Building Better Product that Align with Company Direction

When I started a new role as a Product Manager, I didn’t really know what a PM should do or how a PM should build a product. Coming from a technical background with consulting knowledge, I used the wrong approach in building a product. I used to fall into what Melissa Perri call in her book, “a build trap”.

As a product manager, we like to think that our main job is to ship something. Either it is a new feature, initiative, or product. This mental model trapping us to build something for the sake of building something without knowing whether the user is using it or not. We just build a new feature, release it, and forget about it to build another new feature. Then we realize, our product now full of unused features.

We often release a product that the user don’t want and don’t need just because it is mentioned on our OKR or just because our boss told us to do so. It could be very costly for the company and would not bring us towards the company goal.

Build trap could happen to any product manager and there are many factors that could be the catalyst for this behavior, such as company culture, how the product team managed, how goal is set, etc. The first step that we can do to avoid it is to be aware of this behavior and try not to fall into its trap.

Avoiding Build Trap

Avoiding a build trap is not easy. We can use some framework in doing our job, but it only decrease our possibility in doing it. We still need to keep our guard and go back to the right track when we fall into this trap.

One of the product management framework that we can use to guide us in our job is Product Kata by Melissa Perri. I took this framework from her book and I think it could be your first step towards a better product management practice.

Source: Escaping the Build Trap, Melissa Perri.

1. Understanding the direction

In this step, product manager needs to see the company vision and strategic intent. It serve as the north star that the product should pursue to as their long term goal. For example, Microsoft’s vision is to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more. Their strategic intent is to strive in cloud services because they see that there is a huge opportunity in this area. Hence, they product initiatives changed from developing a close application ecosystem to become more open so that it can support the cloud first strategy that they pursue.

2. Analyze the current situation

Next is to understand where is our current state in the product initiatives. Knowing where we stand is really important so we know where should we move and what action that we should take.

In the case of Microsoft, at that time they are adopting close application ecosystem strategy. They only make their most popular software to be most compatible with their Windows ecosystem. Like Microsoft Office is best work in Windows Phone and Windows OS. Also their developer tools such as .NET framework and Visual Studio are only available in Windows platform. Understanding this situation can help them to navigate their next move to achieve their strategic intent.

3. Set the next goal

After knowing our current situation and where we want to go, the next thing that we should do is to decide our next goal and next move. Based on those data, we can list all options that we have and how to prioritize the initiatives to get the quickest path to achieve the goal.

For Microsoft, they know that their end goal is to become a cloud first company and push their cloud services adoption. So, what they did was opening their technology to more platforms, because their cloud service should be vendor agnostic to be adopted by the majority of the market. This direction were embraced company wide so each of the team in Microsoft should use this goal in their product initiative and set success metrics that revolve around this goal.

4. Execution

After we know what our next goal is, we can start executing the product process. The product process is a framework that could help us to drive our product development in the right direction. We can also use other framework to help us in this stage such as design thinking. The goal of those frameworks are the same, ensuring that we build the right product for our users while achieving the business objective. We will discuss further about the product process and design thinking in different article.

Back to our Microsoft example, in this phase they decided to build their most popular application in more platforms. High quality Office for iOS, Android, and Mac OS were released. Visual Studio were launched for Mac OS along with Visual Studio Code that also support Linux. .NET framework was made open source. All of those products execution are align with the product initiatives to achieve the next goal that has been set.

The result of this initiative make Microsoft as the vendor with the highest growth in cloud platform adoption and gives a huge contribution to new revenue source for them. As we can see that when the company vision, strategy, and the product initiatives are align, we can avoid a build trap and deliver a product that the customer want and bring us closer towards our goals. This framework provide a structural way that helps Product Manager to keep product development align with the business objective and ensure we build the right thing.

Nanda Firdaus

Ex-engineer who is switching to product management role in Traveloka. Passionate about new technology and have interest in product development, business, and investment. Ex-Microsoft Student Partner. Master of Information System Management at Carnegie Mellon University. Bachelor of Information System, Faculty of Computer Science, Universitas Indonesia.

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1 Response

  1. Yanfau says:

    How come our boss told us to do something that would not bring us towards the company goal? That’s not a good boss, I think. Btw, nice article, keep writing. Like your writing in this subject

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