making the demands. While the product development team must always ask what problem they are trying to solve with that demand, the people who make the demands must always contextualize these demands bringing the problem that motivated the demand.

Focus on the result

After my first 30 days at Lopes, I started working with the team to define the OKRs for the next quarter, which even motivated HR to also make its planning based on OKRs. These OKRs were then presented to the entire leadership of the company. It was the way I found to bring about a change in culture and mentality both in the product development team and in the entire company.

Most of the OKRs we defined were focused on business results. Increase in sales, increase in the conversion rate, and so on. That’s what matters to the business. Features are a means to get to an end, they are not an end in themselves, even in 100% digital companies, such as Conta Azul and Locaweb, digital products are a means to the end. Locaweb even makes this very explicit in its mission to “make businesses born and prosper through technology”, while Conta Azul wants to “boost the success of small entrepreneurs by giving small businesses more organization, control and time through technology.” Note that in both companies the technology and, consequently, the digital product is a means to an end. Both achieve their mission “through technology”.

Summing up

  • Another fundamental value for any product development team is the focus on delivering results.
  • Care must be taken when defining the result. Delivering features is not a result. All features are a means that serves an end, the achievement of a business objective.
  • Even companies that are 100% digital companies, whose digital products and technology are the company’s core, need to focus on business objectives.

Digital Product Management Books

Do you work with digital products? Do you want to know more about how to manage a digital product to increase its chances of success, solve its user’s problems and achieve the company objectives? Check out my Digital Product Management bundle with my 3 books where I share what I learned during my almost 30 years of experience in creating and managing digital products:

  • Startup Guide: How startups and established companies can create profitable digital products
  • Product Management: How to increase the chances of success of your digital product
  • Leading Product Development: The art and science of managing product teams

In the next chapter, we’ll look at the value of ecosystem mentality.

New book: Digital products leadership

I used the year-end low workload to finish translating my book “Digital products leadership: The science and art of managing product teams” into English. Enjoy! \o/

Here’s a special launch discount coupon:

https://leanpub.com/leadingproductdevelopment/c/launch

And happy 2021, full of amazing results brought to you by the products you manage!

Focus on the problem

It is human nature to solve problems. Whenever we hear about problems, we go into solution mode almost immediately: we start looking for solutions to the problem. However, if we are able to get a better understanding of the context in which the problem occurs and the motivation to solve it before jumping into solution mode, there are more chances of finding solutions that are simpler and easier to implement.

It is common to see other areas in the organization asking the product development team to implement feature A or B because we need it to close a deal or to not lose that big customer. A common example I have heard for sometime back in 2019 was “we need to implement Apple Pay and Google Pay as a new payment method”. The issue is that, talking about solutions, we lose focus on the problem that originated that solution.

What is the problem?

To help people focus on the problem, always ask “What is the problem?” When a new feature request arrives for the product development team, we must thank the requester and then ask about the problem that generated the request. Each member of the product development team must have this behavior whenever a request for a new feature is received.

By putting this into practice, requests will soon come with not only a solution but also a lot of information about the problem. It is interesting to see this cultural change, but it requires discipline from members of the product development team to always ask about the problem. And when I mention the members of the product development team, I’m referring to everyone, not just product managers, but also designers and product engineers.

Problem vs. solution mindset

The main advantage of focusing on better understanding the problem is that the more time we invest in it, the easier it will be to find a solution and there are good chances that this solution will be simpler and faster to implement than the first solution we thought of.

Here is a great quote from Albert Einstein:

“If I had an hour to solve a problem, I would spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.”

Einstein believes that the quality of the solution you generate is in direct proportion to your ability to identify and understand the problem you are trying to solve.

Let me tell you a little story to illustrate this. During the space race, scientists were faced with the problem of writing in space where there was no gravity to make the ink fall into a ballpoint pen. The Americans started their R&D efforts and after some time and a few million dollars, they built a pen with a small engine that pumps ink onto paper, even without gravity. Meanwhile, the Russians decided to use pencils.

Pen that writes in weightless environments

This story shows a good example of how jumping straight to the solution can make us spend unnecessary time and money to come up with incomplete or exaggerated solutions. It is a cultural issue, that is, a behavior that we can and must change. And the first step in changing a behavior is to recognize when it happens. When a member of the product development team receives a request to implement something, he must ask the person who brought the request what is the problem that this “something” should solve and why it needs to be solved.

Here are some examples of the companies I worked for.

At Locaweb, a web hosting provider in Brazil, hosting and e-mail services may stop working due to external factors such as the domain that is associated with hosting and e-mail not being renewed.

First solution: Registro.br, the Brazilian registrar of .br domains launched an API to allow Locaweb to charge the customer’s domain on behalf of Registro.br. At first, the idea seemed good, as Locaweb charging the domain seemed to be the easiest way to ensure that the customer knows that they have to pay for the domain registration to keep hosting and email services working properly. However, when we analyzed further, we saw that this solution could cause some problems. The customer would be charged twice for the same domain registration because Registro.br would continue to charge the domain. What happens if the customer pays both bills? What if he only pays for Registro.br? What if he only pays Locaweb? In addition, implementing a new type of billing in which we would charge for a third party service was something new for the Locaweb team. New processes would have to be carefully designed.

Implemented solution: we started to wonder if there would be simpler ways to solve the problem of helping our client not to forget that he has to pay for the domain registration at Registro.br. As it would be possible to charge for Registro.br services, it was possible to access information about the domain about to expire. We decided to design a simpler solution: implement a communication sequence with the client warning him of the importance of paying Registro.br to ensure that the email and hosting services continue to function normally. This is a much simpler solution than implementing a double billing process. If Registro.br provides us with the billing URL, we can send the information from this link to the customer and the chances of solving the problem will increase even more. And a communication sequence is much simpler and faster to implement than a duplicate billing process.

At Conta Azul, a SaaS ERP for MSBs (micro and small businesses), we used accountants as one of our distribution channels and we wanted to increase sales through accountants.

First solution: batch purchases, where accountants would acquire a fixed number of Conta Azul licenses to resell to their customers. A batch purchase management system would take about 3 months to implement, as it should allow accountants to purchase Conta Azul licenses in bulk, but it should only start charging the accountant’s customer when that customer actually activates the license.

Implemented solution: accountants didn’t care about batch purchases. What they wanted was to give a discount to their customers so that they could subscribe to Conta Azul with this exclusive discount provided by their relationship with us. The cost to implement this was zero, as the system already had a discount management feature.

At Gympass, a fitness partner who was joining our network asked us to present his waiver to all users who checked in to their facilities.

