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The Move to Product Thinking is Gaining Momentum

May 29, 2024

Product ThinkingAt, we have a website that draws in millions of visitors, all thanks to our small but efficient team and robust cloud infrastructure. This setup allows our team to make instant changes to the website, introduce new products, or publish a blog with the potential to reach thousands of people. The power of LLMs and Generative AI amplifies this reach, offering innovative ways to access information, generate content, and structure it according to the customer's needs. This is the essence of the next phase of the digital age: technology that enables organizations to be customer-centric, placing the customer at the heart of our operations. 

Yet, customer-centricity is not a uniform strategy. Each customer is a distinct entity with evolving needs. They could be new, seeking specific solutions, or existing, whose satisfaction we strive to uphold. By aligning our efforts to comprehend and cater to these unique needs, we equip our organization to focus on what truly matters to our customers. 

However, modern technology's opportunity for better customer satisfaction can be overwhelming. For example, looking at, we find many different customer personas seeking to learn about Scrum, apply it in other situations, and embark on their learning journey. How do we satisfy them? What is the most critical, impactful need? These are just some of the questions we try to answer. 

We have found, like many organizations, a good way of looking at this complexity is through a product lens. Thinking not in terms of markets, but instead a persona’s unmet needs. We use this to focus our efforts and build the right products and features. This alignment is not something new. The Scrum framework has always focused on ‘product,’ but the project has continued to drive work for many organizations. If you look at Product Backlogs, they describe not the aspirations in pursuit of a Product Goal but a list of work for the next three months. I discussed the trend of work vs value in a webinar on the subject.

There is a clear shift happening in organizations. In a recent survey conducted by, a staggering 73% of respondents identified themselves as part of a product organization. This trend is not to be ignored, as it signifies a significant shift towards an organization's product-oriented mindset. 

The shift to product thinking provides:

  • A transparent customer/user and value proposition and a way to validate it.  
  • A clear understanding of the product boundary.
  • An understanding of where the product information resides.
  • They cost money but also provide value; thus, all have a P&L
  • A straightforward way to measure outcomes and a process to respond to that information. 
  • Dependencies are understood and optimized to enable flexibility and autonomy. 

This thinking is not revolutionary for most businesses; they sell products to customers. However, outside of that part of the business, the idea of products breaks down. The further away the customer is, the less clarity there is around the product. Efficiency becomes more important than customer value. But digital changes all of that. Customer value streams can not afford the disconnect because of time-to-market pressures and the abundance of opportunities in digital technology. Product needs to escape the business and become the alignment currency of the whole organization. 

For many organizations, the most significant impact is within the IT organization. Because of the enormous cost and complexity, IT is traditionally separate from the business, providing services and applications to the business for use within their processes. Mobile and internet channels have changed many IT organizations, so they have hybrid departments that combine business and technology. Still, for most organizations, this is just window dressing as the majority of their services provided by IT are managed within the IT department. Moving to a product model will fundamentally change how these organizations are structured, organized, measured, and governed and the organization's culture. IT and business departments will be replaced with product groups aligned with customers and supported by shared services. People will work for the product group but will be supported by a functional or skills-based organization. Imagine that you are working on a team but part of a professional community supporting your development. There will be no confusion about incentives, as they are tied to the success or failure of that product. Promotion and development come from the skills-based community, allowing individuals to balance their development and delivery needs. 

The focus on agile product management and how organizations can grow this skill is associated with this move to product. Traditionally, product management was focused on organizations that provided products and services. It was rare to see the discipline of product management move into internal products and platforms. However, as the relationship between the customer and the user has changed because of digital technology, product management skills are valuable throughout the organization. Product Ownership and product management are linked in their pursuit of value. 

But what happens if your organization is not quite ready to shift to a product-operating model?

Change is hard, and Larman's law is in full effect for most situations. Status quo, power dynamics, and the inability to make decisions lead most organizations to the halfway point between product and project-focused. And that is not always bad. Working with projects but with a product mindset can help drive a better understanding of value without shifting the whole organization to be structured around products. Ultimately, where it makes sense to encapsulate everything as a product or platform and then do so, where there is neither buy-in nor where the complexity would make the change too tremendous and costly, then spend time aligning initiatives, programs, or projects to customer outcomes and measures. It is not always black and white in orientation. What is black and white is the need for:

  1. A clear understanding of the value that is being sought. It is important to frame any work in the context of the outcomes or value being pursued, both at the macro and micro levels.
  2. Access to the user. Understanding how the user uses the good or service is crucial. With first-hand knowledge, you may notice things that ultimately affect the overall usability of the good or service. Context can affect anything. 
  3. Ability to incrementally deliver “stuff” and learn. Without the capability to deliver “stuff” used by users and highlight things to stakeholders, any endeavor is clouded in assumptions and unknowns. 
  4. A clear understanding of dependencies and boundaries of the work. Knowing what is inside and outside the change domain enables teams to understand their area of control clearly. Dependencies are also crucial as they can undermine progress.

Your organization might not be changing to be more product-centric, but the mindset and approach are available for everyone. For years, agile has focused on increased speed rather than value. Knowledge workers can exploit digital technology's opportunities with a product mindset and agile tools to create more value. 


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