Transitioning To A Product-led Business: Overcoming Challenges And Driving Success

    By Kylie Upton, Kylie is a product consultant attached to BJSS's London office.

    Kylie Upton

    Digital technology has long been a strategic tool for organisations but growth in computing power has left many with old technology and outdated methods.

    Business consulting, design thinking, and agile delivery have helped companies stay competitive, but these are no longer enough as the pace of technological advancement continues to increase.

    To thrive in this rapidly changing environment, businesses need to focus not only on business strategy, customers or technology delivery, but also on how these elements will work together to achieve best possible outcomes.

    Product Mindset

    In the first article of this series we introduced the concept of product mindset and outlined its six core components.

    Our experience has shown that organisations that adopt a product mindset are better equipped to seamlessly integrate agile, design thinking and business thinking methodologies.

    As a result, they can make the right decisions for their business at the right time.

    Changing Mindsets Can Be Difficult

    By adopting a product mindset, organisations place their product at the centre of their operations. The product itself is the primary driver of sales.

    This shift can be relatively easy for smaller companies. They do not have legacy business and operating models to contend with.

    However, for larger organisations, it can become a significant challenge.

    Many organisations have started to move towards a product-led approach, but often struggle with the transition. This leads to a ‘Frankenstein’ combination of various methodologies.

    Where organisations start the journey 

    Typically, the organisations we work with and observe have started an agile transformation process. They’ve hired designers and tried to transform their operations.

    But they haven’t quite figured out a way to make all this gel together.

    If this sounds familiar, hopefully it’s reassuring to know you’re not alone.

    It’s not unusual for organisations to have outdated technology stacks, a wealth of ideas for innovation, and a significant budget to drive transformation efforts.

    Product departments are seen as the organisation’s great hope for staying competitive. But, at the same time, others doubt they can succeed.

    As competitors outperform them and adapt more quickly to market changes, organisations feel under pressure to transform quickly.

    But this desire for quick results can lead to a misguided approach. They’ll allocate substantial budgets to product departments hoping that financial investment will result in quick improvements.

    Many organisations then find themselves stuck in a frustrating pattern of attempting to transform their tech stack repeatedly, without ever achieving their goals.

    Why do transformation projects fail?

    One reason for failure, and repeated failure, is the lack of patience and commitment. When organisations don’t see immediate results, they abandon transformation efforts too soon.

    This can lead to a cycle of building and throwing away – where new initiatives are started only to be discarded when they fail to deliver instant success.

    It’s important to remember that it is never late to change.

    What can you do to break out of this cycle

    Step 1 – Decide which challenge to tackle

    The first thing you need to do is identify key priorities of your organisation and the most critical blockers that prevent your organisation from gaining an advantage over your competitors.

    Consider the following questions:

    • Is your organisation’s strategy sufficiently innovative?
    • Are your products resonating with your customers?
    • Does your technology stack hinder your organisation’s ability to act on ideas and pivot quickly to maintain a competitive edge?

    Naturally, organisations will face challenges in all these areas and with finite resources attempting to tackle every issue at once becomes an impossible task.

    So, you will need to choose and prioritise based on which initiatives are likely to deliver greatest impact or value. Or focus on the most critical aspect that needs improvement.

    Attempting to transform your product set and your technology platform at the same time can be difficult. It requires significant support from key stakeholders and senior leaders within your organisation.

    Step 2 – Set clear metrics and pivot if needed

    Set well-defined metrics to track the progress of your organisation’s transformation.

    Setting measurable objectives, such as objectives and key results (OKRs) or key performance indicators (KPIs) that all teams can contribute to, and are committed to, is vital for long-term success.

    Clear metrics will help your organisation understand what is working and what isn’t, and pivot when necessary.

    Once these goals are set, empower your teams to decide what’s the best way to achieve them with the right parameters and guardrails.

    Many organisations rely on velocity as the main measure of success. While it’s a useful metric, focusing only on velocity can lead teams to focus on shipping features rather than on delivering value and achieving outcomes.

    Make sure that the metrics you track are tied to delivering value for the organisation rather than measuring the quantity of outputs delivered.

    Step 3 – Scale proportionally to the delivered value

    Many organisations embark on large scale digital transformation journeys that are backed by large sums of investment.

    Armed with millions to invest, organisations often try to rapidly expand by assigning additional people to work on resolving the problem.

    However, they tend to make the mistake of going from 0 to 300 without doing the necessary groundwork. Namely, demonstrating value or establishing a culture and cadence of success.

    Without solid foundations, this approach can lead to unsustainable growth.

    By starting small and demonstrating success, you can build solid foundations and scale proportionally to the growing needs of your product.

    When introducing a new way of working or a new product, it is unlikely that you will get everything right on the first attempt. Starting small allows for more flexibility to improve based on feedback and results.

    Step 4 – Establish persistent teams with autonomy

    Teams perform better when their members feel secure and have a strong sense of psychological safety.

    When team members are passionate about their work and the product they’re building, they are more likely to be motivated and engaged.

    It takes time for teams to establish a regular working rhythm. Many product teams require at least six months of working together, building, and releasing a product before they achieve full effectiveness.

    By establishing persistent teams, you increase the likelihood that team members will develop a sense of ownership and will be willing to put in extra effort when needed.

    Persistent teams should be composed of product managers, designers, and engineers, who will feel like they are missionaries for the product.

    They should be trusted and empowered to make their own decisions and take ownership of their product.

    The ultimate goal is to create autonomous persistent teams that can drive product success.

    Step 5 – Be patient

    Organisations that have been operating for decades often expect to see a complete transformation within a year or so. But true transformation takes time and requires a strong foundation. That may not be glamorous or exciting but it is necessary to be successful and sustainable.

    Rushing teams to meet unrealistic deadlines can often lead to cutting corners and compromising quality, delivering a subpar product that will not make any impact.

    Change will not happen overnight but if you’re patient and trust your teams to deliver, you will see true transformation.

    Key thoughts to take away

    Building products at scale is not for the faint of heart.

    It isn’t a quick process and there’s no magical transformation from a caterpillar to a butterfly.

    To achieve success at scale, organisations need to establish effective product teams with clear accountability for their areas and well-defined metrics to measure their progress.

    Are you planning a transformation initiative for your organisation and looking for support? Would you like to set up your organisation for success?

    Get in touch with us to set up an opportunity to talk.