Do you know what it takes to build great products?
Are you so confident in your approach that you know that your product will be a success?
I’m often filled with doubt.
Even when things are going well, I wake up at night worried that it’s all going to come crashing down tomorrow.
I worry that my product is just a fad. A trend that will be a bygone tomorrow.
I worry that people will figure out I have no idea what I’m doing.
That none of us do.
A couple of years ago, I decided to do something about this worry.
I started to ask myself the question I opened with.
Do you know what it takes to build great products?
I started this blog to explore that question.
I still don’t have the answer. But I’m starting to get some clarity around my answer.
And I’d love to hear your thoughts.
I think it goes something like this.
Great products require a clear vision, sound decision making, and the right team.
I’ve packed a lot into that one sentence. Let’s break it down.
Start With A Clear Vision
It’s easy to assume people know what you are thinking.
In fact, the illusion of transparency is a bias that leads us to overestimate how well others perceive how we are feeling or what we are thinking.
As a product leader, you hold a lot in your head. You know what you are building and why.
But do you communicate this to others?
Most great products require more than one person to make them happen.
If you aren’t communicating where you are going and why, you might not get there.
This is where a clear vision can help.
What do I mean by vision?
Is it your mission statement? Your view of the future? Your roadmap?
It’s all of those things. And more.
Well maybe not roadmaps. I hate roadmaps. But that’s a discussion for another day.
Your vision helps define who you are, who you will be in the future, and your current view of how you’ll get there.
It’s more than a vision statement. I use vision here in the visionary sense.
Some might call it strategy, but I don’t mean prescriptive strategy. I mean the leadership and vision that allows your strategy to emerge over time as you move in the right direction.
It differentiates you from your competitors. It claims a position in the market.
This might sound like marketing. Call it whatever you want. You can’t build a great product without it.
Your vision also defines who you serve and why.
It probably includes an idea of how you’ll make money.
It definitely defines what success looks like.
This might sound like a business plan. It’s kind of like that.
But your vision lives and evolves.
It needs to be present in your day-to-day work.
It provides the guardrails for your exploration. It helps everyone color within the lines.
Your vision is the big picture, strategic stuff that keeps you focused.
And all great products need a strong vision.
Design Thoughtful Processes to Support Sound Decision Making
But a strong vision isn’t enough.
You know what happens. You know where you want to go, but it’s not where you end up going.
Instead, you get caught up fighting fires. You sit in meetings. You tackle bugs.
You do all the urgent things that come up each and every day. And the important things that help you realize your vision keep getting pushed off.
How do you keep this from happening?
How do you create the space for the important things and build the discipline to push back on the urgent things that just don’t matter?
So much of what it takes to build great products comes down to the day-to-day execution.
How do you set appropriate goals that keep you focused on where you want to go?
Where do good ideas come from?
Will you recognize good ideas when they crop up?
How do you know what to user test, which A/B test to runs, what prototypes to build?
Who prioritizes what to build and when?
What metrics do you focus on? Why?
How often do you look at them?
Is there a method to your madness? Or are you making ad-hoc decisions as you go?
Thanks to Kahneman and Tversky, we know that we aren’t great at making decisions in the moment.
Designing thoughtful processes ensures that you are executing on your vision each and every day.
Build And Develop The Right Team
Armed with a clear vision and a thoughtful approach to day-to-day decisions, you are standing on firmer ground.
But don’t stop there.
You need to ask yourself, do we have the right team to build this product?
This might sound like a harsh question.
I’m not suggesting you fire your team and start over (unless there’s reason for that).
But you should be asking the following questions.
Do we have an unfair advantage?
Is there something that uniquely positions us (as opposed to the other smart, hardworking teams out there) to solve this problem better than anyone else?
Do we have the requisite core competencies to build great products?
Do we have deep expertise in the areas that are critical to our product’s success?
Do we have the right team design? Do we have enough diversity to foster creativity? And enough overlap that we are able to effectively work together?
Are you developing each of these aspects of your team so that as your product grows your team grows with it?
These are all important questions. When tech companies take off, they grow fast. Are you doing what you need to be doing to make sure your team is prepared?
All Three Pillars Are Critical
A strong founder, CEO, product leader needs to focus on all three.
Without a clear vision, you’ll build whatever your customers ask for and end up with either a frankenstein product or no clear value proposition.
If you ignore process design, you’ll make ad hoc decisions and run the risk of overcommitting to bad ideas.
If you ignore team design and development, your product will quickly out grow you. Or you’ll lean toward what you are good at rather than what you should do.
Does your company focus on all three pillars? Are there areas where you could improve? Please share in the comments.
I’ll be writing more about each of these pillars in the coming weeks. Subscribe to my mailing list to make sure you don’t miss a post.