First solution: change our app to ask users who go to this fitness partner to read their waiver on our app and click a checkbox stating that they have read and agreed.

Implemented solution: no changes to our app. We use a customizable text field when configuring a gym in our system that is typically presented to users who will check in at that gym to present the following text: “By checking in, you agree to the terms and conditions located at http://fitnesspartner.com/waiver”.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that everyone brings solutions whenever we want to discuss something to be done by the product development team. The more solution ideas we have, the better. However, we need to educate ourselves to have a deeper understanding of the problem behind this solution, so that we have a chance to find simpler and faster solutions to implement. And it is ultimately the job of the product manager and all the members of the product development team to ask what the problem is and why we need to solve it.

Projects vs. problems

The New Year is a time for retrospective and planning. What is normally done every quarter by most product development teams is done more intensively at the turn of the year, in conjunction with other areas of the company. It is the annual planning process, which usually comes with the budgeting process. What will we do in this new year that is coming? What are the main projects that we will work on throughout the year?

Even though planning is super important to be clear about which projects are priorities for the new year, this list of projects can make you lose sight of a very important aspect of planning, the “why”.

It is not uncommon to see new year planning for a product development team, and even for the entire company, as a list of projects. To help you see your list of projects at a different perspective, I recommend you add 2 columns:

  • one to describe what problems you are trying to solve in each project;
  • and another to describe who you’re trying to solve this problem for.

I have already discussed the issues of having a problem-oriented mindset versus a solution-oriented mindset, but when it comes to New Year planning, that problem is even more evident. The benefits of being clear about the problems you want to solve and for whom you plan to solve them are:

  • Ensuring that problems are aligned with the company’s vision and strategy: When we focus on projects, it is easy to lose sight of the problems we are trying to solve, for whom we plan to solve, and if these are the problems we really need to solve.
  • Define which problems are most important to solve: prioritize projects without knowing which problems these projects solve, and for whom, it can make priorities unaligned with what is really important for the company. However, to be more effective in bringing the desired result, we must prioritize the problems to be solved and ensure that the prioritization is aligned with the company’s vision and strategy.
  • Solve more than one problem with the same project: Sometimes you may find that you are trying to solve more than one problem with a project, and this may not be a problem. But you need to know that. Perhaps you can have simpler solutions if you address each problem separately. Perhaps not all are worth resolving at this point.
  • Check if the projects are the best solutions: when we change the focus of the projects to the problems and we have clear visibility of the priority of the problems, it is easier to check if the projects listed are the best solution for the problem in question. Sometimes, we can find solutions that are easier to implement when we shift our focus to understanding problems.

Then take your list of projects and create these two columns, problems to be solved in each project and for whom the problems will be solved. This will help you to focus on the most important things for this new year.

Problem solving teams vs. solution implementing teams

Marty Cagan, a well-known reference in the digital products community, wrote an interesting article some time ago about product teams x feature teams, where he explains the difference between three types of teams, delivery teams, feature teams, and product teams. It defines each type of team as follows:

  • Delivery teams are not multifunctional (basically just developers plus a product owner who manages the backlog), are not focused on the result (people are all oriented towards delivering features) and have no autonomy (they are there to encode and deliver).
  • Feature teams are usually multifunctional (they have at least one designer and a product manager), but are still concerned with the production and delivery of features.
  • Product teams are multifunctional, focused and evaluated by the result, and have the autonomy to present solutions that work.

He explains that the best results for the organization that owns the product and for the users of that product come from the teams he calls product teams. He has used the word empowered a lot to describe these teams.

Any digital product exists for two main purposes:

  • Help the company that owns the digital product to achieve its goals.
  • Solve problems and meet the needs of its users.

Therefore, any digital product and its functionalities are solutions to problems of the company that owns the product and solutions to solve the user’s problems and meet their needs.

In this digital product context, when I say that spending more time understanding the problem produces the best solutions, I mean that we are able to deliver the best product and features as quickly as possible to solve the problem with good software quality and a good user experience.

solve problems vs. implement solutions

What Marty describes as delivery teams and feature teams are teams of solution implementers. These teams work on implementing a solution conceived by someone else. And that other person is usually someone from the so-called “business area” who can be someone from sales, marketing, customer success, customer support, finance, operations, a director, a vice president, or a founder. In such a team, the product manager mainly manages the backlog and helps the team to deliver the requested solution, the product designer focuses mainly on designing a pleasant interface, and engineers have to code and deploy the requested solution. The solution implementation teams do as they are asked to do, with little or no commitment to the quality of the solution, or even if the solution implemented really solves the problem. They may also be called a “feature factory”. Its performance is measured by the amount of functionality that the team produces.

On the other hand, what Marty describes as empowered product teams are problem-solving teams. These teams work to deeply understand the causes of the problem, the context, and the motivation that people have to solve it. In doing so, they are able to implement the best solution for the problem at hand.

There are three main reasons why problem solving teams are more effective than solution implementing teams:

  • Digital product knowledge: There is no one better than team members to find the best digital product solution to a problem. A solution delivered as quickly as possible, with good software quality and good user experience. This is because a team of problem solvers is a multifunctional team made up of engineers who understand the technology available, product designers, who have a deep understanding of users, their pains and needs, and product managers, who have a good understanding of the business context of the problem to be solved.
  • Two heads are better than one: this old saying means that it is easier for two people to help each other to solve a problem than for one person to solve a problem alone. A team of problem solvers does not rule out any suggestions for solutions from “business areas”. In fact, these solution suggestions are very useful in helping the team to better understand the problem, but they should be considered suggestions. A team of problem solvers first understands the problem and then looks at the solution options.
  • Commitment: An additional side effect of a problem-solving team is that members of that team are deeply committed to the successful implementation of the solution since they are deeply involved in the process of finding the solution.

