Episode 6 highlights:
- Some history of Adaptive Path and how they got into design and product strategy
- Pitfalls to avoid when making a product and design strategy
- How to be more than a UX design “stylist” or “executionist”
- The role of UX and design in business strategy
- Differences between UX and product management
- Design like a lawyer and get everyone on board with your decisions and recommendations
Wow! Let me just say, this episode is absolutely packed with insights and great quotes about UX, design and product strategy. Peter is one of the founding members of Adaptive Path, a design executive, author and speaker with countless contributions to the world of user experience design and product development. This is sure not to disappoint!
Links from this episode:
Free product strategy mini-course
Product Strategy blueprint to help you share and create your design and product decisions
Full interview transcript from our episode with Peter Merholz:
Zack Naylor: Welcome to Aurelius podcast episode six. I’m Zack Naylor C.E.O. and co-founder here at Aurelius. Today’s guest is Peter Merholz a design executive currently with I.B.M. working on block chain identity and recent author of the book Org Design for Design Orgs Peter Merholz welcome to the show
Peter Merholz: thank you thank you for having me
Zack Naylor: so we’re very pleased to have you here just given all of the crunch abuses you have made both recently and for very long time to the world of user experience approaches and in general and we’re really excited to have a conversation with you about those things
Peter Merholz: looking forward to it
Zack Naylor: well let’s just dive right in because the the first question I would really love to ask you is from your perspective you know as a product and design executive what is product strategy?
What is Product Strategy?
Peter Merholz: For me ultimately product strategy is, strategy are the answers to the questions that I have as a designer that I need to have those answers in order to do my design well. So products strategy is is kind of what sets up the the framework the goals the objectives the vision for what it is you’re going to be doing for what it is the problem you’re going to solve the opportunity you’re trying to realize. And a clear set of you know whether it’s measures of success. OKRs, a vision you know some type of kind of prototype or scenario of the future you know those types of things that help a team understand what it is they are building. As they shift out of strategy and into the execution what.
Zack Naylor: Yeah OK I. Love several parts to that answer and which I want to dive into just to recap what you’re saying I mean really product strategy from your perspective as someone in that executive role is making sure that we have an answer to the questions what are we doing?
Peter Merholz: The way I got into it when I was working at Adaptive Path when we started we saw ourselves as primarily a design firm and user experience design for. You know workflows and wire frames and doing that kind of stuff but we would often in working with our clients or client we would ask our clients questions about who are the users why are they coming here what else are they doing you know how will you measure success how will you know if we’re if we’re doing the right thing and we ask those questions because we realize that in order for are designed to work we need to be focusing our design efforts on the right thing. I think too often designers are given a brief or set of requirements and just go you know and we saw if we did that we might do a really great design for something that. So something that hadn’t really been thought through from a strategic angle and so our great design was useless because it was solved it wasn’t solving an interesting problem and so we backed into doing the strategy work because we often found that our clients often didn’t have an answer to those questions and so we had to start getting those answers ourselves so that we can make sure that when we got to our design work we knew we had confidence that what we were working on was meaningful was useful was far more likely to be shipped and shipped. Looking like what we were delivering so that’s that’s how we got into strategy so yeah it’s about it’s about framing and answering the right questions that set up the product development or the design and engineering
Zack Naylor: Yes absolutely I mean just a I mean you’re absolutely echoing things that we believe here wholeheartedly as a matter of fact why we even exist. As a company we say it in a different way but using some of the exact same words and just solving the right problems building the stuff that matters you know we’ve had conversations with people recently where they said we’re great at design sprints or we’re great at agile but then we build stuff for six months and we poke our heads up and say wait a second why are we building this thing we did it really efficiently and you know it’s done well but it’s not the right thing so as a follow on to that Peter I’m curious do you still find a lot of organizations in the spot where they don’t necessarily have the answers to what are we doing and why?
Peter Merholz: Oh totally and I suspect that will be true forever. I don’t think at some point every company will realize the importance of strategy I think one of the things particularly in the modern era that gets in the way of strategy is this. Almost religious celebration of speed and quickness in and ship it yesterday kind of mindset or you know kind of lean principles of getting out and then you know iterate with your customers and all that kind of stuff and so I see many organizations that are basically willing to forego strategy in favor of launching something and. I guess hoping to uncover their strategy in the market. Which strikes me is foolish.
Zack Naylor: Yeah.
