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  • Writer's pictureKendall Fortney

Radical Product Thinking

Radical Product Thinking by Radhika Dutt challenges modern product thinking by focusing on Vision instead of Features. She proposes by driving the team with a singular Vision everyone can focus on growing the product toward an end goal instead of iterating for iteration’s sake. Owning Vision also means really understanding the expected and unexpected impact your product will make on the world (looking at you, Facebook).

Radhika Dutt co-founded Radical Product Thinking in 2017 to be a movement of leaders creating vision-driven change. It was started with a discussion about product diseases with two ex-colleagues, Geordie Kaytes and Nidhi Aggarwal and developed into the book Radical Product Thinking.

I was struck, like many of you, by Simon Sinek’s TED Talk where he explained people buy why you do it, not how you do it. Reading Radical Product Thinking by Radhika Dutt I see the same view in how she approaches Product Vision. Her core principles are:

  • Think of your product as a mechanism for creating change

  • Envisioning the change you want to bring to the world before engineering your product

  • Create change by connecting your vision to you day-to-day activities

The powerful effect of viewing your product as a mechanism for change is that you can see all the ways your product can be used for bad as well. Considering your Why statement when making your product also requires you to think about your Why Not.

Radhika argues that an iterative-based approach to product development can result in wasted effort, bad product fit and clarity. Sometimes a team will iterate a feature into the ground instead of ensuring it helps the customer (“Well, I think the customer must want multi-stage notifications”). She provides a template to create a vision statement:

Today, when [identified group] want to [desired outcome], they have to [current solution]. We envision a world where [shortcomings resolved]. We are bringing this world about through [basic technology/approach].

By answering why you want to disrupt the status quo, you can set the stage for the customer problem you are trying to solve and the approach to accomplish that goal. I found it useful to create my vision statement for my products when going into quarterly planning, it helped set a common mindset for talking about what features are important.

The other side of vision is also investing in it:

  • Fix technical debt to have a foundation that can go the distance

  • Spend resources on user research to start understanding you customers at the beginning

  • Invest in R&D to make sure you are always moving forward

This means removing the friction from your process but I find it to be some of the hardest places to convince a company to invest. We often put off technical debt to create the next new thing that introduces more and more bugs until the whole thing collapses.

Overall I find the Radical Product Thinking book to be interesting, engaging and useful. The last couple of chapters are dedicated to the danger of incentivizing the wrong behavior and not considering the impact of vision. Unethical behavior emerges when stretch goals are not achievable by any other means (Wells Fargo branches famously opened accounts in their customer’s name without permissions for that very reason). We have seen how products can have horrible consequences, and by focusing on vision it is much easier to see if the final result connects to what you intended.

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