Drive Innovation with an Explorer Mindset

Last post I introduced the Product Manager’s Ideation Framework. Here I start to introduce each of the mindset in more detail – with tips for practicing and applying them.

With the explorer mindset you’ll use creative thinking to fully identify as many of the opportunities and potential solutions as possible. You don’t want to adopt a very specific product implementation too early. Instead, allow yourself some flexibility to experiment and explore parallel lines of inquiry. Broaden the problem space, brainstorm multiple approaches, and test a few possible solutions.

Screen Shot 2017-08-18 at 5.18.27 PM

Adopt an explorer mindset by starting with some of these activities:

Define a product vision – Set a “North Star”, a statement for what you are trying to achieve and make sure all involved with your product know about it. Make it exciting; a stretch, but still obtainable. You are giving your team context and permission to think big.

Visualize the Product Vision

Many people respond better to visuals (show) over text (talk). Two common approaches to engage people with visuals are:

1.     Produce a design mock-up for a possible “end-state” for your product. For example, if your product is a website show a mock-up of the home page showing key functionality that would be available to users once it is completely built.

2.     A customer journey showing the before and after, and how the product changes the end-user’s life. Show each step for how the customer solves the problem today and how much easier this will be once your vision is fully realized.

Don’t fall into the trap of attempting to design your product at this stage. You are not creating specifications to give to User Experience: you are creating a communication tool.

Canvas broadly for opportunities and potential solutions – Be open to finding ideas from peers and customers. Don’t just seek solutions to known problems, but find new problems to solve. Schedule regular brainstorming sessions with colleagues to collect their insights. Capture thoughts in an idea backlog and revisit them during planning to ensure you’re working on the key issues.

“Our best ideas come from clerks and stockboys.” – Sam Walton

Borrow from other products – Use your own product and related products frequently. Note how they function, how they are designed, where they are intuitive, or where they have solved a problem in an elegant way. In addition to competitors, explore related product categories and products with similar business models but in different industries. Take screen captures and post them on a wiki page (you might call it “Product Inspirations”) for future reference and a source for ideas.

Pursue and prototype multiple solutions concurrently – At the beginning of the product development process, you want to improve your understanding of the problem and uncover possible solutions. Before committing to a single approach, negotiate time with your team to explore and create alternative solutions (often referred to as a Discovery phase). Mock-up a couple and test with a group of actual or potential users (and internal stakeholders). Often, you’ll find that a hybrid solution gives best results. See Chapter 9 – Continuous Customer Validation for example mock-up and prototyping tools.

“The way to get good ideas is to get lots of ideas and throw the bad ones away. – Linus Pauling

Exploration doesn’t have to take weeks nor be a costly venture – you are creating lightweight deliverables, not fully-working solutions. For best use of time and resources, keep to a couple of concurrent ideas and cull early when it’s apparent something isn’t working.

Explorer Mindset Action Checklist
o  Vision statement

o  Vision design visualization

o  Customer journey

o  Explorative talks with peers, customers

o  Whiteboard brainstorming sessions

o  Idea backlog

o  Product Inspirations wiki page

o  Multiple solutions in the Discovery phase

War story – Deploying the Explorer Mindset

Recently, I was consulting for a mobile consumer technology company having difficulty increasing subscriptions for their product serving college students. New paid sign-ups seemed low given the potential market and despite many months of optimization investments.

In an all-day workshop that included business, executive and development team stakeholders, we started by revisiting the product vision. The current product only offered incremental, occasional homework help for students – with low engagement rates. We instead set our sights on making it an essential, everyday study-companion.

We reviewed research comparing what students needed versus what we were giving them today. During brainstorming, we identified five key opportunities – none had previously been considered for the roadmap.

Finally, we looked at other subscription-based products we admired (none were competitors). We identified improvements to sign-up and registration flow we could test that might encourage more trials and personalize the experience.

While a one-day session wasn’t going to make the product instantly more successful, in exploring the possibilities we unearthed new ideas deserving of testing as they might ultimately and substantially improve results over what we were doing today.





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