Agile · podcasts · Principles · Problems · Product management

Product principles

Those of you who’ve been reading my blog regularly over the years will not be surprised by these two things: I’m a firm believer in the value of principles over rules and I’m a huge fan of the Inside Intercom podcast.

I’ve written often enough about principles that you can search my previous posts tagged with the category “Principles” to see my thoughts; the focus on principles is a big part of what I like about Agile with its emphasis on principles over rules. And if you’re paying close attention you might have noticed that I often write a new post on Fridays inspired in part by the episode of Inside Intercom’s weekly podcast released on Thursdays. These two things came together today as I listened to their latest episode on product principles.

Two of the senior leaders from Intercom were sharing the three product principles that they use (in order) to guide their development:

  1. Begin with the problem
  2. Think big, start small
  3. Ship to learn

There is so much wisdom encapsulated in these simple principles and in following them in order. Start by gaining a deep understanding of the problem to be solved (instead of for example starting with a cool idea of a fun product to build). Dream big all you MIGHT do over time, but start by solving the first and smallest piece that will add value to the end users. And understand that the development process is iterative and so the moment we “ship” (or deploy or deliver) our solution we want to see how users interact with it to learn if we got it right and what we should do next for them.

In elaborating this second principle, the guys from Intercom also shared a second piece of their process. When they are ‘thinking big’ about the potential solution they can develop they make a massive list of all the features or functions that solution might have. Then they divide this list into three categories:

  1. Essential components that the first version MUST provide (they try to make this list as small as possible while still ensuring they deliver value)
  2. Differentiators that will make their solution stand apart from other offerings on the market (some of which might also make the first version of the product to help it stand out)
  3. Not now components that could possibly be added in the future but that aren’t required for the initial offering; some of these things might never be added but it is usually easier to decide ‘not in version one’ than to decide ‘never’ when you are in the early phase of product development

As usual I found this podcast resonated with my own thinking and challenged me to keep growing as a product manager. If you aren’t listening to the Inside Intercom podcast I (yet again) urge you to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. The regular insights served up in this weekly format won’t solve all your product development issues of course because in truth it’s not simple.

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