Peter Merholz: Yes I gave you the long answer in the short answer is yes companies are still not particularly strategic.
Zack Naylor: Yea for sure and you know it’s kind of leading the witness I had a feeling I knew how you’re going to answer that but you know as a follow up to that as well given your experience and perspective again at that executive level how do we prevent this I guess maybe even though a better way of asking you to Peter is how have you done this successfully?
How do you make a product strategy?
Peter Merholz: So probably the best tool I had to prevent it when I was leading a design team particular to go back to I was the V.P. of design for Groupon for about a year and a half and at Groupon when I joined there was a lot of non-strategic product development going on where a product manager had a feature they need to build and they were executing trying to get it out and there wasn’t a lot of thought about again who were the users what were we hoping to achieve like that no one had really stepped back in and framed up a problem and so the way I addressed it there was basically two fold, one I made a point of hiring more senior designers who could engage with strategic conversations, engage with product management at a more strategic level and not simply be seen as design stylists and and design executers. When I joined the company the team was very junior and very just execution oriented so the first first thing I needed to do was bring in a level of design leadership that could drive the right conversations to make sure that we were cognizant of strategy and even informing the strategy because what we often what we then found once I had the right leaders place what I often found was that the product managers were not engaged, they weren’t doing strategy kind of punted that too. Part of the process because I think they felt pressure to just release stuff and any any pause to think about what they were doing was seen as slowing them down and one of the nice things about being a V.P. is you can you can make executive decisions and one of the executive decisions I made was I told my design leads to not do any design if they didn’t have a series of questions answered or route what it was we were hoping to achieve with the product, again who is the audience? what are the metrics that we are going to be focusing on? what are the risks? what are some of the roadblocks? do we have a plan in terms of what is the process by which we’re going to achieve it? who are our stakeholders? Like we used there’s a there’s a tool called Project Canvas it’s based on the business model canvas rate this idea of a one pager with boxes that you fill in. With answers to basically each of these questions and we started using that as a tool my senior designers were using that as a tool with the product managers and basically we were saying we’re not going to start design work until we have all this filled in because we didn’t want to be doing design work that could be rendered moot if it turns out the strategy were to somehow shift or because it wasn’t clearly articulated. Once it’s finally articulated we realized like the problems over here instead of over there and so I just you know I was able to make it such that we just didn’t do design work for anything that didn’t have a clear strategy in place because. we didn’t have enough designers to do stuff that wasn’t important and a team product team had identified their strategy then I could say well then it must not be very important. I would try to enforce doing the right thing in order to make it work
Zack Naylor: Yeah absolutely and it’s actually interesting to hear you say that you use the Project Canvas you know we actually developed something not similar to the Project Canvas but a paper tool for free here to release called the product strategy blueprint and it’s it’s exactly that to make sure we’re doing the right thing. You know you’re connecting those goals you mentioned whenever a user research insights you’ve gathered it to the decisions you’ve made it so you can just map all that out on a piece of paper and if you hand that somebody and there’s a blink spaces on that paper there’s a conversation be had right?
Peter Merholz: totally
Zack Naylor: Yeah absolutely so something you mentioned in there is that you know you had you hired senior designers to work with product management. Now I wanted to get into that because I think you know here’s something that I’ve said if you ask a hundred different UX designers what UX. means you’ll get a hundred different answers. I feel that’s also true with product management, so my question to you Peter is what is the difference in our case between UX and product management.
What is the difference between product management and user experience design (UX)?
