Steps for creating world-changing products
Today we are talking about radical product thinking, which is a mindset and process for innovating smarter.
Our guest, Radhika Dutt, will help us understand radical product thinking. She is an entrepreneur and product leader who has participated in four acquisitions, two of which were companies she founded. She has built products in industries including broadcasting, media, advertising, technology, government, consumer, robotics, and wine. She also teaches entrepreneurship and innovation at Northeastern University. She cofounded the Radical Product Thinking movement of leaders creating vision-driven change, along with authoring the book Radical Product Thinking: The New Mindset for Innovating Smarter.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[1:56] What put you on the path to being a product leader?
My path to product leadership has been through entrepreneurship and product diseases. Regardless of which industry I was in, I kept seeing the same patterns of diseases. For example, hero syndrome is when you get so focused on being big and scaling you forget about the problem you set out to solve. Other diseases are pivot-itis and obsessive sales disorder. I learned from these product diseases and developed an intuition after really hard lessons. I wondered, are we all doomed to learn these hard lessons or can we share intuition to build better product and avoid product diseases? That burning question started Radical Product Thinking. Two colleagues and I built a framework that translated our intuition into steps for building world-changing products systematically.
I’ve realized that product is a way of thinking. Building products is how you create change. Your title is irrelevant—if you’re building products and thinking about how to engineer change, you’re applying product thinking.
[9:05] Why did you write Radical Product Thinking: The New Mindset for Innovating Smarter?
I realized we need to change how we build products. We’ve been taught to keep iterating until you find product market fit—just keep trying different things. We need to become more vision-driven and think of our product as a mechanism for creating change in the world. That starts with having a clear picture of the change you want to bring about and being able to translate that to actions. Whenever your vision becomes disconnected from your actions, product diseases set in. The key to building better products while avoiding product diseases is avoiding breaks in the chain from vision to action.
[11:23] Tell us about the five elements of Radical Product Thinking, starting with Vision.
We need to unlearn the myths that a good vision is a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG), broad slogan, or short tagline. For example, “contributing to human progress while empowering people to express themselves” could be the vision of a piano teacher, a post-it note company, or anything else. A good vision should be a detailed North Star for decision-making. A BHAG vision like this is not useful because you can’t use it to evaluate features and figure out what to do and not do. A good vision answers:
- Whose world are you trying to change?
- What does the world look like for them today?
- Why does that world need changing?
- When will we know we’ve accomplished our mission?
- How are we going to bring about the change?
A vision with this level of detail gives teams enough direction to make decisions. For example, a good vision is:
“Today when amateur wine drinkers want to find wines that they’re likely to like, they have to find attractive-looking wine bottles or pick wines that are on sale. This is unacceptable because it leads to so many disappointments, and it’s hard to learn about wine this way. We envision a world where finding wines you like is as easy as finding movies you like on Netflix. We’re bringing about this world through a recommendations algorithm that matches wines to your taste and an operational setup that delivers these wines to your door.”
A radical vision gives you an exact sense of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
Strategy is converting your mission into steps. Strategy requires answering the four RDCL (“radical”) questions:
- Real Pain Points: Why does someone come to your product?
- Design: What is our solution to those pain points?
- Capabilities: What is our special sauce that powers the solution (technology, IP, infrastructure, partnerships)?
- Logistics: How does the solution get to customers (support, sales, training customers, professional services)?
Derive your strategy directly from your vision to avoid breaking the chain and avoid product disease.
Use your vision in everyday decision-making. When you’re prioritizing, you’re trading the long-term against the short-term. Think about your vision on the y-axis and your short-term survival on the x-axis. If you’re a startup, survival depends on revenue and funding. If you’re in a larger company, survival depends on support from stakeholders and your boss. Easy decisions are good for your survival and vision. But sometimes you need to invest in the vision—making decisions that are good for your vision but not helpful for short-term survival, e.g., refactoring code for three months. The opposite of investing in vision is taking on vision debt—making decisions that are good for your short-term survival but bad for your vision. Obsessive sales disorder happens when you keep accumulating vision debt, for example, adding a custom feature that doesn’t match the vision but helps you win a deal.
None of the quadrants of your vision vs. survival graph are bad per se, but you have to find the right mix for your organization. In sprint planning, write your features on post-it notes, draw your x- and y-axes, and determine where each feature fits on the axes. Choose more features from the ideal quadrant (supporting vision and survival), one or two from the investing-in-vision quadrant, and as few as possible from the vision debt quadrant.
Prioritizing in this way conveys your intuition for decision-making to your team and communicates how you’re trading off the long-term against the short-term. It also helps you communicate with your stakeholders and achieve alignment.
Read the book to learn about the last two elements, Execution and Management and Culture.
Action Guide: Put the information Radhika shared into action now. Click here to download the Action Guide.
- Learn more about Radical Product Thinking
- Check out Radhika’s book, Radical Product Thinking, on Amazon
- Connect with Radhika on LinkedIn
“With great power comes great responsibility .” – Spider-Man
Thank you for taking the journey to product mastery and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.