Many companies have created a difficult problem for themselves. As they grew, they mastered a host of practices to innovate and launch new products. They advanced their staged-development and concept screening practices. And they developed speedy Agile and waterfall methods. Plus, they embraced a long list of creative techniques. All of this is great. At least it seems great.
The problem is that these practices focus on just one concept or product at a time. It connects to what I call a Single-Product Mindset. This may not seem like a big deal because these practices have worked for many years. They’ve boosted innovation and product development results. But in today’s world, there’s a tsunami of change pushing AI to digitalization and automation. It sets up new and special challenges both in development and the market problems needing to be solved. Unfortunately, it also makes the Single-Product Mindset more burdensome than beneficial.
Reinforcing The Single-Product Problem
It’s not the practices that are the problem. Rather, it’s the Single-Product Mindset the practices reinforce. And you’ll find nearly everyone has the Single-Product Mindset ― you, your boss, and your boss’s boss. The Single-Product Mindset is woven into the fabric of all business. We research it. We teach it. We even reward companies for carrying it out. It’s everywhere. And that’s a problem.
Seeing the Single-Product Mindset is like spotting a face or shape in a brainteaser picture. If you’re like me, you probably don’t see it at first. It’s there in front of you, yet hidden in plain sight. But when you do spot this common product development and management mindset, you can’t stop seeing it. It pops out ever more distinctly with each glance.
A Single-Product Mindset wouldn’t be so bad except for one thing. If your competitors have a Multi-Product Mindset, you’re doomed. It’s because a smart Multi-Product plan is far more powerful than a Single-Product approach.
You’ll see Multi-Product Mindsets are more cost effective and deliver greater customer satisfactions. Plus, they produce products quicker. But Multi-Product Mindsets go farther. They make it easy to position products purposely to stymie competitors. And if you’re a competitor with a Single-Product Mindset, such positioning moves will likely give you major headaches.
Sure, the Multi-Product approach takes more smarts and discipline. That’s true both in the trenches and at an organization’s top. But when set up and running, it’s hugely powerful. The common “one product at a time” approach can’t stand up to a smart Multi-Product Mindset.
You’ll see a strong Multi-Product Mindset unify an organization’s decisions and work. And it does this across products, plus across processes ― from front-end creativity through back-end product management. This is no small feat.
Single vs. Multiple
Conversely, the Single-Product Mindset forces companies to stitch together many separate product strategies. And the results of such stitching often fall short. The approach doesn’t help focus or guide work. Nor does it help sharpen decisions and judgments.
Don’t double down on the old Single-Product Mindset. It’s far less effective than Multi-Product thinking.
Spotting the Single-Product Mindset takes an understanding of both single and multiple product thinking. And to some managers, what I am sharing may sound like a rebellious act against the single-product innovation and development approaches. It is. But we need this rebellion if we wish to tackle the Innovation 4.0 challenges and changing markets that lie ahead.
Spotting The Single-Product Mindset
So, look for yourself. Consider how your organization carries out innovation and product development. The Single-Product Mindset is showing itself when…
- Your company is always searching for the “next great product” idea. Or, when your management is relying desperately on intrapreneurs and lean startups to pave a path to the future.
- Your organization believes that concept screening is key to stellar product development. Or you hear a top manager say “we need to improve how we screen products.”
- Your portfolio management approach focuses on project management, not product management. Plus, portfolio decisions only account for development projects. Front-end work isn’t part of the portfolio.
- Your teams carry out development, whether via waterfall practices, agile, or both, by seeking to push each product out the door successfully… without regard to the other products.
- You’re encouraged to define an MVP (minimum viable product), not the maximally synergistic platform-lever or the next generation strategy move.
- Ideation and concept generation strives to define one potential product at a time, not multiple offerings and pivots that boost whole product lines
- Your product offering – the full set of products made and sold – does not gain leverage across products. Instead, each product stands on its own merits. When asked about strategic leverage, top managers claim the biggest gains come from people ― from talents, knowledge and skills, not from products and strategy moves.
- Your company’s game plan for serving products to different customers is based on “what can be ready next” or “what the big customer wants.” It’s not based on “what’s best overall, in what order, and in what time frame.”
- The Company’s management’s mantras are “go faster” and “do more.” Somehow “improve your product offerings’ full impact” has been lost.
- Your company’s decisions and choices don’t reflect a coherent game plan or strategy. They don’t connect technology research and concept discovery with product development and management.
The problem for many management teams is they don’t know the extend to which their entire organization is mired in a Single-Product Mindset. They don’t see it as an enterprise-wide issue. And when they do, they don’t call it out as a problem. To make matters worse, top managers often believe their Single-Product practices should be judged as “best-in-class.” Sure, this was true a few decades ago. But now that we’ve advanced into the third decade of the twenty-first century, the Single-Product approach is a burden to all except entrepreneurs and small businesses.
Markets, technologies, and whole business models have changed. If you work for, lead, or contribute to a mid- or large-sized company, it’s time to help your organization move on from the Single-Product Mindset.
Stalling Needed Changes
Companies experience the burden of the Single-Product Mindset when they try to transform or pivot their product offerings. And such changes to product offerings can be critical to a business’s growth and survival. But the sad truth is that The Single-Product Mindset doesn’t allow these changes to happen quickly, if at all.
Most times, the restrictive single-product orientation slows the change, and it weighs down the full product offering. You’ll see project delays and disjointed work. And unfortunately, technology advances and market shifts don’t stop to allow the Single-Product Mindset to catch up. It’s not surprising that some top managers see their only choice is to go around well established Single-Product approaches, to embrace independent work like intrapreneurship and lean startups.
The unintended outcomes of the Single-Product Mindset can be devastating. But they’re avoidable. First, though, you must spot that your company is engulfed in the old, traditional way of thinking. Next you and your colleagues must learn and embrace the Multi-Product Mindset. Then, you must embed the new mindset across your organization. It’s that simple, yet it demands serious work.
Transforming The Product Mindset
Many companies, perhaps without knowing, have begun the transition to a Multi-Product Mindset. Portfolio Management and Systems Engineering go a long way in this regard. But these alone are not sufficient. Typical portfolio management is project oriented and waffles a great deal on full product line strategies.
Consider that most portfolio management reviews do not include new concept generation work. This is true even though what comes into development has the biggest impact on the portfolio’s value. Nor do the reviews flesh out systemic risks that cut across many projects and hinder a business from achieving more. And systems engineering goes far toward integrating complex software and hardware development and reuse of technologies and designs. But it’s often set up to remedy problems, not to enable purposeful and more impactful strategy moves. This matters.
Detaching From the Past
The movement toward the Multi-Product Mindset is growing. At its core is a focus on setting up and carrying out whole product line strategies, not simply stacking single product strategies on top of one another. The difference is that whole product line strategies seek synergies across products, markets and technologies. Plus, they seek leverage from design reuse and operational scale. If you wish to understand the Multi-Product Mindset, it’s good to learn what makes one product line strategy better than another.
It’s neither healthy nor wise for a business to get stuck in the past. And the Single-Product Mindset has deep roots tied to the past. Now, the Multi-Product Mindset is much more relevant. But this new thought process may require notable organizational change. It demands more than the participation by a handful of thought leaders and influencers.
Step up and Learn More
Do you think the Single-Product Mindset has hold on your organization? If you do, I encourage you to learn more about both why it is limiting what makes a the Multiple-Product Mindset so powerful. Here are a few venues to consider.
Whitepaper– Good Product Line Strategy Matters.