Peter Merholz: I love this question because I been giving a talk where I stake a claim that the whole entire field of user experience exists because of poor product management if product managers had been doing their job we wouldn’t need “user experience” we’d still need design. I distinguish between user experience and design. Design is is the act of design, it’s the craft of of design work right interaction design for making, architecture, content strategy all those all those fields I consider design. User experience is different right user experience is the sum total of the kind of interactions that someone is having with an organization and the experience they derive from that. That is the user experience and it’s not simply a design it’s not simply an outcome of design it’s now come of design engineering sales marketing service and support all of those things ultimately contribute to the user experience and given that approach there is essentially no distinction between user experience and product management right? The reason user experience came up is because product managers starkly have been from technical or business backgrounds and often both right there the archetype a product manager at least in Silicon Valley is someone with a C.S. or engineering undergrad degree who maybe spend four five six years working and then went and got an M.B.A. and then graduated from business school they are a product manager. But they’re focused on tech and business and if you think of the there’s the kind of famous three circles of product management of innovation that are essentially understand the user, understand the business, understand the technology, it could be called desirability, viability and feasibility. It can be called UX, engineering and business whatever you call those three circles I’m guessing anybody listening to this podcast is familiar with those three circles. Given those three circles product management I argue should be all three and if you talk to Martin Erickson who runs the mind the product conference and he’s written about this he has that diagram of the three circles and has a little arrow pointing to the middle for Product Manager saying “you are here”. But given those three circles product managers have done fine with the business and technical aspects and a totally punted on the on the user needs aspects and the issue with that is, well and so so they punted on these are user experience aspects and so that meant designers who were working with Product Managers often realized, wait a moment there’s this thing that’s missing. There’s this aspect of what we’re doing. We are, you’re giving us requirements to build a system that no one would actually ever use. It might serve some business case that you realize and it might be technically feasible but no human is actually going to engage with this and but we often didn’t have evidence to say you know, we didn’t have evidence to back that up it was our intuition and if you think about much of what we do in user experience around user research whether it’s up front or sketching and prototyping and putting those in front of people and that kind of iterative user center design all of that is basically in order to build up evidence as to why a design will or won’t work. I would argue address this this gap that had been existing in product management and so, this is a long answer but there’s a lot to unpack there. What I would argue is that product management and user experience are thus pretty much identical in that they both need to sit at the middle of their of design, tech and business right? If you think of design, tech and businesses as the the three circles it’s user experience is what emerges from that, product management is how you coordinate efforts to deliver that, but they’re there basically the same thing. Though the one other thing I think that’s worth recognizing kind of historically product management is that tech and business are very kind of stereo typically left brained activities they’re very analytical they’re very rigorous they they’re about breaking things down they’re very mechanistic Whereas design and kind of that user empathy is much more right brained it’s more emotional it’s more creative more generative right and some product management historically has been a very left brain activity which means that it has been missing out on the totality right we are not simply left brain people right people are are fuller than that and what I would argue is if you take a user experience approach to product management you end up with a more holistic approach to developing your product.
Zack Naylor: Yes absolutely so interesting couple things that you’ve said there and even earlier in our conversation I want to repackage and present to you. So sure you know we talked about product strategy really being as I would always summarize an understanding of what we’re doing as a business and understanding from our customers and making good decisions that are based in founded in those things. I hear you also then talking about you know the difference between the work that we do as UX designers and product managers is really one in the same except our focus tends to be more on you know either the customer or user or on the side of the business. So if all those things are true you know what does a good decision look like? What does a good recommendation for the product strategy look like in this case? How does it manifest?
What is a good product strategy? What does it look like and how do you create it?
Peter Merholz: So the way I would have it, I mean that’s one of the one of the values of having design involved in strategy in product strategy is that it can, to use your word, design can manifest the strategy. Strategies by their nature are abstract, they’re bullet points they’re measures, they are goals they are they are not concrete in and of themselves they they set up a kind of abstract framework of what it is we’re hoping to achieve. The role that design plays is to make those abstractions more concrete through ideation and concept generation, through prototyping, through storyboards and other kind of scenario development.There is a set of tools that designers can bring to the strategy work that helps make those abstractions more concrete and in doing so reflects back on those instructions and kind of pokes and probes and tests those abstractions. I think one of the failings of strategy before design has been as involved with it is that strategies can often country be internally at conflict contradict themselves but those contradictions are not apparent because when they’re still in that abstract mode. The implications aren’t clear and then you bring that faulty strategy into development and he start trying to build something that has a faulty strategy, in the building process you realize wait a minute we have we have measures of success that are in conflict with one another you know we want to generate as much revenue as possible but we want to make our customers happy and if we try to generate as much revenue as possible let’s imagine you’re a an app or you start doing ads or you start doing these kinds of things that interrupt the experience well that makes your customers unhappy and you’re like but I’m trying to make my customers happy. You know and so the goal that, the value that design brings and strategy is while it’s still sketchy while it’s still in this kind of prototyping mode you can depict the implications of those of that strategy in a way that makes it feel concrete and in a way that people can start judging it and then they realize what the implications are of the strategic decisions and they can change those strategic ideas before they move into a into a true development process. So that’s key is by having design upfront there’s as a contributor up front it’s not necessarily driving it but it’s a contributor from it basically serves as an almost like risk mitigation on strategy make sure that the strategy actually holds water and isn’t kind of just a bunch of wishful thinking that is actually not feasible to deliver
Zack Naylor: Yeah OK so what I really hear here is that the most successful way to do a product strategy is to really include design upfront but more important to allow design to even influence what that strategy is.
