As I kid, I used to read the comics of Lucky Luke, the cowboy who can shoot faster than his shadow. You simply have to love a cowboy with that amazing skillset. In the far far west back then, you’re pretty much set up for success when you’re riding a horse called Joly Jumper and have the ability to handle a gun faster than the light. The thing is actually that when you look at product shaping and designing, you sometimes need another skillset, not so much jumping into firing shots faster than your own shadow but maybe first question whether you actually need to fire a shot. Luckily, most businesses aren’t the far far west – anymore? – and you will get the time to discover the challenge beneath the problem.
In the past few years, I’ve seen many product OWNERS in various industries behave like amazing request handlers, showing 100% commitment to deliver what was asked; I’ve seen them going beyond the extra mile. And yet, I strongly believe they hold the key to unlock greater business value when they shift towards that product owner mindset which I like to call “OWNING the g#dd#mn product“. “It’s like moving from a job to a craft”, a dear colleague once mentioned to me.
“Productivity is less about what you do with your time. And more about how you run your mind.-Robin S. Sharma-
Human minds are designed to give the fastest answer
On an average we take about 35 000 decisions a day. Obviously, they differ in difficulty and importance. But to give you some ideas : it’s about taking a step to the left or right when you have some dogpoopoo on the sidewalk. It’s about deciding to take the stairs when you only have to climb one floor. This is about 98% of the decisions you take on a daily basis. Imagine you were going to make a conscious decision about all those little choices we have to make… you might end up with a gigantic headache at the end of the day. This being said, it helps to understand we like to jump into looking for solutions because our mind is created to do that. But Einstein said it so eloquently:”If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” It’s about retraining our mind a bit and learn to appreciate a good problem every once in a while.
Our work became more complex over the last decades. The digital revolution and growing impatience from customers puts a huge pressure on delivering something really valuable to customers: more exclusive products, greener products or a better service. And so understanding a problem, from head to toe, becomes more important. To come up with amazing solutions, you’d better learn how to fall in love with the problem and how to dive a bit deeper. Understanding what you want to solve needs context and needs framing of the problem: who is having the problem(s) and empathise with that person or that group; identify where the problem is and understand that there is still a gap to close to move towards that ideal state. So basically what you’re going to do is breaking down the problem, trying to get closer towards the actual root causes. Fix the root cause, fix the symptoms, doesn’t it? What could help to get engaged with a problem, is to work the problem backward, not forward. And so there are multiple techniques to detect the actual root cause: 5 times why, problem tree, fishbone diagram, …
Looking at the most innovative cultures in the world, we can’t move past Japan. And there might be good reason for that … Our dear and good old friend William Edward Deming educated the Japanese around the 1950’s and worked with leaders of the Japanese industry to help them embrace a culture of product innovation. The main ideas he taught the Japenese were:
- Better design of products to improve service
- Higher level of uniform product quality
- Improvement of product testing in the workplace and in research centers
- Greater sales through side [global] markets
Various ways to solve a problem
We all know that there often is more than 1 way to solve a problem. It just becomes easier when you understand what you’re trying to solve. Straight-forward problems often can be solved via models, best practices or other obvious solutions.
But when problems are more complex, another approach is probably needed: co-creations, ideation and brainstorming, explorations and experiments. It’s hard work to create those amazing inventions. But you have to know that creativity is a process, not an event: working through mental barriers, seeking through assumptions and removing blockers in your thinking to see the opportunities. This practice requires training your mind to that mindset, sticking to a fun, challenging and rewarding process. Are you ready to accept the challenge and evolve your product owner job to a craft?
“A mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work if it is not open.”-Frank Zappa-
In both problem and solution space, you diverge – create choices – before you converge – make choices – to end with 1 possible outcome. It helps to open up the mind and so gain new insights. Thinking about options that might seem far fetched at first hand, might eventually be the spark for that one great idea or who knows … that amazing innovation. Start investing more time in understanding and stop shooting shots faster than your own shadow!