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March 28, 2022

What is product driven development?

In the age of digital products, many companies are shifting their focus to product-led development, and for good reason! Product driven development means we focus on the user, not just writing code. We minimize time to value by reducing the time we spend building the product before it’s in a user’s hands. To do this, we create a Minimum Viable Product or MVP. This means we talk to our users and prioritize ruthlessly to get a working product with the minimum features needed to provide value to the target customer. In this process, product, design, and engineering work together to understand the user research and the user’s problems to help get to the best solution.

On being product-led

We are a product-led company at our core. To be product-led, we have to be agile. We prioritize defining the problem and then falling in love with the problem–not the solution. We put the customers’ needs first and the product is the business, not a separate tool to support the business. Product needs to sit at the table with the executive team, and not underneath another department. This means that there is a person dedicated to leading product strategy and development. Under this leadership, the product team needs to be empowered to have true ownership of the product and make the decisions that are best for the product and its users. This division of responsibility is usually seamless until the user research clashes with what the executive team wants. For example, if the user research tells us not to build a feature the rest of the executive team loves, the product lead will work to help the executive team understand why it is in their best interest to scrap the idea. When the company is committed to being product-led at their core and there is trust between team members, this is easiest to achieve.

Being product-led requires us to put our ego aside and focus on what is best for the users–which will ultimately be what is best for the company. We must remember that “we are not our users” and listen to the customers’ problem(s) to find creative and intuitive solutions. Once we define a solution, we want to minimize time to value and get an MVP into our users’ hands to get their feedback. That first product is not going to be perfect, but the insights we can gain from a real user in our real product are invaluable.

Product development is not just engineering

Product development takes a product from idea to reality and requires a lot more thought than simply telling an engineer what to code. A product team sits in the middle of the users, stakeholders, and engineers and is responsible for building a product that solves the users’ needs, while satisfying the business goals. A product team typically consists of UX researchers and designers, business analysts, and a product manager. While this team drives the vision forward, the engineering team’s specialty is to ensure the product is built (coded) in the best way. Engineers look to the product team for guidance on what the right features to create are and in which order they should be completed to have the biggest impact on the user and business goals. Having a product team in place means the engineers are able to focus solely on engineering rather than spending their time interviewing users or business stakeholders.

By collaborating with UX and Product in a dual track agile process, we are able to set up the engineers to do what they do best: build great digital products.

Dual track agile means as the engineers work on the solutions to a feature in the current sprint, the UX team begins designing features for their next sprint. This process allows for teams to produce results independently, finish features faster, and get satisfaction from their work. This cohesive model ensures a streamlined integration of business, product, and engineering. Practically, this means before a user story gets in front of an engineer, the product team will have vetted the feature and we are confident that what’s about to be developed is intuitive for the user and solves for a real need. Then, the engineers can find the best way to build the product and present alternative solutions if necessary.

Why teams fail by starting to code before doing the product work

When you start to code before you have done user research, competitive analysis, or set business outcomes, your product is more likely to fail and you’re more likely to waste money. You are more likely to fail because your outcomes are not defined and there is no evidence you are building the right product for your users. The product work ensures you have clear, achievable goals and that your product is solving a problem in a format that users will spend money on.

Building the wrong thing for your users can also waste time in having to rework the product to get to a better solution. This ends up wasting emotional capital you have with your engineering and UX teams for scrapping all the hard work they just created. Given this, a core motto at 3Pillar is that we build the right product, the right way. “The right product” comes before the right way because we need our entire team–from QA to developer–to understand the problem our product is solving and why the user wants it. Then, they can start building the right way.

Why building the right team helps products succeed

To be product-led, you need the right team. An empowered team typically consists of product, UX, and engineering. Each team member is able to focus on what they do best, and lean on one another when they need support. When team members are able to focus on their disciplines, performance is optimized and job satisfaction increases.

At 3Pillar, we believe in the power of high-performing teams. So much, that harnessing the power of team is our originating purpose as a company. We practice this as a whole company and on the teams we create for each engagement. There are a few models we typically set up to support an optimized and integrated experience within each of our specialties (UX, Product, and Engineering). In each of these models there are lead roles, to reduce the disorder that is common at the start of forming a team and to help manage the team dynamics throughout the engagement.

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The ultimate goal of building high-performing teams is to deliver results. We want you to see your product raved about, your users happy, and your revenue grow. Our clients have found that the teams we build for them deliver the results they are looking for.

Special thanks to these members of FORCE, 3Pillar’s expert network, for their contributions to this article.

FORCE is 3Pillar Global’s Thought Leadership Team comprised of technologists and industry experts offering their knowledge on important trends and topics in digital product development.