Peter Merholz: Definitely I mean design you know, I’m pretty much a fan of you know the three in the box model when it comes to product development of product design and engineering right and I see each of them as being contributors sometimes you can add to that, marketing you might depending on if you consider user experience or sorry user research part of design you can add to your research but that three in the box model is appropriate and each of them ought to be contributing their perspectives throughout the lifecycle of product development so that includes the definition or strategy as well as the execution. And I would argue there’s there’s two components I’ve been focusing on design I’m making a concrete the other component that’s that’s essential to make sure you’re engaging in while still doing strategy is the user research and I think you mentioned that with your tool as well deriving user insights a strategy that is not grounded in authentic user empathy is not quite meaningless but is at risk and at a higher risk of failing, I would argue because it’s not it hasn’t really been vetted with with the people who ultimately will engage with it.
The importance of user research in product strategy
Zack Naylor: You know I’m actually going to jump in and just throw my opinion in there and say I actually think it is meaningless because even based on our conversation here you know everything that we’ve talked about is a way to judge and react to a strategy to make sure that it can meet those needs you know if, if the needs of our customers are using or users are missing from the beginning then that strategy is incomplete.
Peter Merholz: That’s true the only reason I’m I’m I hedged a little bit there is that I am not religious about user research in that I think it kind of depends on the problem that you’re trying to solve. If you are working on a consumer facing app in a space that you are pretty familiar with you can do way less user research and actually rely on yourself I am I am fine with that. Apple has generated a “ga-jillion” dollars in market cap with that model. And I don’t want to suggest they’re doing it wrong given the obvious success they’ve had but when you’re working in a context where your customers are very different from you, right as you mentioned earlier, I’m working at I.B.M. we’re working on building tools. Building our own block chain and then creating offerings that are based on our block chain. Our audience is primarily a highly technical developer audience like even more than most developing audiences and just because how early block chain is. This is not JQuery libraries, this is some pretty deep computer science here right and that’s an audience I know nothing about so I would never try to design for that kind of audience without engaging in significant user research so that I can better understand the challenges that those folks are facing. Similarly if I was designing for health care professionals if I was designing something that went into a hospital I was designing for bankers or investment professionals any anyone who has you know who operates in this sphere of expertise that I am simply not familiar with like it would be it would be insane of me to try to design a tool for them without conducting research and trying to utilize my empathy in those contexts to better understand how they do their work. But again I think there are contexts where you know if I were to if I were to design a podcast listening app, I wouldn’t need to do a lot of user research because I inhale podcasts so I could simply start with me and then you know listen to users as you know folks are adopting it etc and evolve it, it’s not to be, ignorant or neglectful of user input but you know I do think that it varies based on the the nature of the service that you’re building.
Zack Naylor: Yeah it sounds to me like a level of discretion or judgment needs to be made based on you know your the knowledge you have an affinity you have towards your audience.
Peter Merholz: Yeah I mean I guess why I start I use the phrase user empathy as opposed to user research I think you can be empathetic with users without necessarily having engaged in research but research is a remarkable tool to develop that empathy for audiences that you’re not familiar with.