Creation of problem solving teams

Now that I have explained why problem-solving teams are the best type of digital product team a company can have, I will explain how to build problem-solving teams. There are three aspects that need to be considered:

  • Environment: It is essential that the entire organization understands the power of having problem-solving digital product teams. The speed and quality of the solutions delivered by a digital product team that always starts to solve problems from a deep understanding of the problem are much better than the solutions delivered by teams of solution implementers. Consequently, business results will be better and faster. It is the role and responsibility of the product head to help the organization understand this.
  • What is the problem: A very effective way to focus the entire organization away from the solution mindset and closer to the problem mindset is to constantly ask “What problem are we trying to solve?” and “Why is it important to solve this problem?”. This will help people across the organization to change their perspective and, consequently, realize the importance of a deep understanding of the problem before implementing a solution. This is a behavior change that the entire digital product development team can help your organization make. Whenever someone asks the product team to implement something, ask “What problem are we trying to solve?”
  • Trust: This is a critical aspect of building successful problem-solver teams. Usually people in the “business area” believe they have a better understanding of the business than those of the product team. This behavior is even more visible when the digital product team is new to the organization. How can a new person in the organization understand more about the business than someone who has been with the company for years? She probably cannot, especially if she comes from a different market. However, those who are part of the digital product team usually have a lot of experience in building digital products, probably more experience than anyone else in the organization. Therefore, it is essential that the “business area” educate the digital product team about the business aspects of the organization. This search for education is the role and responsibility of product managers, who must learn from the “business area” and educate product designers and engineers about the business. A practical way to accelerate this learning is to bring people from the “business area” to the discussion sessions on the problem. This is how the product team gains the trust of the other areas of the organization.

I believe that the benefits of having digital product teams versus solution implementers teams are clear. The entire organization needs to understand the difference in order to push for more and more problem-solving teams. The head of product has this as one of her greatest responsibilities, helping to build the environment and the trust needed for the success of problem-solving teams.

The top-down trap

When I talk about the differences between problem solving teams vs solution implementing teams, I usually hear comments like “We want to be a problem solving team, but in my company all solutions are top-down and the only thing we can do is implement them “.

These situations worsen when a crisis arises. The most recent crisis that many companies are experiencing is the COVID-19 crisis. In an eagerness to solve problems as quickly as possible, company leaders ask teams to implement this or that solution quickly, very quickly.

The trap

Let me now approach the elephant in the room, the top-down decision-making environment. This has a huge impact on any team in this type of environment. Without being part of the decision about the solution, the people who implement the solution will end up discouraged and demotivated.

Why am I calling it a top-down trap? Because many of the decision-making environments perceived as top-down are what I just wrote, a perception.

Let’s use the main characteristic that every product manager should have, empathy. The ability of someone to put themselves in someone else’s shoes to understand their aspirations, motivations, needs, and problems. People I had the opportunity to talk to about the essential characteristics of a product manager know how important I consider empathy to be a critical trait for successful PMs.

Here are 2 tips to help product team members empathize with so-called top-down decision-makers and escape the top-down trap:

  • Understanding the situation: Put yourself in the place of the solution implementation requester. People solve problems, it is their nature, and whenever they encounter a problem, they jump into solution mode and try to find and implement solutions as quickly as possible. Under greater pressure, such as the COVID-19 crisis, the desire to find and implement solutions is exacerbated. In most cases, people do not want to be top-down decision-makers, they simply have a need to solve the problem as quickly as possible.
  • Changing the status quo: ask questions about the solution implementation request. What problem are we solving? For whom? Why is it important to solve this problem? Why now? Why do we need to deliver something fast, even while compromising quality? If you are asked the reason for so many questions, explain that you are trying to better understand the problem to see if there are other cheaper and faster to implement solutions.

These tips will help everyone on the product team make the move to a more collaborative decision-making process.

Most of the time, people understand the benefits of a collaborative decision-making process. Even under pressure, collaborative solutions will produce better results. Solutions designed in a collaborative process are usually cheaper and faster to implement because more people have had a chance to discuss solution options and the team that will implement the selected solution will be truly committed to your success.

To build, maintain and improve problem solving teams and avoid turning them into solution implementation teams, especially when under greater pressure, it is essential to avoid the top-down trap.

Heads of product have the role and responsibility to promote these behavioral changes to help build a more collaborative and, consequently, more effective decision-making process.

Summing up

  • A very important step in creating a good solution is understanding the problem. When we hear about a problem, we immediately start thinking about solutions. However, the more time we spend learning about the problem, the easier it will be to find a solution, and chances are good that this solution will be simpler and faster to implement than the first solution we thought of.
  • If you have a list of projects to do, create two more columns in that list, one for problems to be solved by each project and another for whom the problems will be solved. This will help you to focus on the problems to be solved, not the projects, which are the solution.
  • Solution implementation teams are teams working on implementing a solution designed by someone else. Problem-solving teams are teams that work to deeply understand the causes of the problem, the context, and the motivation that people have to solve it. In doing so, they are able to implement the best solution for the problem at hand.
  • The top-down trap is the perception of the decision-making process being made by the leaders of the company, with no opportunity for the rest of the employees to participate. This perception is exacerbated when a company faces increasing pressure, such as the COVID-19 crisis.
  • People are solution-oriented, and the greater the pressure, the faster people want solutions to be implemented.
  • To help deal with this situation, use empathy to understand the requestor’s view of implementing the solution and ask him why it is necessary to implement the requested solution.
  • Product heads have the role and responsibility to promote these behavioral changes to help build a more collaborative decision-making process.

In the next chapter, we will understand more about the focus on delivering results.

Digital Product Management Books

Do you work with digital products? Do you want to know more about how to manage a digital product to increase its chances of success? Check out my Digital Product Management bundle with my 3 books where I share what I learned during my almost 30 years of experience in creating and managing digital products:

  • Startup Guide: How startups and established companies can create profitable digital products
  • Product Management: How to increase the chances of success of your digital product
  • Leading Product Development: The art and science of managing product teams

Release early and often

In the previous chapters we saw my personal leadership principles:

We also saw what corporate culture is, a set of ways to solve problems and react to the situation shared by a group of people working together. And we saw the 5 values ​​needed to create successful digital products:

Product culture

It turns out that these values ​​are necessary, but not sufficient. There is a set of four values ​​that are in fact the core of the entire digital product development team. These are the values ​​that make up the product culture, which is nothing more than the set of behaviors of the digital product development teams that produce the best results. The four values, which will be the subject of this and the following chapters, are:

  • Release early and often
  • Focus on the problem
  • Result delivery
  • Ecosystem mindset

Let’s start with the first one: Early and frequent launch.

The sooner we present the product to our users, the better, as we can receive feedback from real users who will be able to use the product in their own context. There are 3 reasons that justify this need to launch your product or functionality as soon as possible and frequently.

Moment of truth

It doesn’t matter how much research, interviews, and prototypes you do, the moment of truth, that is, the moment when you will know if your product is, in fact, the solution to a problem of a group of people, is when the product is in your customers’ hands, in the context where they need the product.

The longer it takes you to get your product out on the street, the longer it will take to learn from real people if you are on the right track. And if that’s not enough, the more steps you will be taking in the wrong direction.

You will only know if the product you made really solves some people’s problems if they use it. The longer it takes for this to happen, the longer it will take to know whether or not it is the solution to the problem.

