Developing a product thinking mindset

The concept of product thinking has had a lot of hype as the solution that will save news journalism, yet its definition is nebulous as it incorporates ideas from many different sources and disciplines.

In a series of virtual workshops tech journalist and entrepreneur Adam Oxford is taking SAMIP participants through a product-thinking bootcamp for media start-ups. In the introductory workshop in April Adam emphasised that “it a mindset, not a skillset.”

Some of the key principles and definitions product thinking draws upon include:

  • Design-thinking – knowing what makes a product useful and incorporating many ideas from different sources.
  • User centricity – keeping the reader/user at the centre of planning and product development. The starting point is trying to solve a need for our readers.
  • Data-driven – using data for making decisions about your organisation/products.
  • Digitalisation/digital transformation – using tools that are flexible, adaptable and best suited for the moment
  • Lean Start-Up/ Agile thinking: Getting things done, as fast as possible, without wasting resources.

In the first workshop Adam took the participants through an interactive exercise to test their value propositions by setting out three things about their businesses that have to be true for it to succeed. He then challenged them to find experiments to test those assumptions. The exercise was aimed at testing hypotheses and reframing what we do as questions to uncover the root cause of issues. “It’s all about efficiency of resources, trying to get to the biggest problem fastest and solving that first.”

Adam’s second workshop focused on embedding and expanding the experimental mindset and working with metrics that matter. A key principle is you can’t improve what you can’t measure, so it is important to establish a baseline and learn to distinguish between vanity metrics and actionable metrics.

He outlined the scientific method for designing a lean experiment to test your hypotheses and explained concepts like cohort testing, also known as A/B testing, and a minimum viable product, important tools to validate a hypothesis that readers need or want a new feature or product before spending any time or effort building it.

Adam’s top tips for developing a product-thinking mindset:

  • Focus on small tasks, avoid long development cycles
  • Collaborate, create cross-functional, temporary teams and break down silos
  • Measure everything
  • Build in feedback mechanisms, avoid rigid plans
  • Set milestones and objectives, not rigid deadlines and specs
  • Aim for ongoing incremental improvements, validate your vision
  • Focus on outcomes, not outputs
  • Question every assumption, create goals and deadlines, be open minded…… just like good journalism really.

Want to learn more? Adam recommends:

  • Join News Product Alliance, the global community of support and practice for news product thinking. Their mission is to expand the diversity of news product thinkers in decision-making roles; they are very responsive to questions and open to the sharing of experiences.
  • Check out Google Optimise, a web analytics and testing tool by Google that allows you to test web page variants to see how they perform against a specified objective.
  • Read The Start-Up Way by Eric Ries: How modern companies use entrepreneurial Management to transform culture and drive long-term growth