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The Ultimate Guide to Turning Professional Services into Scalable Products

Why Abundance Thinking is So Important for Productization

 

To successfully productize, most organizations need to say yes to more: serving more customers, asking more questions, and collaborating with more people. In other words, organizations who want to successfully productize need to cultivate abundance thinking.  

Most of the organizations I work with have built their businesses by trading time for money.  They want to grow by creating more standardized services or by developing products that do not require human capital to deliver the value. We call it ‘productization.’

To successfully productize, organizations need new skills and processes, but I’ve found that they also need a new way of thinking. These organizations need to abandon scarcity thinking.  Scarcity thinking assumes that there is not enough time or opportunity to invest in new ventures. Because time is our most limited resource, it is very normal for professionals who have been trading time for money to have scarcity thinking. When we are faced with a tight timeline or budget, acknowledging limitations helps us make good business decisions. 

But scarcity thinking can torpedo a productization strategy. New product innovation is a time to embrace the “genius of yes” and to reject “the tyranny of no,” as business expert Jim Collins has argued. In other words, we need to shift from scarcity thinking to abundance thinking. Innovation thrives in organizations that practice abundance thinking. Abundance thinking helps us establish a sense of control during uncertain times, helps us see the potential in the resources we already have, and encourages us to think at scale. When we adopt an abundance mindset, we value open-ended learning and discovery, collaboration across teams, and serving larger markets. From setting a product vision to creating new processes and structures, abundance thinking is critical for developing successful products in today’s digital landscape.

Most digital-first competitors are already tooled for abundance thinking. These companies begin by thinking at scale: they define problems that impact many customers. They are not selling their limited time and expertise, but instead a codified application of their intellectual property that can reach many customers at once. Consider platform companies such as Uber, Apple, AirBnB, etc. that sell assets that they do not own and could be considered almost infinite in nature. These platform companies practice abundant thinking at an extremely high level.  

How can leaders help their organizations develop an abundance mindset? To begin, leaders can: 

  • Learn how to spot urgent and expensive problems that many customers have
  • Encourage Asking over Knowing
  • Structure and reward collaboration

 

Identify Urgent and Expensive Problems for Many Customers

We have seen many companies flounder by creating products that solve urgent and expensive problems that only a few customers have. Services firms are especially good at understanding the problems that affect individual customers. However, they tend to be weaker at identifying problems that many customers have.  

One solution is to test problem hypotheses with a wide audience. This could include customer and prospect interviews, surveys, feedback from a customer advisory board, online data, and existing product data. Doing this research helps you understand the attributes of the types of customers that all have the same problem, and it also ensures that the target market and customer segments are large enough to justify going after. Ultimately, testing ideas widely helps us identify a problem and solution that will have a significant impact in the market.      

 

Encourage Asking over Knowing

For extensive testing and learning to take place and to provide meaningful insights that could be scalable, organizations need to promote a culture of curiosity, rather than one of always knowing the answer. Our society links these attitudes with abundance: curiosity has long been associated with an eagerness to learn and understand more. As twelve-year old Clara Ma stated in her winning bid to name NASA’s Curiosity Rover, “Curiosity is the everlasting flame that burns in everyone’s minds...We will never know everything there is to know, but with our burning curiosity, we have learned so much.”  

Cultivating curious, discovery-minded teams can be tricky for services firms that have relied on selling their expertise. When your expertise serves clients well, time and time again, it can be difficult to adopt a posture of curiosity and not knowing. Admitting that you don’t know something is hard for everyone, but it is also courageous. This brave shift provides space for innovative behaviors like open-ended questioning, convergent and divergent thinking, and experimentation. Recent neuroscientific research suggests that when people approach a problem with curiosity, they learn and retain more.

One way to promote curiosity and discovery is to assess your product team by measuring their rate of learning, as opposed to the ultimate delivery or success of each product idea. Teams are rewarded for developing and testing insights at speed, failing occasionally, and documenting their learning. Measuring teams based on how much they learn tells teams that your company strongly values making new discoveries about customers, the competitive landscape, and potential product ideas--and the company values the curious people who do this exploration.     

 

Create Structures That Reward Collaboration

Another attribute of abundant thinking is seeing the value of bringing in a wide variety of perspectives to solve problems. Successful productizing firms create new team structures and reporting lines that encourage collaboration. Innovation tends to flourish in cross-functional teams because these teams have more diversity of perspective and can act more rapidly to develop and test product ideas. “Squad” structures--a small group of people chosen from different areas of the organization--work especially well: each person owns a part of the process, but they come together to tackle a particular problem, project, challenge, or product. Born in the digital-first world, “squads” are nimble and flexible. Because squads require that every team member brings ideas and answers for key deliverables, this structure ensures that diverse skills and experiences are included in decision making.

Leaders must be the first to embrace abundance thinking and to make executive decisions that weave it into the fabric of their organization. Socializing the shift from scarcity to abundance thinking requires thoughtful change management practices that help your team learn to embrace the promise of more.

Vecteris has developed a cultural transformation program, the Spark Productize Pathway, to help services companies develop the culture, skills and processes to successfully productize. Based on concrete capability assessments, data insights, and methodological expertise, we help teams build new capabilities and adopt a productization framework that reduces risk and accelerates results. Unlike traditional product management training, we use a learn-by-doing approach to grow your team’s product competencies and customer-centric, tech-enabled skills, while also developing a product concept ready for launch.

To learn more about our program Spark, contact us here. You can also start by taking our Product Innovation Maturity Diagnostic to access your organization’s current capabilities and design the program based on your growth goals.