And if not, what do you do? Fix, adjust, change! The sooner you know that what you are developing is not on the right track, the better because the less time, energy, and money you will waste going the wrong direction.

Too many features

There is a limit of features that the user can understand. When we add too many features, instead of creating a solution to the customer’s problem, we end up creating a new problem for the customer.

Kathy Sierra, recognized programming and user experience instructor, has created a feature chart that illustrates in a clear and fun way how user satisfaction decreases as we increase the amount of functionality in a product.

Featuritis
User satisfaction curve as a function of the amount of functionality

Return on investment

The longer your product takes to have users and, consequently, customers who will at some point pay for your product, the more you will have to invest out of your own pocket. Below is a typical graph of a product’s return on investment (ROI).

During the period that you are building the product and don’t release it to users, all you will have is cost. That is, you will be in the investment part of the curve. This only changes when you start earning revenue and it is greater than your monthly costs. Then you enter the area described below as monthly profitability. Only after a few months in this area will you have a return on your investment. See how long the road is.

Return on investment

Now take a look in the graph below, how a 3-month delay in obtaining revenue can delay the return on investment by 6 months. Are these 3 months of delay in earning revenue worth it? What will you do in those 3 months really make up for 6 months of delayed return on investment?

Postponed return on investment

On the other hand, see what you get if you can accelerate the development of your product and launch it 3 months ahead of schedule. You get 6 months of return on investment! And the explanation for this is not just because you get to the revenue early, it’s because you spent less to be able to launch the product faster. See the chart below.

Antecipated return on investment

If you are not ashamed of your first version, you took too long to launch

LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman once said that:

“If you are not ashamed of the first version of your product, you took too long to launch”.

To illustrate this phrase, which in a way summarizes the value of release early and often, I decided to take screenshots of the first version of some well-known services.

Facebook 2005
Facebook 2005
Google 1998
Linkedin 2005
Twitter 2006
Locaweb 2002
Conta Azul 2011
Agil ERP (Conta Azul) 2008
Gympass 2014
Lopes 1998

MMF – Minimal Marketable Feature

Minimal Marketable Feature or MMF comes from a 2003 book called Software by Numbers, by Mark Denne and Dr. Jane Cleland-Huang. In this book, they introduce the concept of:

Incremental Funding Methodology (IFM), an ROI-based approach (Return on Investment) for software development in which the software is developed and delivered in carefully prioritized blocks of functionality valued by the customer. These blocks are known as Minimum Marketable Features – MMFs.

It is a concept prior to that of MVP, which has the advantage of this mentality of implementing the minimum necessary for each feature of the product. The basic difference between MVP and MMF is that, while MVP talks about a minimum viable product, that is, it needs a complete product, even if minimal, in order to be presented to possible users, MMF brings the minimal concept down to the level of each feature.

To illustrate MMF, they used a very simple example: imagine that you have to build an internet banking system on the web. There are many features and it can take many months or even years for this product to be delivered with all “mandatory” minimal set of features. When thinking in terms of MMF, we should look at those “mandatory” features and find out if we can launch them independently, that is, if a particular feature, if launched independently, would bring some value to the customer. In an internet banking system, we could choose to release it only with an account statement and no other resources. This would be a very simple internet banking system, but if launched as soon as it is ready, and not after some other features are also ready, it will bring value to the customer sooner. And whenever you deliver value to the customer, you also deliver value to your company. In addition to the satisfied customer, in this example you have probably reduced the cost that your company has in serving these customers, because if users do not obtain their account statements over the internet, they will certainly use another way of obtaining this information and probably this other way is not as economical as internet access, like going to an agency or an ATM.

Minimum marketable functionality (MMF) is minimal, because if it were smaller it would not be marketable. And an MMF is marketable because, when launched as part of a product, people use (or buy) the functionality.

The next time you are planning a new product or feature set for an existing product, try to think in terms of MMF. It can bring a lot of value to you, your customers and your company.

Summing up

  • There is a set of four values ​​that are in fact the core of every digital product development team. These are the values ​​that make up the product culture, which is nothing more than the set of behaviors of the digital product development teams that produce the best results.
  • The three reasons for you to launch your product soon are that (i) this is the moment of truth, (ii) so you avoid the excess of features and (iii) accelerate the return of the investment.
  • If you are not ashamed of your first version, it took too long to launch.
  • Minimal Marketable Feature or MMF is a concept prior to that of MVP, which has the advantage of bringing this mentality of implementing the minimum necessary for each product functionality.

In the next chapter we will see the importance of focusing on understanding the problem to be solved before thinking about solutions.

Missing something?

So, did you miss something in this chapter? What else would you like me to cover?

Digital Product Management Books

Do you work with digital products? Do you want to know more about how to manage a digital product to increase its chances of success? Check out my Digital Product Management bundle with my 3 books where I share what I learned during my almost 30 years of experience in creating and managing digital products:

  • Startup Guide: How startups and established companies can create profitable digital products
  • Product Management: How to increase the chances of success of your digital product
  • Leading Product Development: The art and science of leading digital products

Diversity, the basis of the best products

I have seen demonstrations of diversity with increasing frequency. I’m not much into watching TV, but one day in 2017 I ended up watching a little bit of TV Globo, the biggest Brazilian TV network. I watched the end of Jornal Nacional and the beginning of the soap opera. In Jornal Nacional, I saw a report about PUC in São Paulo opening unisex bathrooms – remembering that PUC is Pontifical Catholic University, a university linked to the Catholic religion. Then, in the soap opera, a character was telling her parents and family that she was born in the wrong body, that he was a man who had been born in a woman’s body, that is, that he was transgender. Then, during the break, came the Globo campaign entitled “Everything starts with respect” about respecting gender identity.

That’s really good! Accepting and respecting differences is the basis for evolving as a society and building an ever better future for us, for our children and for all of humanity.

When respect and the ability to accept diversity are lacking, very bad situations can happen, for example, of parents rejecting their own child. I was very impressed when I read the report by Daniela Andrade, a senior consultant at ThoughtWorks, where she says:

“As I was expelled from my parents’ house, for being transsexual – and here I say that the first great violence that we suffer is at home – for many years I have no relatives to count on in times of need, everyone turned their backs on me.”

