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InfoQ Homepage News The Myth of Product Mindset: It's What You Do, Not How You Think

The Myth of Product Mindset: It's What You Do, Not How You Think

Companies nowadays are looking for ways to cultivate a product mindset. While the idea of cultivating a "product mindset" allows us to focus primarily on ourselves, actually transforming our organizations often means changing our behavior to focus on our customers and how we work together to serve them, Matt LeMay said at Better Ways 2022 where he spoke about the myth of a product mindset.

A mindset isn’t digital; it’s not something you have or you don’t have. LeMay stated that like many trendy concepts in business, "product mindset" is just vague and general enough for people to project onto their own often competing goals and assumptions.

Changing our behavior is hard and annoying. We like shiny new things that make us feel good about ourselves over actually changing our behavior in a meaningful way, LeMay said. If it wasn’t uncomfortable and annoying, we would have done it already, he commented.

LeMay mentioned three steps that people can take today to change:

  • Talk to a customer
  • Share something unfinished with your team
  • Use simple descriptive language and stop obsessing over vague trendy nonsense like "product mindset"

LeMay mentioned what he called the first law of organizational gravity:

Individuals in an organization will avoid customer-­facing work if it is not aligned with their day-­to-­day responsibilities and incentives.

If you want to be customer-centric, spend more time talking to your customers, LeMay recommended. He referred to Teresa Torres, who suggests that at a minimum you should have weekly touchpoints with customers.

Presenting finished polished fancy documents to our colleagues makes us feel better about ourselves, but it doesn’t bring value to our customers, LeMay said. He suggested that we should be brave enough to bring multiple customer perspectives into our work before it’s finished enough to be "impressive".

LeMay said that arbitrary made-up goals that aren’t business or customer goals give us a dangerous artificial sense of control. He also mentioned that arbitrary made-up concepts like "product mindset" give us a way to feel really smart and good without doing uncomfortable and annoying things we actually need to do.

Instead of spending time on overcomplicated nonsense, we should focus on the good, the obvious, and the hard-to-actually-implement stuff, LeMay concluded.

InfoQ spoke with Matt LeMay about cultivating a product mindset:

InfoQ: How can we cultivate just enough product mindset to enable behavior change toward doing things that matter to customers?

Matt LeMay: When it comes to mindset vs. behavior, there’s kind of a chicken and egg question. Do we change our mindset in order to change our behavior? Or do we change our behavior in order to change our mindset?

One concept I find really helpful in thinking about all this is practice. If you want to get great at a sport or a musical instrument, you can debate "mindset" vs "behavior" all you want but, at the end of the day, not much is going to happen until you start practising. When it comes to new ways of working, I think this holds true as well. The sooner you can get out of theory and into practice, the more quickly you’re going to see material improvement. Theory (or "mindset") can provide inspiration and guidance, but it’s never a substitute for actually doing the thing.

InfoQ: What can be done to make it less uncomfortable for people to connect with customers and find out what they need?

LeMay: This is a great question! I think the first step is to ask yourself: what exactly is making you uncomfortable?

Are you afraid that you’re going to look unprepared? For some people, having a script prepared is really helpful for talking to customers.

Are you afraid that you don’t know what you’re doing? For some people, sitting in on a few sessions led by a trained researcher can be really helpful.

Are you afraid that you’re already too far removed from your customer’s needs and behaviors? Maybe have a few informal conversations with people you know who use the product before conducting user research.

At the end of the day, though, you’ll probably never feel fully prepared to connect with customers. The challenge is to work through that discomfort and do it anyway.

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