Product engineering

3 mins

Product thinking 101

Upul Weerasinghe

May 24, 2021

Product thinking is a set of cognitive processes and design methods, aimed at solving real world problems by building meaningful solutions. Product thinking is aimed at looking at the bigger picture, the whole product vs individual features of the product.

In theory, this means that we need to envision the product first. We may add features that increase the value of the product, as we move along down the line, but it's important to keep track of what the product is meant to do: solve a real-world problem. For example, your vehicle might have an audio system, climate control, and viewing screens. All these features, while really great and adding value, would be useless though, without the primary focus of a vehicle, to get you from point A to point B.

Finding problems!

Find the story behind what's asked

The start of a product thinking journey is by determining the problem that your users are trying to solve. This is the only reason that users will actually buy and use your product. 'Bells and whistles' will no longer sell your products, as users are too smart to buy things that don't help them with real world issues. If even at launch your product solution doesn't solve the problem perfectly, all is not lost. You can still recover and upgrade your solution to handle anything you missed. However, if you build a solution for the wrong problem, or an imagined problem, it will be that much harder to do anything worthwhile with your product and it will most likely be tossed out, as will you.

Identify your users, talk to your users, observe them in the wild whenever possible.

Finding the problem and defining your users might sound easy, but most users are not great at communicating their problems. Similarly, while you conduct a whole lot of research, you can still miss important points that point to the real problem. Don't let that discourage you though, true problem solving begins through discovery. In this case discovery of what the actual problem is. Remember: Identify your users, talk to your users, observe them in the wild whenever possible, and you will, hopefully, get to the heart of the matter.

So now, you have identified who the product is for, and what problem they are facing.

Solving problems!

Always focus on building a solution that solves the problem. Once you have a strategy to solve the problem, you can then look for features to enhance the solution - but until then all other features are just a waste of your time, as no one will buy your product. For example, you wouldn't buy a phone no matter how large the memory, or how great the camera, or how many great apps you fit in it, if I can't use it to place a call or send a message (and no, an iPod is a different thing altogether!).

Don't take this to mean that your product shouldn't be beautiful and provide the users with extra features that enrich their lives. Simply put - focus on the main pain point, then provide extended features that make life better.

How does product thinking help?

Identify, Analyse, Ideate

Product thinking helps you to think of a solution in terms of an overall product and not a bunch of features. This gives you the ability to focus on tackling the real issues, while benching features that don't directly affect the solution (nice to haves).

Product thinking helps you to think of a solution in terms of an overall product and not a bunch of features.

This in turn leads to faster and more efficient product development and reduces the risk of product failure on launch.

In conclusion

Product thinking is a process for building better products, faster and leaner. It encourages examining every decision in comparison to the problem being solved, and in many cases benching any features that don't directly affect the product. Similar to other processes, product thinking focuses strongly on the user and the problem they are trying to solve, ensuring that the final product is in keeping with their expectations.