Product Ideas in Platform Teams

Do you have a roadmap composed of features and dates?

If yes, you are (or your organisation is, or people in your organisation are) still assuming the future is predictable. It means it is taken for granted that something will solve user problems..

There is a big difference between having assumptions about the future and predicting how it will really be.

Predictability means being known, seen or declared in advance—changes occurring at a predictable rate, predictable plots. Products are not. Products are born, grow and evolve. Some die. None of this is predictable, nor how successful they are, how much revenue they generate, or how many problems it solves for their user. Not even the date these events happen.

What is the reason for us to think our ideas, or any product idea, will be successful? What are the underlying thoughts and knowledge that lead human beings to believe in this way? Experiences, accumulated knowledge, expertise, and gut feelings. It can be named in many ways. 

We all are fundamentally mistaken if we keep building products and businesses this way. 

Foto von David Matos auf Unsplash

This phenomenon is seen across thousands of product teams. The good news is that, first, there are solutions for it. The second is enough content and knowledge about continuous product discovery to help you find the right things to build. 

However, in platform product teams, this has been happening even more. We see this repeatedly: strong opinions based on experience, new shiny tools adopted with no profound discovery or competitors. Nor the real problem they solve, or how well this problem is solved. People who think the future is predictable. Or other product teams telling the platform what to do, the platform teams commit to a deadline and things are built.

In a previous article, I shared how platform product managers can run discovery and how to set up meaningful objectives instead of just following the monotone path of purely delivering things. Here I am talking about idea management for platform product teams.

Idea Management in Platform Teams

Each product team has problems, opportunities to tackle, and initiatives. Ideally, all your partners (stakeholders) and internal product teams can give you ideas about solving existing problems and discovering new opportunities. Before continuing, all ideas should be treated equally. Regardless of where they come from.

These ideas should be collected daily, and we, product managers, are responsible for facilitating that everyone in the organisation generates ideas. Do you remember how the future can not be predicted? We do not know where the next great idea comes from. 

In platform product teams, ideas are usually captured in isolation but not shared across the company or the broader organisation. It can take longer to validate these ideas; however, you can still share them with all your partners and customers. Most importantly, listen to what they want to say. Invite your internal customers to frame these ideas with you. Ensure you are there when other teams’ ideas are framed.

Product teams should have an idea repository or backlog fed by ideas from all the organisation. 

Foto von Didssph auf Unsplash

How is this important for Platform Product Teams?

Many of these ideas, if not the majority, are usually for customer-facing products. Of course, we thrive in technical domains, and only some people are savvy in our platform domains. So, ideas can be scarce for platform product teams. However, having a repository of ideas is one of the best information sources for any PM. 

Platform product managers are responsible for understanding these ideas. Not as deep as a customer-facing PM, but you need to have your lights on. It will help platform teams move from being reactive to being strategic.

Maybe, the platform supports most of them, maybe there are changes needed. But maybe there is a whole new capability needed. Then, how do you ensure you are building the right solution for an idea?

Here are some questions that are useful for you when evaluating ideas from your perspective as platform PM:

  • What problem are you trying to solve? 
  • Will people use it?
  • Will people pay for it?
  • What value would this provide to the company?
  • What value would it provide to our end customers?
  • How do we measure its success?
  • How does this contribute to the company’s strategic objectives?
  • Where does it fall on our priorities?
  • Can it be done with the current platform product you manage?
  • What is the need for scalability at this stage?
  • How can the platform team enable this customer-facing team to build this idea faster or smoother?
  • What does the customer-facing team need from your business capability platform?

Hint: You can take these, create a template and start using them right away.

This list can be exhaustive and different depending on the platform. So, your questions can differ from these.

One important aspect of the framing of these ideas from a platform perspective is the timing of discovering. Platform teams are enablers of other product teams, so you need to be two steps ahead of the rest of other product managers.

Eventually, some of these ideas will make it to the roadmap, depending on different factors, like company and product strategy, objectives, etc. (I will be talking more about roadmaps in platform teams in another article).

For now, let’s keep it practical, as roadmaps are a topic on its own. Where do you visualize the idea? You can use an idea board, which represents how an idea becomes an opportunity.

Taken from STRONG by Petra Wille

Now, you know how to assess an idea and how they can become opportunities. Once you know whether you want to invest in more discovery, these opportunities, already framed and assessed, will move through discovery to development, on to validation and incremental improvements.

It is essential that the alignment between your discovery efforts, as Platform PM, and your internal product teams is priority number one. Which means, your roadmap needs to be set to enable your customers’ problems.

If you, as Platform PM, are not present and make it possible for the rest of platform team to know about this idea, its impact and their contribution to it, you are in reactive mode. There is nothing strategic about it. 

If you can create feedback loops between customer-facing teams, other internal teams, and the platform team, you will start solving more significant problems.

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