Zack Naylor: well that sounds like a very fair perspective I want to go back to something you mentioned too is there is that kind of three in the box model right where maybe it’s product design and research or product design and some, something customer facing typically. In that case when we’re building a product strategy from that what are the most in your opinion again to your experience what are the most critical pieces of information that we all need to bring to the table to make sure we are doing, to use your words building the right thing designing the right thing
Peter Merholz: I think it’s a that’s where the three circles work I think pretty well they’re pretty complete right you and I have an understanding the market the audience, who they are what they want to what, what does the journey that they’re on what is the context that they’re operating within so that you can develop a strategy that is in part informed by that authentic understanding of those people and their context so that’s kind of the user orientation. You want to have a sense of how, you know you will succeed that’s generally where the business cycle comes into play the viability, whether it’s is this an adoption play, an acquisition play, a retention play, engagement what is it that you’re trying to achieve how you know it’s successful. Because you know that that’s one thing if it’s a feature it’s another thing if it’s a product or a service you know and it can change in different parts of an experience can have different metrics that you’re looking for so just having clarity as to what it is that you’re that you’re trying to achieve that you know you’ve hit it you’re likely successful. And then I think the third box that engineer, that will be engineering or feasibility like is this something that you can actually build least in a reasonable timeframe. Or are you are you engaging in wishful thinking? You know I can talk to users I can develop a business strategy but it turns out that I need to use, I mean this is kind of the problem with a lot of the really clever ideas that emerged from the first web boom that we’re now recreating even still today. But where I think we were right about like what it was we were trying to do or like from a business standpoint we were often right about our audience and what it was they would like to do but we were we were just way out ahead of the technology right in the first when boom there was a lot of work in like video that required broadband that people just didn’t have. So the vision was kind of right it was just you know five ten even fifteen years too early. And so by by having those those three things in balance they can frame the problem that it is that you’re tackling and then again I think the role that design can play is almost, in this case not quite separate from strategy but it’s not trying to drive strategy it’s trying to depict strategy. Design can take those inputs and then through ideation concept generation prototyping kind of put out here’s a set of different possibilities based on these inputs. Do these feel right? Are these what we should be doing? Are we able to do it? etc You can you can ask them those questions you know but you know it’s design is helping make clear what the implications of those, of what that problem framing is.
Zack Naylor: I mean so you know what I think this really comes down to is that we have a number of inputs or data or information we all bring to the table and we make some decisions based off of that and you know at that point those are just decisions things that we’ve said or you know recommendations we’ve made, things we chose to do right and design brings this to life as almost a means of reflecting back on that strategy and say is the thing that we made the right thing based on what we talked about?
Peter Merholz: Right exactly and and it’s when you’re prototyping. So again before you get into development when you’re prototyping concepts based on those strategies you have an opportunity to change the strategy if you need to. You might you might find you probably don’t. I want to change the kind of user needs part of the strategy, that’s not likely changeable right there’s certain things that are fixed. But you might find that, well, in a project I did for a financial services client the company, the client, came to us saying our goal is retention. When we did research we realized retention was not actually a metric that we would be able to affect. Other things outside of the purview of the work we were doing were going to have more impact on retention namely the terms of the relationship, rights of financial services you know what are the fees. How well are your stocks performing there’s a whole bunch of things that are not about the interface that you’re designing that actually affect whether or not someone stays with you or leaves you if you’re a financial services right. Relationship they might have with professionals they have a broker or something like that and so you need to be practical or pragmatic about what it is you can actually affect and what we saw through our research and through our initial concept is that what we could affect is not retention but a kind of acquisition. We could, people who are working with our financial services could if they already had a brokerage account they could have a bank account, they could out a checking account, they could have an insurance account, that was something we could affect. Our research showed that people liked to consolidate accounts with a single vendor with a single supplier and so we realized OK it’s not about retention that’s something we’re not going to be able to affect, but we can make it way easier for people to open new accounts. And that drives a lot of value for our client and so we were able to then shift kind of the strategic focus you know so that the people were still meeting the same thing but we were able to tell the business, yes retention is important but not here, that some other part of the business is going to have to deal with that. Our part of the business what we can do is widen and deepen relationships that people have with you.
Zack Naylor: Sure, so curiously design in this case actually changed the goal of the product or experience
Peter Merholz: Yes. It sharpened it I would say. Honestly the client had a lot of goals so including retention, retention was the highest order call. And what we what we did was we were able to kind of take that off the table and say you know what these other goals that you didn’t consider as crucial are much more feasible for us to make an impact on yeah so we’re going to focus there and we were actually work with them to do some financial model of the impact of those. By focusing on the impact of, focusing on those metrics and show them that there was still a lot of money to be realized if they did it. So they were totally bought in.
Zack Naylor: Wow, so I think financial modeling is probably the outside of the scope of our conversation but it’s something that you said I definitely want to dive into which is you know this is with a client that you worked with in so you obviously convinced them right we got everybody on the same page that these are the right things to do I mean this is the theme of everything we’ve been talking about right doing the right things. In that particular case what information or, you know whatever basically what worked for you to get them on board to say this is the product strategy, here’s how it’s changed. How did you how did you articulate that and get those folks on board with you?
