Mastering Product-Led Innovation: Clearing The 5 Big Hurdles

    By Rajiv Lewis, Head of Services, SPARCK

    Rajiv Lewis

    Embracing a product mindset is increasingly crucial for business success, but our experience suggests there are 5 big hurdles that often stand in the way.

    Our clients are prioritising innovation with greater urgency than ever before, and new tools and technology enable faster experimentation and time-to-market.

    But this also breeds uncertainty and fears of being outpaced by the competition.

    While the right technology and data are crucial components of success, equally vital is building the right mindset, skills, and culture to identify and seize the opportunities created by this new pace, and new technology.

    The Product Mindset

    Sitting at the intersection of business and technology, the product mindset plays a pivotal role in shaping how we create products and services that deliver value to users and the business.

    Some key components of a product mindset are:

    • Strategic perspective – understand where your product or service fits in the overall business strategy, and how it delivers value to customers in a way that withstands competitive pressures.
    • Value delivery – maintain your focus on understanding where value lies and continually measuring success. Make trade-offs and prioritise initiatives to deliver the greatest return on investment in the most efficient way possible.
    • Data-informed – make decisions based on data and evidence, not assumptions. Constantly analyse user behaviour, product performance metrics, and market trends to inform development priorities and strategies.
    • Customer-centric – develop a deep understanding of who your customers are – what they want, need, care about, and struggle with. Use this understanding to guide product refinement, ensuring it evolves to meet changing customer needs.
    • Emphasis on experimentation – products are never done, there is always potential to optimise them and increase their value. Continuously test hypotheses about how to make the product more valuable to users and the business through small, targeted experiments.
    • Cross-functional collaboration – to build successful products and services you need to bring together many different disciplines: design, engineering, data, AI, finance, legal, and more. Integrate these diverse perspectives through collaboration to build solutions that truly fit user needs and business goals.

    But adopting a product mindset can be challenging. In this post, the first in a series, we’ll outline typical traps that can slow down teams which are working to become more product led.

    Based on our experience with various-sized clients across industries, we’ve pinned down the 5 major hurdles that repeatedly impede progress.

    1. A shortage of Foresight

    Leadership teams within organisations need a cohesive and well-defined view of where their industry is today, and where it’s heading in the future.

    This perspective should be rooted in the understanding of the underlying forces that are shaping the industry.

    With such a big-picture view, leaders can bring people together around a compelling vision, shared purpose, and a roadmap for success.

    Unfortunately, leaders often get caught up in putting out daily fires and dedicate too little time to exploring trends and signals that reshape their industry and impact their businesses and customers.

    When leadership isn’t aligned on the vision of where the industry is heading, it is likely to make business decisions that contradict each other.

    This creates inconsistencies, confusion, and inefficiencies from top executives down.

    Also, failing to foresee disruptions to the core business models leaves organisations vulnerable.

    Without foresight, product teams also struggle to strategically position their products for future success and risk missing the mark on customer needs. That can lead them to build products that lack that important spark of innovation.

    2. Lack of Strategy

    When product leaders don’t have enough insight into where things are heading, product strategy becomes reactive, rather than proactive.

    This hampers the product's capacity to evolve and remain competitive in a dynamic market environment.

    A compelling vision of the future can inspire fresh thinking among teams and motivate innovation.

    But without a clear strategy to bring that vision to life, innovation remains only potential.

    We call a missing strategy the “missing middle” because it connects ambitious visions to practical objectives, outcomes, and focus.

    A good strategy clarifies:

    • How we intend to create value.
    • For whom.
    • How we are building advantages over competitors.
    • What steps we need to take to test whether this logic is true.

    Often a company’s entire product portfolio lacks an overall strategy, despite constant grooming and care.

    With no focus or structure linking high-impact product initiatives, it becomes hard to discern where to invest resources and why.

    Similarly, at a product level, ambiguities around target users and value propositions abound.

    Without a clear plan for how to delight your customers more than your competitors do, products and services miss the mark.

