#product #culture - 5 mins read

What is a 'product mindset'?

When we set up Hyperact in August 2022, we wanted to build a consultancy around the three core pillars of product, design, and engineering, and provide our clients with the best people in these fields. But we knew it wasn’t enough just to hire exceptional product managers, designers, and engineers. They needed to share a common and somewhat ambiguous trait that we had seen possessed by the best people we’ve worked with over the last 20 years – a product mindset.

Now, you might have heard this referred to as ‘product thinking’ or ‘product sense’. But to us, they’re essentially the same thing. Regardless of their label, they speak to the same qualities.

This has always been somewhat of an implicit expectation that we instinctively knew if someone had, or didn’t. So we thought it was about time we elaborate on that a little and tell you what the three core aspects of a product mindset are to us and why it’s possibly the most important shared trait of high-performance product teams.

1. Outcome focus

Somebody with a product mindset is someone who attaches everything they do to the end goals of the product. They apply a product lens at all times to their decision-making. This prevents them from disappearing down rabbit holes and creating low-value, low-impact work.

Essentially it's about being outcome, not output-focused and prioritising these outcomes over their individual discipline, or the role they were hired to do, i.e:

  • The first responsibility of a software engineer is not writing code.
  • The first responsibility of a designer is not designing intuitive experiences.
  • The first responsibility of a product manager is not prioritising a backlog.

Their first responsibility should be ensuring that their product creates value for the user as well the business, and that should be the guiding principle when thinking about how to prioritise their time and how to develop solutions.

These types of people challenge when they feel the work they are doing is at odds with the overall goals of the product.

Because they use outcomes as their yardstick of success, they crave data and often advocate for an incremental and experimental approach to product development.

2. Unit economics

People with a product mindset have a propensity towards solving problems in a way that is repeatable and scalable, in order to produce superior unit economics.

While they understand this needs to be tempered in the early stages of a product's lifecycle and pre-market fit - where often the best approach is to do things that don’t scale - they will have a bias towards developing elegant solutions that serve the many, not the few.

They will avoid catering for unique use cases, breaking established patterns and building from scratch whenever possible. If there’s an off-the-shelf solution that caters for 80% of their needs at a fraction of the development cost and time to implement, they’ll know about it and use it. If they can make a minor tweak to a design pattern that will be ‘good enough’ for the customer asking for a very specific solution over creating a new pattern, they’ll choose that option and work with Customer Success to help land the message effectively. This long-term orientation helps to keep product complexity and cognitive overhead under control while optimising the return on product development.

3. Modern vocabulary and understanding

Somebody with a product mindset talks and thinks about product development in a different way than most traditional technology practitioners, usually because they have worked in forward-thinking product environments.

They might talk less about users, personas, and requirements, and more about MAUs and ICPs, and jobs to be done.

They will have a nuanced understanding of an agile, customer-driven product development process, and how work flows between discovery and delivery.

They are well-versed in acquisition, activation, retention, revenue, and referral, and what drives these key behavioural metrics.

They understand the modern technology stack and architecture and will likely favour microservices, serverless and event-driven architectures.

They have an appreciation of modern design patterns and user interface design and are often able to draw from their experience of other products they see as best-in-class and/or are deeply attached to due to their superior experience.

They advocate for experimentation and have a broad range of exposure across concept, prototype, A/B and multivariate testing.

Conclusion

To summarise, someone with a product mindset is fixated on delivering product outcomes, not outputs. They have a bias for solving problems in a repeatable way that maximises the return on product development; and whose understanding and vocabulary are more deeply rooted in start-up and product culture than IT and digital. They are a rare and elusive breed, but if you meet one you’ll know instantly and our advice would be ‘hire them’ before someone else does.