How is it possible for a parent to reject his own daughter? I am a father and I know how the love of a parent is something very intense, capable of overcoming any problem so that we can always help and support our children. I was talking the other day with my wife about this story and about the difficulty people have in accepting differences, to the point of rejecting their own children. It was at that moment that my wife said a phrase that marked me. She said that ultimately, everyone is different. Transgender, cisgender, heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, asexual, black, white, yellow, young, adult, middle age, senior citizen, brazilian, canadian, french, vietnamese, fluminense, paulista, carioca, belo-horizontino, runner, cyclist, swimmer, engineer, architect, lawyer, who likes pop, rock, jazz, classical and so on. Even identical twins are different.

If all people are different, accepting and respecting differences is not only desirable, it is necessary and mandatory so that we can live in a society in a more harmonious and sustainable way. These are values ​​that must be taught to all people from birth.

And what does diversity have to do with digital product management?

In addition to the importance of accepting and respecting differences to help create a more harmonious and sustainable society, diversity will help create better digital products for two reasons:

  • Diversity brings new points of view. Having a more diverse product development team brings new points of view and new ways of thinking, which will help to develop a better product. It is no wonder that the product development team is comprised of software engineers, user experience designers, and product managers. Each person has different views of what a good product is and these differences, when worked well by the team, are what help to create a better product.
  • Just as the group of customers using your software is diverse, so should your team. Usually, software product development teams are mostly male, but the population of any country is more diverse. Both at Conta Azul and Locaweb, more than 88% of the team was composed of men. But these teams make products that will be used by the Brazilian population, which is made up of 48.2% men and 51.8% women according to IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics). It is also worth remembering that the division between “men” and “women” is simplistic and that gender diversity is non-binary, that is, there are other gender identities besides female and male.

That is why it is so important to reflect and talk about diversity. Only then you will be able to think about issues so essential to the success of your product. How to improve the diversity of your product development team? How to foster discussions that bring different points of view and help to see your product and the problems it helps solve from new angles?

In all the teams that I led, I brought this topic to be discussed. Together we thought about how we could improve this diversity. An interesting example of the result of this work over 12 months was what we were able to do at Gympass, with an increase of 5 percentage points.

Gympass product development team in September 2018
Gympass product development team in August 2019
Evolution of the diversity of the Gympass product development team

At Conta Azul, we achieved something similar between 2016 and 2018 with an increase of 6.1 percentage points.

Conta Azul’s product development team in 2016
Conta Azul’s product development team in 2018
Evolution of the diversity of the product development team of Conta Azul

Diversity of perspectives

The product development team is comprised of software engineers, user experience designers and product managers. Each has a different perspective of what a good product is and these differences are what help to create a better product, when the differences are well resolved by the team.

Some time ago, I heard the following phrase:

The fact that two people disagree does not necessarily mean that one of them is wrong.

It really got me thinking about the diversity of perspectives. This has to do with empathy, one of the 7 essential characteristics of a product manager. Empathy is someone’s ability to step in someone else’s shoes to understand their aspirations, motivations, needs, and problems. What is her context? How does she see and hear things? What makes her understand things from this perspective?

There is a great tool called the empathy map, which aims to help teams gain a deeper view of their customers.

Empathy map (adapted from this source)

People have different backgrounds, different stories, different knowledge. We must recognize and respect these differences and understand that sometimes we will not reach an agreement, but that’s okay, as long as we respect each other’s perspective. Perhaps we can create a third perspective from the two different ones. Perhaps we can decide to try one, or both, and see and compare the results.

As long as there is respect and empathy, diversity brings many good results for everyone.

Summing up

  • There are two main reasons that motivate the construction of different digital product development teams. The first is that diversity brings new points of view. The second reason is that just as the group of customers using your product is diverse, so should your product development team.
  • People have different backgrounds, different stories, different knowledge. We must recognize and respect these differences and understand that sometimes we will not reach an agreement, but that’s okay, as long as we respect each other’s perspective.
  • It is in our hands to make the digital product development environment more inclusive. The way for this to happen is to bring up the topic and make it part of the conversations.

With this chapter, we finish to see what culture is and what, in my opinion, are the 5 main values ​​that the whole company must have to develop successful products:

  • Don’t waste time looking for culprits, focus on learning.
  • Don’t compare work situations with war, nobody wants to kill anyone.
  • Profit and revenue are a consequence, should not be the main focus.
  • Transparency, the foundation of a high-performance team.
  • Diversity, the basis of the best products.

In the next chapters, we will see four additional values ​​that, based on my experience, are the heart of digital product culture.

Missing something?

So, did you miss something in this chapter? What else would you like me to cover?

Digital Product Management Books

Do you work with digital products? Do you want to know more about how to manage a digital product to increase its chances of success? Check out my Digital Product Management bundle with my 3 books where I share what I learned during my almost 30 years of experience in creating and managing digital products:

  • Startup Guide: How startups and established companies can create profitable digital products
  • Product Management: How to increase the chances of success of your digital product
  • Leading Product Development: The art and science of leading digital products

How and when to delegate

Delegating is the act of entrusting someone with a task and/or responsibility, usually with less seniority than the person who is delegating. Leadership is an ongoing act of delegating tasks and responsibilities. It seems like a straightforward activity, but it has several important aspects to consider to increase the chances of success.

Jurgen Appelo, author of the aforementioned book Management 3.0: Leading Agile Developers, Developing Agile Leaders, comments that delegating is not a binary decision to which you delegate or do not delegate. There are other levels of delegation between these two extremes and each of these other levels should be used depending on the context, that is, the problem to be solved and who will be working on the problem. According to him, there are seven levels:

  • Say: you make decisions and announce them to your team. In fact, this is not delegation. (=
  • Sell: you make decisions, but try to “sell” your idea to your team.
  • Consult: you invite your team to comment and consider their contributions.
  • Agree: you invite your team to participate in a discussion and reach a consensus as a group. Your voice is just like the others.
  • Advise: you try to influence your team by giving them advice, but let them decide what to do with your opinion.
  • Ask: you let the team decide. And then you ask about their motivations or ask them to actively keep you informed.
  • Delegate: you leave it entirely to the team to handle the matter, and you don’t even need to know what decisions they make.

I confess that in my day to day I don’t think about what kind of delegation I’m doing in each situation, it’s something more intuitive, but it’s good to be aware of and to remember these different levels of delegation. I have the impression that between “saying” and “delegating” there are more than 5 options. We navigate between these options fluidly according to the seniority of the team, the specific experience of the team with the topic in question, and how much this topic implies in any kind of risks.

The concept of delegation goes hand in hand with the concept of micromanagement:

Micromanagement

Micromanagement is the management style in which the manager closely observes or controls the work of his subordinates or employees. Micromanagement generally has a negative connotation.