    Outcomes don’t align to user needs. Return on investment suffers. And resources get wasted on solutions no one asked for.

    Companies end up building aimlessly, unable to discontinue products that are not delivering the expected results.

    3. Too much focus on perfection, not enough pace

    Market landscapes can change fast, and failure to move quickly under these circumstances can result in missing a market opportunity.

    New competitors or alternative products can emerge, threatening your space in the market.

    Competitors can release better features.

    And customer expectations change, in unpredictable ways, which means reaching them requires pivoting between different approaches.

    Too many organisations fail to realise that market opportunities are fleeting and must be acted on quickly.

    This urgency has the most impact in the very early stages of the product development lifecycle when we’re scoping the product concepts.

    What we should be aiming for is defining the minimum product we need to validate our ideas with customers.

    This will prove that:

    • Our solution solves a problem our users have.
    • We have the permission to address the problem.
    • The customer is willing to use the solution.
    • They will exchange value for it.

    What we first release rarely matches the full vision of the product, but it tests our assumptions.

    However, we regularly see teams building a fully featured version of the product right away. This bias for perfection leads to time and money being wasted.

    As a result, products take too long to build, missing the moment to provide what customers wanted, or they stagnate and never get shipped at all.

    In both cases, the market opportunity has been missed as customers find alternatives, or more responsive competitors have seized the moment.

    4. Intergrating product, agile, and design thinking

    When first developing new product concepts, many companies actively embrace value-driven experimentation, agile development, and focus on solving user needs.

    However, as they begin to get more funding and resourcing, the rush to scale up often overrides these good practices.

    Conflicting mindsets emerge, each advocating for a different approach.

    On the one hand, design thinking emphasises empathy and user-centric solutions. On the other, agile methodologies push for iterative development and quick delivery.

    This often leads to teams being busy without making tangible progress, and we lose sight of the overarching vision.

    And rather than being led by data, the opinions of the highest-paid stakeholders dictate business decisions.

    Building products this way makes it expensive to change course later if those features fail to deliver sufficient value after launch. Value is delivered slowly, hurting business outcomes and affecting customer success metrics.

    By contrast, the product mindset is about adopting a holistic, value-driven approach.

    5. Unsuitable operating models

    Understanding how product, design, and agile methodologies work together can provide major benefits. But organisations will often need to reconfigure their operating model to sustain these benefits.

    This means adjusting the structure, processes, and culture that surround the end-to-end delivery model to ensure the focus is on building a sustainable system rather than optimising a single process.

    One significant problem we often see is product teams being denied ownership of outcomes and autonomy to iteratively test products and services. This failure to trust employees leads to top-down decision making and strategy opacity.

    Siloed operations and departmental barriers are another problem, limiting the potential for cross-functional collaboration and cross-cutting solutions.

    This also introduces delays and uncertainties into their workflow, hindering productivity and causing them miss deadlines.

    In the long-run, it can lead to decreased engagement and lower-quality outputs as people may feel detached from outcomes.

    Tearing down walls between teams, and empowering people to make product decisions are essential for leveraging diverse perspectives, and the expertise needed to drive meaningful digital innovation.

    What are your product innovation challenges?

    The 5 hurdles described above show how the absence of a product mindset can cause companies miss big market opportunities.

    The lack of vision, strategy and willingness to experiment makes it harder to succeed early on, while scaling and building culture are critical for long-term success.

    Adopting a product mindset helps organisations spot the right opportunities early enough to make an impact on the market.

    In upcoming articles, we will examine each hurdle more thoroughly. We will unpack the key issues and, most importantly, provide actionable ways to resolve them.

    Drawing on more than 30 years of experience in guiding clients to apply a product mindset for strategic advantage, BJSS has seen organisations either stumble and fall – or fail to get off the starting blocks at all.

    Get in touch with me either on the website, or through LinkedIn.

    I’d love to learn about your organisation’s challenges and offer some insight into how you can use product thinking to your strategic advantage.