Let’s remove the product from the center?

I have been working with digital products for over 30 years. I graduated in computer engineering at ITA in the early 1990s and since then I have worked for companies whose core business is technology. Starting with Dialdata, my internet services startup from the time when new tech companies weren’t called startups yet. Then I worked with technology products at .comDominio, a data center that became Alog and was later acquired by Equinix. Then I went through Locaweb, Conta Azul, and more recently Gympass. All technology companies, i.e., that use technology to deliver value to their customers.

Beyond the product

At Gympass I started to understand the mechanics of a company where technology and the digital product are not the core business. Gympass product is a corporate benefit that companies hire to provide their employees access to a network of gyms and studios. At the end of 2019, there was an effort to digitalize — and diversify — Gympass product portfolio, but even so, the main product continued to be to provide wellness services as a corporate benefit for companies to offer their employees.

Even technology companies have a mission to do “something” through technology. Locaweb’s mission is:

Making businesses grow and prosper through technology.

And Conta Azul’s mission is:

Boost small entrepreneurs’ success by bringing to small businesses more organization, control and time through technology.

And well-known tech companies don’t even mention technology in their missions:

Our mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. (Microsoft)

Organizing the world’s information and making it universally accessible and useful. (Google)

Give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected. (Facebook)

In other words, technology and technology products are not the mission of technology companies, they are the vehicles used by these companies to fulfill their mission.

When I joined Lopes, Brazil’s largest real estate company, founded in 1935, long before computers and the internet existed, I began to better understand something I was already noticing during my time at Gympass. The digital product is not at the core of a company. The company does not revolve around the product, but the other way around, i.e., the digital product is there to serve the company and its customers, to leverage its results, and to help fulfill its mission. Lopes’ mission is:

Help people conquer their place.

When the product is at the center

One of the products that was under development when I joined Lopes was the “MVP” of the brokers’ app. I put the MVP in quotes because this app was already in development for 5 months and still had another 1 or 2 months to finish and be available for use.

When I started talking to people to understand what was the main problem that the app would solve, I found that the main focus was to take the lead, that is, the information about a person interested in a property, be as soon as possible in the hands of brokers, because the faster this broker get in touch with that person and engage in a conversation about their needs, the greater the chances that this engagement would evolve into a possible sale of a property. Hence the idea of ​​making an MVP of an app with push notification to alert the broker about the lead.

At this point, an app for brokers development team was created and they started thinking about the journey of the broker receiving this lead through push notification. When the broker receives this lead, she needs to consult the data of this potential customer in Lopes’ system and, if the person is not registered yet, register their data in the system. And then, there was one more feature that “MVP” had to have before it was released, the search and registration of new potential clients. Thinking more about the broker’s journey, it is very common when receiving the lead and understanding the needs of this potential client, to do a search in the real estate firm database to be able to send other property options. And voila, one more minimal mandatory feature for the “MVP” of the broker app, the property search. To the point of having been developed for this “MVP” the possibility of drawing the region for the property search with your finger on a map.

By putting the product at the center, people start to care about the product and its features. And that’s where the demand for delivering features comes from. Designing the minimal scope of an MVP may lead to discussions revolving around “minimal” features. Even when we use the term MVP, the focus is on the minimum product.

Removing the product from the center

Ok, it’s clear that by putting the product in the center, we end up potentializing some pitfalls that can hinder our delivery of results. So what should we put at the center? The expected result. In the example above, the expected result was to get leads as quickly as possible into the hands of brokers so they could contact the potential customer as soon as possible and engage him in a conversation with the potential for sale of a property.

If we notice in the description of the expected result, there is no mention of app, push notification, customer registration, or property search. The expected result is to make the lead reach the brokers’ hands as quickly as possible. If we focus more on the problem we will see that there are other possible solutions besides the app for brokers. We can send notifications via SMS or WhatsApp, something much simpler and faster to develop than an app. And probably with greater reach, as all cell phones accept SMS and most people in Brazil have WhatsApp, while a new app needs to be downloaded by the user. We implemented SMS notifications and within 10 days all brokers started to receive these notifications. Delivery of value to brokers, potential customers, and Lopes much faster than the broker app 5 months “MVP”.

Product is means, not the end

That is why I have often repeated that product, app, website, technology, data, algorithms are not the end, they are not the goal, they are vehicles to achieve the goal of delivering value. And they must be treated as such. Making the lead reach the brokers’ hands faster can be done by push notification in an app for brokers, but it can also be done by SMS notification or WhatsApp. The vehicle matters less than the value, and the result delivered.

When we have an app team for brokers, with people from engineering, design, and product management, the main vehicle that people on this team know to deliver value to brokers is the app they are developing. For this reason, we made a change at Lopes in the team structure. We went from teams by product like the app for brokers team to teams focused on the actors of our business, and we created the brokers and franchises team that focuses on delivering value to brokers and franchises, regardless of the delivery vehicle for that value. It can be via a web system, an app, an SMS notification, a chatbot, etc. What matters is delivering value, and results, to brokers and franchises as quickly as possible.

Summing up

  • Product, app, website, technology, data, algorithms are not the end, they are not the goal, they are vehicles to achieve the goal of delivering value, and results, for customers and for the company.

Digital Product Management Books

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Joca Torres

Digital product development advisor, coach, and board member. Also an open water swimmer and ukulelist.