Radical product strategy
How to iterate less to achieve more
In 2011 when I founded Likelii, we had a clear vision: To make it easier and fun for wine enthusiasts to find wines they were likely to like. But despite having a clear vision, I had caught what I now call the Iteration Epidemic where we try to copy the success of companies that found their success through iteration, trying one strategy after another to find the nirvana of product-market fit.
Today this Iteration Epidemic is widespread both among startups and larger companies. Organizations try to gain a competitive advantage by iterating faster – the logic is that the more things you try, the more likely you are to find what works. So we focus on being agile and optimize processes to help us iterate faster. We don’t question if all the iteration is necessary.
I sold Likelii just as we were starting to see traction – while we had managed our capital responsibly, our iterations had spent valuable time and money. Our product strategy was driven by intuition. In retrospect, a more systematic approach to product strategy to translate our vision into a product would have helped us reduce some of the iterations.
Radical Product Thinking, a systematic approach
In 2017, I developed the Radical Product Thinking (RPT) approach together with Geordie Kaytes, Nidhi Aggarwal. Each of us had learned hard lessons from building products and we were repeatedly seeing the same pattern of product “diseases” in companies that were caught in the Iteration Epidemic. We designed RPT to help business leaders systematically build vision-driven products and avoid these diseases.
In the RPT way, once you’ve created a compelling vision (your Why), your product strategy translates your Why into How. Crafting your product strategy in your head is like doing mental math with four-digit numbers – it’s a lot to keep in your head and easy to make mistakes. The RDCL (pronounced “radical”) Strategy canvas is designed to help you get the intuition out of your head so you can evaluate options more methodically. Most importantly it helps you communicate your product strategy to your team.
Defining Product Strategy
Your product strategy should answer the following four questions — RDCL is just an easy to remember mnemonic:
1. Real pain point
- What triggers someone to engage with your product? What’s the Real pain point? To work through the Real pain points, take a few minutes to answer the following:
- Who will engage with your product? Who has this need? Describe your target customer persona(s) facing this need.
- For each persona, what is their job/ task and what are they trying to achieve? What’s their real pain point? What will make them successful?
Once you’ve identified the target personas and their pain points, you can begin to prioritize them. It’s unlikely that you could address all of them at once – by acknowledging this and prioritizing pain points, you’re giving your team an actionable strategy.
How do people engage with your product? What’s the functionality that’s solving their Real pain point, and how does it make them feel, i.e. what’s the Design? Design is how you intentionally shape the two critical ways your users engage with your products:
- Interface: How people use your product, and
- Identity: How people perceive your product
For each Real pain point, you should have a corresponding item under Design that would solve that pain point, thinking about both the Interface and Identity.
How do you deliver on the promise of your design? Your Capabilities could be both:
- Tangible such as data, patents, trade secrets, hard to build skills, and
- Intangible including relationships, partnerships, and processes.
Capture the specific capability in your product that differentiates you from the status quo and creates a barrier to entry for the competition. Often, this will be the innovation in your solution.
How does your product get into people’s hands? What are the Logistics of your product? Pricing, support, service, sales channels, and delivery mechanism are all factors that should be designed into your product. This is typically the most overlooked element of product strategy. In the startup world, popular advice goes, “First get traction, then you can figure out monetization.” In 2018, 81% of US firms that went public were unprofitable the previous year. But with the US flotation bubble bursting, there will be a renewed focus on business models.
A case study: An able® product strategy
able® could be described as a 13-year-old company that caters lunch for over 15,000 people in Copenhagen, Denmark. But the company’s Chief Product Officer, Søren Fuhr, describes the vision as delivering a culture of care to office employees. Lunch is able’s mechanism to deliver this vision of a culture of care. What Fuhr describes, is the essence of Radical Product Thinking. Radical Product Thinking helps you design your product as an improvable mechanism to create the change you want to see in the world.
Fuhr joined able after experiencing the Iteration Epidemic. He was a Product Manager at a startup where he felt burnt out by the incessant focus on iterating fast. Not only did his product catch Pivotitis, but he was physically sick with stress. After taking some time off from work, Fuhr came across the Radical Product Thinking philosophy and was inspired to try a different approach when he joined able – instead of focusing on the speed of iteration, his approach has been to build the product systematically, to iterate less and achieve more.
He describes his RDCL Strategy as follows:
Real pain points: The company’s main customer persona is the HR manager who recognizes that in high-performing teams, team members genuinely care for one another and when there are strong bonds among colleagues, attrition is lower. But while the company may have perks such as ping-pong tables and bean bags, it’s hard to give employees a dedicated time and space to connect with colleagues.
Design: To deliver on this need, the product is designed as a package to deliver this culture of care. The catered lunch, for example, is an experience where employees can sit down for lunch and get to know each other at a human level.
- A healthy lunch to care for employees
- Food that is sustainably sourced and packaged to extend the culture of care for the environment
- A culture of care that extends to society – for example, the menu holders are manufactured from reused materials by organizations that employ people with disabilities.
Capabilities: Tangible capabilities that enable the design include the software platform for order taking and invoicing. It forms the backbone that enables the rest of the solution. Intangible Capabilities include relationships with kitchens – the company depends on them to deliver the food that fulfills the promise of the experience. Fuhr also sees developing Radical Product Thinking skills in his team as a key capability, “For the team to deliver on the experience, we need everyone to see the product as the culture of care we offer. It’s not just catering lunch.”
Logistics: Logistics is an integral part of the product. The most obvious element is the actual logistics of delivering lunches on time. But Fuhr sees pricing as an important element of his product. To deliver a culture of care, pricing cannot be a race to the bottom – customers have to see value in the product. The sales team embraces this approach. For example, when the HR manager from a company wants to try a test lunch, rather than just tasting the food in a sales setting, they are invited to join able employees for lunch where they can experience the culture of care.
In addition to articulating the RDCL Strategy, Fuhr embodies this strategy in the interactions with his team. In team meetings, phones are silenced and laptops closed so everyone can be completely present in a culture of care.
A huge thanks to Søren Fuhr and the able team for sharing their RDCL Strategy so openly and extending their culture of care to the product leadership community!
Radhika Dutt is an entrepreneur and product leader. Year after year after seeing the same pattern of “diseases” that kill innovation, she co-founded Radical Product Thinking to give leaders a repeatable model for building vision-driven products and avoiding the common diseases. You can download the free Radical Product Toolkit, designed as a step-by-step guide to make it easy and practical to apply product thinking.