Where’s your product’s surge spot?

Allocating resources to supercharge product growth is tricky. It’s even more tricky in today’s VUCA world. The idea behind this article is to pose a question to product leaders and executives. It’s a question I’ve encountered several times working on a wide range of software products.

But first, I’d like to clarify the two key terms I’ll be using. These definitions are out of a textbook, but I’ve noticed that they’re often used interchangeably. 

Lean: A methodology that focuses on minimizing waste while simultaneously maximizing productivity. Waste is seen as anything that customers do not believe adds value and are not willing to pay for.

Agile: An ability to create and respond to change. It is a way of dealing with, and ultimately succeeding in, an uncertain and turbulent environment.

For further context, I’d like to talk about an example company – Zara. Why Zara? What does it have to do with software? 

Well, I’d like to use Zara’s supply chain as an example of delivering value. The supply chain here is akin to software development – it starts by understanding the customer and ends with delivering value. 

Zara has one of the most spectacular supply chains in the retail industry. I’m no expert, but I do believe that the company has found the right balance between lean and agile.

The company gathers market needs and truly understands what its consumers want by empowering store managers. It then caters to these needs through quick development & iteration cycles using its vertically integrated supply chain. This sweet spot between lean and agile is what I call the surge spot.

A product operating in this spot will experience a surge in sustainable revenue growth – the gap between its potential growth rate and actual growth rate diminishes.

If we apply this to the world of software, we’d end up having to choose a spot between two very different strategies. The mix will have to be just right for the product based on its life-cycle, the type of users it helps, and a whole other set of factors including resourcing costs and company culture.

Therein lies the dilemma. As product managers we pick these surge spots all the time. It depends on the area of a product we’re working on, the user segment, and other micro factors that we come across during an initiative. This is a lot easier than choosing a spot for the product organisation as a whole. To make matters worse, the spot isn’t fixed. It changes and evolves with the product. It’s a wildly moving target that is dependent on a host of factors. 

I’ve used just one variable – the type of customer a product services, and created potential surge spots.

In the enterprise B2B space, the default configuration for a product that is at the lag end of its growth phase, is a tilt towards lean. While the B2B space for SMBs is typically more agile given the nature of its customer base.

Finally, a B2C product has a significant agile tilt due to the extremely fickle user environment it operates in.

It’s simple when we look at it from a unidimensional perspective, but adding just one more variable can lead to significant complexity. 

On that note, I’d like to ask all the product leaders and executives reading this – Where’s your product’s surge spot?

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