Selling your design ideas and recommendations for your product strategy
Peter Merholz: In that case we articulated it through some well design Power Point decks and that laid out the thinking I think one of the reasons I’ve had success, the success that I’ve had in products strategy is due to how I approach product strategy which is by taking an almost lawyer like rationale to building an argument for my recommendations and so in that case we had the business strategy you know we talked to a bunch of stakeholders and we understood what they considered important and we were able to kind of feed that back. Because one of the things you find when you’re working in a client context is that different people within your client organizations often don’t necessarily agree with each other they might not disagree but they’re focused on different aspects. So there can be a lack of alignment so we we fed that back and showed them kind of the array of hopes and dreams that different people within the client organization had and in doing so I think made it clear that there that there needed to be some focus. We also engaged in a prioritization exercise we created a very simple two by two where there was importance to the business one axis and the feasibility of impact on another axis. Like how likely are we able to impact this thing regardless how important this is and we plotted all these different business objectives on this too but so one of them was retention. Retention was very important to the business but it was not feasible whereas the widening and deepening were maybe not as important to the business but they were quite feasible. So we were able to show them do you really want to spend a lot of time trying to solve a problem that we probably can’t have a real impact on, or do you want us to spend our time solving the problems that we can actually affect. So that was that was part of it and then through the user research I mean we were doing video highlight reels you know we were going into people’s home. We were talking to them for two hours about how they conducted financial planning in their lives really trying to get pretty deep with them and then through the analysis of those insights feeding that back and helping them understand what were the things that their clients were looking for including things like consolidation when dealing with financial matters. Simplicity it comes up and I’m I’m hesitating as I say that word because you don’t want to oversimplify and it’s almost become cliche to say simple simple but you know I if I were to do it again it would probably be more I would say clarity. How do you distill all these numbers which can feel overwhelming and abstract into something that folks feel like they understand and have a relationship with.
Zack Naylor: Well, simple and easy are mutually exclusive right?
Peter Merholz: Can be depending on the on the problem that you’re tackling. So consolidation, clarity, ease of engagement certain actions that people wanted to do regularly were actually quite onerous because we were redesigning a system for them. So we were able to point that out, why don’t we focus on solving or making it easier to do these things that people want to do frequently. And so through the user research through this, business case analysis, through the financial modeling through the prioritization we were able to build a case on here’s where we think focus makes sense in terms of our activities when we engage in a redesign we’re going to be trying to effect these objectives and that’s where we’re going to that’s where you’re going to realize value based on our our efforts. There is one other aspect, oh one of them is you often have this, well clients or working in-house right people want to do everything. You know we were where this project I’m thinking of was before minimum viable product was a common term but even now in the land of minimum viable product people tend to want to do too much out of the gate because they have they often have a lot of ideas and they want to get them all out there. What we were able to do with them is help them understand how to phase the release of these new designs in a way that you got something out sooner you get people using it and then you kind of evolve that experience over time instead of trying to do everything at once and it will take so long to design and build up by the time you launch it will feel irrelevant.
Zack Naylor: Yeah yeah well just to go back and summarize something where you started all this is you, and I quote, you said I take a sort of lawyer like approach so first of all Peter Merholz and I just became best friends because I literally have had people say like well you would’ve been a really great lawyer if you didn’t you weren’t a product or design person and it is exactly the reasons that you outlined as to why. Again everything you just said I mean perhaps applying my own bias to use some research terms right, but everything I just heard you say as well what I do is I establish what your goals are I establish what your customers want and need, forget want, to establish what your customers need and what their behavior is and I present you a compelling case between those two and I make recommendations that are based on those and it is not very hard to argue against and the reason that that excites me so much is that is literally the reason why we exist as a company is because we completely agree that this is the right way to do this work right it is this is not science I believe anybody who is a designer product person comes to you and says they have the right answer you should run as fast and far away from as possible. Unless they have done that work.
Peter Merholz: No I think that is an excellent point. Yeah it’s just simply how I think and I think this is why I mentioned earlier at the outset how Adaptive Path kinda evolve from being focused on design to design and strategy and it was this need to answer these questions but then also feed them back to our clients and build these cases as to why we thought the strategy should be framed this way and how it then drove the design decisions. I mean a lot of a lot of design agencies complaining about how their work never sees the light of day and I think the reason it, that happens much of the time, is because the design agency didn’t do their diligence to really understand the company to really understand their business to understand their users and so they might have produced something that appeared to be a great design but was faulty because it didn’t fit within the ecosystem of the the actual ecosystem of the client and so we saw our job is to really understand that and when we did that we saw our designs did get launched because they were cognizant of those contexts in which they were going to be built and delivered.