Source: Wikipedia

Micromanagement shows the leader’s inability to delegate. There are usually two reasons for a leader to micromanage his team:

  • Insecurity: the leader is insecure, concerned with doing everything right, so he wants to follow every detail of everything that is being done. In some (many) cases, this leader will do the work of a person on your team to ensure that it is being done “the right way”. This type of leader often creates many rules and procedures to ensure that things are being done the way he takes for granted.
  • Personality: It is the leader’s personality to enjoy seeing people suffering under pressure. This leader tends to be abusive on a daily basis with the team. He won’t do anyone’s job, but he will follow all the details closely to see them uncomfortable under this constant scrutiny.

The most common is to find leaders with insecurity, usually people who are leading for the first time, but who eventually end up understanding their role and exercising delegation. Leaders who micromanage because of their personality are rare and unlikely to change.

People on a team that is being micromanaged tend to quickly disengage. Once they are doing things the manager’s way, they do not perceive themselves as responsible for the result obtained, whether the result is good or bad. If the result is good, the leader will probably attribute success to his way of doing things. If it goes wrong, the person who did the job will not feel responsible, as he “just followed orders”.

Ways to do

One of the biggest barriers to delegation is the leader’s certainty that his way of doing things is the right one. When he was an individual contributor he did things that way and the result came. So much so that he was promoted to manager for doing things that way. So, what he understands that he has to do as a manager is to make sure that all the people on his team do things the way he does. At that moment, this leader’s need for micromanagement appears.

A leader must always focus on the expected result. The way in which this result is achieved is less important than obtaining the result. If a person on your team does things differently than you usually do, it does not mean that the way they do it is wrong (of course, as long as it is not an illicit way and does not harm people). It’s just a different way of doing things. Perhaps even more efficiently. The leader needs to respect this diversity of ways of doing things and only present his way of doing it when he realizes that the person is not managing to evolve alone.

Learning opportunity

Every time we delegate something for someone to do, if it is the first time that person is doing it, it will be a learning opportunity. For this reason, the person is very likely to make some mistakes, and here comes one of the most difficult trade-offs of a leader. How much error is acceptable? This depends a lot on each situation, it is up to the leader to understand if the mistakes are acceptable to allow learning, or if given the criticality of the work to be done, mistakes must be minimized. We must always create an environment conducive to learning from mistakes, as this will be the most effective learning. That’s what I try to do with the teams I lead.

Summing up

  • *Delegating is the act of entrusting someone with a task and/or responsibility. Leadership is an ongoing act of delegating tasks and responsibilities.
  • Between not delegating and delegating there are several levels of delegation that are used according to the context, that is, the problem to be solved and who will be working on the problem.
  • The concept of delegation goes hand in hand with the concept of micromanagement, a management style in which the manager closely observes or controls the work of his subordinates or employees.
  • There are different ways of doing things to achieve the same result. New leaders often think that only their way of doing things is right.
  • Mistakes are incredible learning opportunities. Hence the importance of tolerating mistakes at work.

Okay, with this chapter we conclude the part about my personal principles of leadership (people: priority # 1 – always, leading is like being a doctor, leading under pressure, mentoring is a two-way street, and how and when to delegate). In the next chapters, we will see what culture is and what values ​​I believe are mandatory to create successful digital products.

Missing something?

So, did you miss something in this chapter? What else would you like me to cover?

Digital Product Management Books

Do you work with digital products? Do you want to know more about how to manage a digital product to increase its chances of success? While you wait for my new book, check out my Digital Product Management bundle with my 2 books where I share what I learned during my almost 30 years of experience in creating and managing digital products.

People: priority #1, always

Every company has its own culture and, within each company, every department also has its own culture. In addition, each person also has their principles and values ​​that guide their steps through life. In this part of the book, part 2 of 3, I will talk about the culture, values ​​and principles that I believe are mandatory to create successful digital products. Also, what are the 4 main values ​​that every product development team and, consequently, every company that has digital product development teams should have.

I’m going to start this part of the book by sharing my personal leadership principles. There will be five principles:

  • People: priority # 1, always
  • Leading is like being a doctor
  • Leading under pressure
  • Mentoring is a two-way street
  • How and when to delegate

I will talk about these principles throughout this and the next chapters, starting with the principle that people are priority #1, always.

People: priority #1, always

I often see companies claiming that company valuation, revenue, growth, profit, number of customers, or customer satisfaction is their number one priority. All are good priorities and each is appropriate for specific contexts in which a company can be. However, I argue that they should be priority number 2, 3, 4 and so on, because our number 1 priority should always be the people who are part of our team. Without the people who work with us, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve any other goal that we have.

People are people (source: Flickr)

We spend money and energy attracting the best people and convincing them to join our company to build what we intend to build to achieve the goal we have set. We pay these people to be with us throughout the construction process. We are usually upset when we lose people on our team, especially if they are really engaged and aligned with our goals. Therefore, the people on our team are like customers, we spend money and energy to acquire and retain them. But they are even more important than our customers, because without our team, there is no way for us to be able to deal with our customers and achieve our goals.

This does not mean that we need to be “nice” to our team, or that we should give everything they ask for. What we need to do is to balance external and internal pressures so that people can continually improve. If the external pressure is increasing, we need to create the environment and provide the tools for people to be more motivated, have more drive, and increase their inner strength. And if we have people or teams with excess motivation and energy, we need to give them more responsibilities and higher goals. In the chapter Leading under pressure, I will talk more about this balance.

Rotten apples

The term rotten apple, although quite strong, serves to describe a very delicate situation in the formation and management of teams. We call the person who negatively clashes with the rest of the team and who, with his behavior, may spoil the team.

InfoQ (https://www.infoq.com/news/2009/01/handling-your-underperformer/) talked a lot about the technically rotten apple theme, the under-performer, the one who is technically below the rest of the team, and how the team can help this person to improve.

What to do when we come across a rotten apple from a behavioral point of view? Someone who is technically good, but who has behavioral problems? Technically this person can have enough to contribute to the team but his behavior makes the team unable to have a good relationship with that person.

In such cases there are two paths to follow:

  • The simplest is to remove that person from the team. This is an easy solution for both the team and its leader. The tendency in such a situation is for the team to isolate the difficult person until he, by himself or by the leader’s decision, leaves the team.
  • The most difficult path, but which will certainly bring more benefits to the team, is to help this difficult person to belong to the team to the point where the person is no longer a bad apple.

It is easy to welcome people who are easy to deal with. The challenge is to receive a difficult person and help them join the team. The values ​​of the team must be stronger than the values ​​of the difficult person to the point that the values ​​of the team are absorbed and assumed by the difficult person.

