Once upon a time, I shared a flight with a pilot.
During the journey, he explained every noise or move the plane or its pilot made.
Two things stood out. First, I learned more about flying than ever because this pilot was an expert in his field. Second, it was one of my most nerve-racking flights because I only understood half of what he said.
The pilot had what I call a “flying sense.” He understood planes and the sky so well.
In the same way, we, as product managers and creators, can develop a “Product Sense.”
Picture yourself as a hero in the world of products.
Your mission isn’t to fight villains but tackle people’s deep-seated daily problems.
You might wonder, “How can I do this so effortlessly?” The secret — Product Sense!
You’ve probably heard about a “sixth sense” or “spider-sense,” but not so much about “product sense.”
That’s understandable because many people often call it intuition.
But intuition has a lousy reputation, as best practices and experts push to be data-driven. Without data, we have no point to make.
However, for generations, leaders, navigators, soldiers, and artisans have relied on their instincts to master their crafts.
“Talent is something you make bloom. Instinct is something you polish.” — Haruichi Furudate.
Product Sense doesn’t come magically, nor by being bitten by an experienced Product Manager. The only way to nurture Product Sense is through consistent practice and learning.
Product Sense is intuitively or instinctively feeling things related to a product.
Sounds vague? It’s normal.
Product Sense is not something you can easily explain with words. It’s more about feelings, intuition, and knowledge gained from experience.
Let me share a real-life example with you.
In the first month of joining Engage, I worked on improving our compliance product’s document rejection area.
After some interviews, our product users told me they found it quite painful to reject documents submitted by contractors repeatedly.
Something about this didn’t sit right with me. Sure, there was an issue with the user experience, but there was something more.
I was familiar with the industry as most contractors were construction workers. It’s part of my family history.
I decided to dig deeper into the problem. Improving the rejection process was my first mark in the company. I wanted to be thorough.
I learned from my time with my dad on construction sites as a kid. Many contractors are immigrants and have a basic level of English. Plus, they usually complete the process on their phones (which are not the latest models) and can’t be bothered by admin tasks.
The real issue was in the document submission process.
Keeping all this in mind, I revamped the experience on both sides. By giving better guidance and multilingual instructions, we reduced document rejections by 70% and multiple rejections by 95%.
My product sense guided me towards a meaningful resolution and a genuine improvement.
This sense helped me earn the trust of the users I met during the discovery phase. It gave me a tremendous advantage for the tasks that lay ahead.
Product sense was vital in pushing innovation in recruitment and securing deals with major companies.
Now the question is, how can you develop your Product Sense?
Product Sense is a skill you can learn and acquire. If you’re currently working on a product, you already have a basic understanding of it. Developing this skill will make you more effective at your job and allow you to focus on what matters the most.
Last week, I introduced the concept of the ring of influence to understand the power of context. To enhance your product sense, we need to delve deeper into this concept, refining each ring to greater detail.
The following rings of influence represent an augmented version of last week’s model. As mentioned, you, we, the Product Heroes, are at the core of the book I am writing. I aim to equip you with the skills and tools to bring your product vision to life and improve your professional journey.
The following tool lies at the heart of the system I’ve developed. It will be the cornerstone for our journey to conquer the product world.
Here’s the representation of the Product Sense Model based on the Rings of Influence:
In the next part, I will explain each of the nine rings and an exercise you can carry out next week.
- The Product Creator — You! Your experiences and what influences you make up a big part of your product sense. Like I used my time on construction sites with my dad, you can use your experiences to help you.
- The Product — The more you know about your product, the better you can judge instinctively what you can do or the efforts required for a new idea. It includes features, technical details, data, architecture, strengths, and flaws.
- The Team — We talked about this last time. It’s important to understand everyone on your team. Who can help you experiment, explore, innovate, and tackle complex challenges? How do they work and collaborate? What type of leadership works best for each person? Remember, product sense is also a team effort.
- The Organisation — You need to see the big picture. What are the strengths and weaknesses of your organisation? What kind of people, skills, technologies, and knowledge do you have? What are its values, culture, and goals? Knowing this helps you understand what will work and offers valuable insights into what leverage you have at your disposal.
- The Competition Landscape — Knowing competitors’ products and strategies gives you insights about your customers. Who are your top competitors? Remember, competition can be broader and rooted in human nature. What do people do to avoid problems?
- The Industry — Stay updated with your industry. What are the latest trends, laws and practices? How is the industry changing? The industry constantly evolves, and you can move forward by understanding the underlying trends.
- Other Industries and Sea of Products — Often, inspiration comes from others and different industries. Some technologies even come from observing nature and animals. What kind of problems are they tackling, and how?
- The Technology and Economic Market Landscape — The economic, technological, and market situation impact everyone and everything. These factors influence product development. For example, recessions have pushed forward new types of businesses. History can help you predict what could happen next.
- The World — Finally, the world is your stage. Broad global trends, societal changes, and cultural shifts can all impact your product. When international events happen, they will affect your customers and users. How you adapt, anticipate, and cater to emerging needs could mean success or failure.
Developing product sense is not an overnight process; it requires time, patience, and lots of practice. Don’t rush; let it build naturally.
Here are some fun exercises to boost your Product Sense skills:
- People watching: Watch people in different settings like the subway, the city, or even work. Try to guess what they’re thinking, where they’re going, or how they feel. Pay close attention to how they interact with their surroundings and the technology they use. It will sharpen your understanding of human behaviour.
- Be curious: Embrace your curiosity. Read and watch stories about how people have built things. It doesn’t have to be tech-related. It could be about your favourite sports team or a historical event. The goal here is to gather knowledge and identify patterns. Remember, great ideas often spring from a well of broad expertise.
- App analysis: Take a close look at your favourite apps. Try to understand what makes them so great. Understand the why behind the last updates. Is it their user-friendly design? Their unique features? Or perhaps their customer service? Understanding what makes a product successful can help inform your own product decisions.
- Predicting the future: Have some fun and make predictions on how your favourite apps might evolve in the future. What new features might they add? How could they improve their user experience? Making educated guesses can help you practice envisioning future product developments.
Ask questions, observe, analyse, and reflect on your daily routine. Keep track of your thoughts, insights, and learnings, and review them periodically. Over time, you’ll notice patterns and gain a deeper understanding of the various rings, improving your product sense.
Lastly, trust yourself. Intuition, at its core, is about confidence in your knowledge and experience. Believe in your ability to make the right call. Don’t ignore those gut feelings; they’re part of your product sense.
Keep polishing your product sense, and remember, “Talent is something you make bloom. Instinct is something you polish.”
You are the hero in your product universe. Now it’s time to make your mark.