Rohit Malekar

June 24, 2021

5 lessons from 5 years of building products

1. The Shared DNA

A typical team on the ground in an end-to-end digital transformation program will look no different than a jigsaw puzzle. From designers who bring together the disciplines of psychology, behavioural science, and interface design to the engineers who build best-of-the-breed applications, it is a gathering of individuals with their own shapes, sizes, colors, and most importantly, aspirations. What DNA in your organisation's culture will bind these diverse practitioners together?

A shared appreciation for a good design, irrespective of whether it is in code or color or characters, to do what’s right for the user by creating high-quality experiences should be a true north across teams.

2. The Flywheel Effect

The responsibility to define and execute a research-first, human-centric and iterative approach should be shouldered with transparency. This implies a relentless focus to use research and data in the context of the user’s mental model for stated, and often unstated, needs.

No matter how great the product strategy is or how awesome the engineering stack is, the foundations of a scalable product are laid in the trenches by collaboratively ensuring a transparent, predictable, and repeatable workflow from conception to design to engineering.

3. The Detached Commitment

The product manager needs to have a “detached commitment” for creating a meaningful impact on the user’s life. The detachment is necessary so that when signals in the data indicate a change in direction, a PM should be able to pivot based on the latest insights in the interest of building the right experience for the user.

Often, this implies shelving ideas that were previously thought to be impervious, including some of their own.

That, however, shouldn’t dent the commitment for the pursuit to do what’s right for the user.

4. The Definition of Progress

It is easy for teams to fall into the trap of tracking progress by counting story points or the number of defects. These metrics do a good job of sizing and measuring the movement of work, however, they are agnostic of the underlying impact on user experience and business operations.  Teams need to recognize the difference between execution-driven success and metrics-driven success. A metric such as story points delivered in a sprint can provide insights into the magnitude of the output delivered but cannot shine a light on the impact of the outcome.

A clear definition of business metrics at the onset of product development serves as a “true north” for the cross-functional teams to prioritize decisions and measure meaningful progress.

5. Looking beyond the Form Factor of a Screen

Product is an artifact that meets the stated and unstated needs of a user through the harmonious interplay of passive experience (e.g. a movie) or active interactions (e.g. a football) or both (e.g. a car). It is easy to fall in the trap of thinking that the quality of digital products is confined to the form factor of a screen.

Organizations need creative and human-centered approaches in disciplines beyond an interactive user experience.

More often than not, the root cause of a disjointed and below-par user experience lies outside of the wireframes and visual designs. It could be anywhere between a policy decision informed by limited insight on user behavior to a technical service with a high degree of debt leading to performance issues in a mobile app.