Frank conversations with the whole team and with the difficult person are a good tactic. Transparency is essential. If there are goodwill and willingness from both the team and the “rotten apple”, chances are good that the situation will be reversed.

It is worth remembering that, in most cases, a rotten apple does not want to be a rotten apple. He may not realize that her behavior is harmful to the team. He may have had previous experiences where her behavior would be considered normal. So it is worth investing in helping the team and the difficult person to understand each other. However, it is not possible to try indefinitely to make things right. It is important to set a deadline to reevaluate the situation and, if it has not been resolved, there may be no other option but to make a more difficult decision: dismiss one or more people from the team.

Summing up

  • People are, and should always be, the #1 priority of any company. We spend money and energy to acquire and retain the best people. Having people as #1 priority is the key to achieving any other goal. This does not mean being “nice” to people giving everything they want, but that we must be able to balance the challenges that we give people with their abilities so that people can continually improve.
  • Rotten apples can drain and harm your team. You must help these people to fit into your team and, if that is not possible, you must make the most difficult decision: get that person out of the team.

In the next chapter, we will understand what a leader’s job should be like through the analogy that leading is like being a doctor.

Missing something?

So, did you miss something in this chapter? What else would you like me to cover?

Digital Product Management Books

Do you work with digital products? Do you want to know more about how to manage a digital product to increase its chances of success? While you wait for my new book, check out my Digital Product Management bundle with my 2 books where I share what I learned during my almost 30 years of experience in creating and managing digital products.

2 hacks para promover e fortalecer sua cultura de produto digital

Tenho liderado o desenvolvimento de produtos no Gympass há quase 2 anos. Antes do Gympass, eu sempre trabalhei em empresas onde a tecnologia era o principal produto da empresa como a Conta Azul e a Locaweb. Nesse tipo de empresa, a cultura de produtos faz parte da cultura organizacional. No entanto, se você estiver em uma empresa tradicional ou mesmo em uma “empresa tradicional nativa digital”, criar e manter uma cultura digital de produtos pode ser um grande desafio.

O que é cultura de produto digital?

As equipes de produtos digitais têm duas premissas principais quando criam produtos para atender aos objetivos estratégicos da empresa enquanto resolvem um problema ou atendem a uma necessidade dos clientes e usuários da empresa:

  • Lançamento antecipado e frequente: quanto mais cedo eu apresentar meu produto a seus usuários, melhor, pois poderei receber feedback de usuários reais que poderão usar o produto em seu próprio contexto. Expliquei as motivações por trás do lançamento antecipado e frequente neste artigo.
  • Foco no problema: é da natureza humana resolver problemas. Sempre que ouvimos falar de problemas, entramos quase imediatamente no modo de solução, ou seja, começamos a buscar soluções para o problema. No entanto, se conseguirmos entender melhor o problema, a motivação para resolvê-lo, o contexto em que o problema ocorre, há boas chances de conseguirmos encontrar soluções mais simples e fáceis de implementar. 

Quando a cultura tradicional da empresa entra em conflito com a cultura digital de produtos e como combater esse conflito

Nas empresas tradicionais, e mesmo em algumas empresas digitais e empresas tradicionais nativas digitais, a equipe de vendas está sempre conversando com clientes em potencial, entendendo seus problemas e dores e descobrindo onde o produto pode ser uma boa solução para esses problemas. Por esse motivo, os novos lançamentos da equipe de desenvolvimento de produtos quase sempre são bem-vindos, mas também são bastante esperados.

Assim que um novo lançamento estiver disponível, os vendedores desejam oferecer a todos os novos clientes em potencial. Isso aconteceu e ainda acontece muito aqui no Gympass. O problema é que, em função da premissa de “lançamento antecipado e frequente” que expliquei acima, as primeiras versões de uma funcionaliddade ou de um produto são normalmente um tanto desajeitadas, faltando funcionalidades e com mau funcionamento em determinados casos de uso. Precisamos do feedback do cliente para melhorar o produto em versões futuras. A questão é que, se os clientes em potencial decidirem se tornar novos clientes dessas primeiras versões, esses novos clientes provavelmente ficarão bastante chateados, pois o produto ou funcionalidade pode não funcionar em determinados cenários e pode não oferecer a melhor experiência.

Outro problema que ocorre com frequência quando lançamos cedo e com frequência é o time de suporte ao cliente que reclama, e com razão, que o novo recurso ou produto não está funcionando corretamente e que eles precisam fornecer assistência. Na Conta Azul, a equipe de desenvolvimento de produtos recebia constantemente a reclamação do suporte ao cliente de que lançamos constantemente recursos e produtos inacabados, ou seja, lançamos constantemente recursos ou produtos incompletos. E eles estavam corretos, essa é a consequência natural da premissa de liberação antecipada e frequente explicada acima.

Hack #1: Terminologia alfa, beta e go-live

Por esse motivo, decidi usar o que chamo de hack #1 para promover e fortalecer a cultura de produtos digitais no Gympass. Passamos a usar a terminologia alfa, beta e go-live para explicar em que estágio um produto ou funcionalidade está. No estágio alfa, o produto pode não funcionar corretamente. Se estiver em alfa, deve ser oferecido apenas aos clientes que entendem os problemas do uso de um novo produto e podem lidar com esses problemas sem maiores dificuldades. Portanto, a quantidade de clientes na fase alfa será pequena, no máximo uns 5 clientes, não mais do que isso. No estágio beta, os principais problemas do produto são corrigidos, mas os erros ainda podem ocorrer e a experiência do usuário pode e irá melhorar. Nesta fase, é possível oferecer o produto ou funcionalidade a dezenas de clientes. Depois, quando todos os erros conhecidos forem corrigidos e a experiência do usuário estiver funcionando corretamente, é hora de mover o produto para o estágio de go-live, onde o produto pode ser oferecido a todos os clientes existentes e em potencial. Isso certamente ajuda as equipes de vendas e de suporte ao cliente a entender o ciclo de lançamento de novos recursos e novos produtos e a entender em que estágio está o produto ou a funcionalidade.

A outra área em que a cultura tradicional da empresa entra em conflito com a cultura digital de produtos é a solicitação de novas funcionalidades. É comum ver outras áreas pedindo à equipe de desenvolvimento de produtos que implemente o recurso A ou B porque precisamos desse recurso para fechar um negócio ou para não perder esse grande cliente. Um exemplo comum que tenho ouvido atualmente é “precisamos implementar o Apple Pay e o Google Pay como um novo método de pagamento”. A questão aqui é que, falando em soluções, perdemos o foco no problema que originou essa solução. Se investirmos mais tempo aprendendo sobre o problema, a motivação para resolvê-lo e o contexto em que o problema ocorre, há boas chances de que possamos encontrar soluções mais simples e fáceis de implementar.