Zack Naylor: Yeah absolutely and you know I’ll tie it back to something that you’ve already mentioned which is what are the ways in which we’re going to measure the success of this? Because that’s an important piece right, if we say here’s what we’ve heard from you client customer stakeholder, here’s we’ve we’ve heard from our users were how are customers, here’s what we recommend doing based on that and by the way here’s how we’ll know here’s the things that will measure to know if that successful that in my experience has been the most successful in compelling case where literally the only people argue that have some other ulterior motive which you know we can’t solve the human problem but outside of that and I think it’s a greatest tribute to Adaptive Path’s success, your own personal success, that this is the way to build a great product and design strategy
Peter Merholz: Thank you and yeah we, for us I mean it was it was less about like we had to understand those measures of success going into the design so we didn’t come out of the design and then say you know this will be successful if. We understood what it meant to be successful before doing the design to drive towards those outcomes. And I think that often doesn’t happen enough I think people wait until they launch something and then they start measuring it and then they’re trying and then they try to figure out well wait how do we know when we’re successful?
Zack Naylor: And even more dangerously I would argue that they try to game the metrics they have available to to fluff or cook the books on the design or product side right to say well look we’re seeing these things that are you know vaguely or generally important as metrics move based on designs with maybe they’re not the right ones
Peter Merholz: Potentially yeah. Yes I mean that’s another, that’s either another example of what you refer to as the human problem which does exist. Or it’s simply kind of reflective of you use the word bias before right, confirmation bias. You know these are the things that I know that we do and so we’re going to keep doing them because they work before you know you get you get stuck in certain ruts. Whether or not those metrics are relevant or germane to the problem that you’re now trying to solve
Zack Naylor: Yeah I love it I’m going to summarize all this by simply saying we have so many great ways of creating the solution, executing on the design or the development of the solution. I would posit that your argument is that we need to focus more on the strategy and making sure we’re solving the right problem. By understanding our business better, by understand your customers better and presenting that great case of all that information together.
Peter Merholz: I don’t know if I could have said it better myself
Zack Naylor: Well, Peter Merholz, I am happy to have had this conversation with you I cannot say how much I’ve personally enjoyed it and I know that everybody listening here will find this just as compelling as the case that hopefully it will help them provide in their designs and product strategy coming forward
Peter Merholz: thank you this has been delightful definitely enjoyed it. I haven’t had a chance to do a lot of product strategy of late when you become a design executive you tend to be focused more on things like recruiting and hiring or other things. In my new role I’m reengaging the product strategy muscle, I’m dipping back into my Adaptive Path bag of tricks because block chain is so new we have to figure out who are market is and what they’re going to do with it so. I look forward to reengaging with my my product strategy roots and maybe coming up with some new ideas soon.
Zack Naylor: I love it and we can’t wait to hear. We appreciate you coming on the show is there anything you would like to share with those listening before we wrap up today?
Peter Merholz: The primary thing I would like to share in the in the nature of pure self interest you mentioned earlier that I recently written a book Org Design for Design Orgs came out at the beginning of September so it’s still pretty recent. It’s the evolution of my thinking that actually in some ways I think goes beyond product strategy to another level down within the stack of the organization. You know product strategy is great and it’s essential but it’s insufficient in my experience I’ve done great product strategy work and clients or companies I’ve been working for weren’t able to do much with it and I realize it’s because the way the organization was operating how structured its values, inhibited the strategy from being realized. And so, for folks who maybe feel that they’re not yet realizing the success they thought they would through products strategy I would encourage you to look at the book Org Design for Design Orgs and see if maybe there’s some answers in there that help you kind of clean up some of these core issues that then should make way for strategy to succeed which in turn you know, makes way for design to succeed
Zack Naylor: Yeah well that sounds great and we’re going to make sure to include a link to that in the post for the podcast where you guys found this in sounds to me like if you have your product strategy chops figured out if you’re doing all the things that we discussed today but you’re finding organizational blocks that you need tackled, Peter’s book sounds like a pretty good place to start so, we’ll have that link available for you on the podcast page for the show and Peter Merholz I just want to say thank you so much for joining us again I hope everybody enjoyed the conversation as much as I did
Peter Merholz: Well thank you for having me and this is great I look forward to hearing your other conversations as a as I reengage with my product strategy practice
Zack Naylor: Sounds great Peter Merholz thank you so much again everybody listening we will see you next time
Peter Merholz: all right take care