Hack #2: Qual é o problema?

Por esse motivo, decidi usar o que chamo de hack #2 para promover uma cultura de produto digital, perguntar sempre “qual é o problema?”. Sempre que uma nova solicitação de funcionalidade chega à equipe de desenvolvimento do produto, devemos agradecer ao solicitante pela pedido e em seguida devemos perguntar sobre o problema que gerou a solicitação. Cada membro da equipe de desenvolvimento de produtos precisa ter esse comportamento sempre que uma solicitação de nova funcionalidade for recebida. Ao praticar esse comportamento, em breve as solicitações virão não apenas com uma solução, mas também com muitas informações sobre o problema. É interessante ver essa mudança cultural, mas requer a disciplina dos membros da equipe de desenvolvimento de produtos para sempre perguntar sobre o problema. E quando menciono os membros da equipe de desenvolvimento de produtos, estou me referindo a todos, não apenas aos gestores de produto, mas também aos designers e às engenheiras e engenheiros de produto.

Resumo

Então, aqui estão eles, 2 hacks para promover e fortalecer sua cultura de produtos digitais:

  • Hack #1: use a terminologia alfa, beta e go-live para descrever em que fase está seu produto.
  • Hack #2: pergunte sempre “qual é o problema?” para entender bem o problema antes de investir energia em buscar soluções.

Digital Product Management Books

Do you work with digital products? Do you want to know more about how to manage a digital product to increase its chances of success? Check out my new bundle Digital Product Management with my 2 books where I share what I learned during my almost 30 years of experience in creating and managing digital products.

No alt text provided for this image

Problem vs solution mindset

When we hurry to launch an MVP, we are creating a solution for a problem. However, a very important step to create a good solution is the understanding of the problem.

It is human nature to jump into solution mode when we learn about a problem. When we hear about a problem, we immediately start thinking about solutions. However, the more time we spend learning about the problem, the easier it will be to find a solution and good chances are that this solution will be simpler and faster to implement than the first solution we think about.

Here’s a great Albert Einstein quote: 

“If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” 

Einstein believed the quality of the solution you generate is in direct proportion to your ability to identify and understand the problem you hope to solve.

Let me tell you a short story to illustrate this. During the space race, scientists were faced with the issue of writing in space where there’s no gravity to make the ink go down in a ballpoint pen. Americans started their R&D efforts and after some time and a few million dollars, they built a pen with a small engine that pumps ink to the paper, even with no gravity. Meanwhile, Russians decided to use pencils, which can do the job of writing in no gravity environments.

That focus on solutions, without good understanding of the problem and the motivation to have this problem solved, can be quite harmful. It can make us spend unnecessary time and money to get to sub-optimal solutions. This is a cultural issue, i.e., a behavior that we can and must change. The first step to changing a behavior is recognizing it when it happens. When you, as a product manager or a product development team member, receives a request to implement something, ask the person who brought the request what is the problem that this “something” is supposed to solve and why there’s a need to solve that problem.

Here some examples from the companies I worked for.

At Locaweb, a web hosting provider in Brazil, the hosting and email services may stop working due to external factors such as the domain associated with the hosting and email not being renewed.

  • Original solution: Registro.br, the Brazilian registrar for .br domains released an API to allow Locaweb to charge the customer domain on behalf of Registro.br. At first, the idea seems good, since Locaweb billing the domain looks like the easiest way to guarantee that the customer knows that it has to pay for the domain registration to maintain the hosting and email services functioning properly. However, when we analyzed deeper, we saw that this solution could generate some problems. The customer would be billed twice for the same domain registration because the Registro.br would continue billing the domain. What happens if the customer pays both bills? And if she pays only Registro.br? And if she pays only Locaweb? In addition, implementing a new type of billing where we will bill for a third party service was something new to the Locaweb team. New processes would have to be carefully designed.
  • Actual solution: we started to wonder if there would be simpler ways to solve the problem of helping our customer not to forget that he has to pay for her domain registration at Registro.br. Since it would be possible to charge for Registro.br services, it was possible to access the information about the about-to-expire domain. We decided to design a simpler solution: we will implement a communication sequence with this customer advising him of the importance of paying Registro.br to ensure that the email and hosting services continue to operate normally. This is a much simpler solution than implementing a double billing process. If Registro.br provides us with the billing URL, we can send this link information to the customer and the chances of solving the problem will increase even further. And a communication sequence is much simpler and faster to implement than a duplicate billing process.

At Conta Azul, a SaaS ERP for MSE (micro and small enterprises) we used accountants as one of our distribution channels and wanted to increase sales through accountants.

  • Original solution: batch purchases, where accountants would acquire a fixed number of Conta Azul licenses to resell to their customers. A system to manage batch purchases would take around 3 months to be implemented since it should allow accountants to buy Conta Azul licenses in bulk, but should only start billing the accountant’s customer when she actually activated the license.
  • Actual solution: accountants didn’t care about batch purchases. What they wanted was to provide a discount to their customers so they could subscribe to Conta Azul with this exclusive discount provided by their accounts. The cost to implement this was zero since the system already had a discount management feature.

At Gympass, a fitness partner who was joining our fitness network requested us to present their waiver to everyone who check-in in their facilities.

  • Original solution: change our app to ask end-users who go to this fitness partner to read their waiver in our app and to check a box stating they read and are ok with it.
  • Actual solution: no change to our app. Use a customizable text field in the gym set up in our system that is normally presented to users who will check-in in that gym to present the following text: “By checking in, you agree with the waiver located at http://fitnesspartner.com/waiver”. 

Don’t get me wrong, it is really good that everyone brings solutions to the table whenever we want to discuss something to be done by the product development team. The more solution ideas we have, the better. However, we need to educate ourselves to have a deeper understanding of the problem behind that solution, so we have a chance to find simpler and faster to implement solutions. And it is ultimately the product manager and all product development team member’s job to ask what is the problem and why we need this problem solved.

Digital Product Management Books

Do you work with digital products? Do you want to know more about how to manage a digital product to increase its chances of success, solve its user’s problems and achieve the company objectives? Check out my Digital Product Management bundle with my 3 books where I share what I learned during my almost 30 years of experience in creating and managing digital products:

  • Startup Guide: How startups and established companies can create profitable digital products
  • Product Management: How to increase the chances of success of your digital product
  • Leading Product Development: The art and science of managing product teams