Product Management

25Friday Product Guru Insights #2 - Saeed Khan

In this second Insight, we touch upon Problem-thinking vs. Solution-thinking, leveraging the use of Language, Strategic direction and Leadership & Discipline. The details of this episode can help Founders, CEO’s and Product people leverage a product operating model, especially in the B2B space. Something both 25Friday and Saeed Khan are actively supporting companies with.

AUTHOR

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Jasper Venema

Senior Product Owner

May 2024

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5 minutes

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Introduction

Generally speaking, Software Product Development professionals are in the middle of a perfect storm of ideas, features, and deadlines. But in this frenzy, it's easy to lose sight of the bigger picture: solving real problems for real people.

For the 2nd Product Guru Insights session, we have invited Saeed Khan to the virtual stage. Saeed is a Toronto-based thought leader in product management practice with 25 years of experience in B2B Product Management in Canada and the US.

Saeed is an influential writer on Medium and Linkedin and we often adopt his perspective in our way of working at 25Friday.

Here is a summary of the key points and examples he argues, sharing deep insights for CEOs and product teams to highlight his philosophy on product development and the importance of focusing on problem-solving over mere solution implementation.

  1. Beyond Solutions: Seek The Power of the Right Problem. "We can always hack something in," Saeed acknowledges, "but that might be the easiest way, and it might constrain you in the future." Effective product managers understand the problem they're trying to solve before diving headfirst into solutions. This means conducting user research and employing design thinking methodologies to gather a deep understanding of user needs. Saeed emphasises the critical nature of understanding the problems a product aims to solve before jumping into solution creation. He cited a startup example where the founders were pre-customer and already had developed multiple features without a clear understanding of the problems they were addressing. This illustrates a common pitfall where companies become overly focused on features ("solution space") instead of delving deep into the "problem space"—a practice that could lead to products misaligned with actual customer needs. To further build on this point, Saeed emphasises; "Product management is the art of problems, not solutions." The most innovative features fall flat if they don't address a real need. By mastering the art of problem identification, B2B product leaders become the architects of successful, enduring solutions. A clear definition of problems is foundational to successful product development. Proportionally wielding discovery practices in the product management process is critical, rationalised by the idea that more time spent understanding the problem reduces time and debate over the solution.
  2. The Strategic Importance of Language and Communication. Throughout the conversation, Saeed returned to the importance of precise language and communication in product management. He argued that the way problems and solutions are described can profoundly influence the development process. By refining the language used in defining roadmaps and product strategies, teams can avoid confusion and misalignment that stem from ambiguous or imprecise communication. There is a lack of robust language and frameworks within many organisations for adequately defining problems. By using detailed inquiries about who has the problem, the nature of the pain points, and the problem's priority and urgency, teams can shift their focus from merely crafting features to truly addressing fundamental customer challenges.
  3. Ditch the prioritization gimmicks. Forget RICE (Reach, Impact, Confidence, Effort) and other prioritization frameworks. These methods, Saeed argues, "are guesstimates... They don't tie back to strategy and objectives." Instead, prioritise based on what will achieve your clearly defined objectives. If you don’t have those cleary defined, it should be the priority of the product leader to do just that. When faced with multiple solutions, Saeed advises to choose "the path that is easiest, that also doesn't confine you in the future." This is the pragmatic approach; while efficiency is important, remember to consider the long-term implications of your choices. Don't paint yourself into a corner!
  4. Roadmaps: Direction, not destination. Many product managers get bogged down in creating detailed roadmaps. Saeed clarifies, "A roadmap is the output of a strategy process. It's about direction and strategy, not a commitment to specific features by specific dates." Think of it as a compass guiding your product's journey, not a rigid itinerary. Saeed also touched on managing the influence of large, strategic customers, especially in B2B environments. He stressed the need for a framework that helps product managers evaluate customer demands against the company’s product direction and broader market needs. This balance is crucial to avoid becoming overly driven by the needs of a few at the expense of many, or diverging from strategic product paths.
  5. Embrace discipline, it's not the enemy of innovation. "There's been far too much focus on delivery," says Saeed. Product development is a long game, and successful product leaders understand the impact of their work on the entire organisation. Discipline ensures that your team is strategically aligned and focused on achieving the company's goals. Product leadership isn't about blind feature delivery. It's about championing the problem-solution fit within your organization. This means:
    • Building and mentoring the right team: Assembling a team with the skills and expertise to tackle complex B2B challenges.
    • Developing a product vision: Guiding the product roadmap with a clear vision grounded in solving validated customer problems.
    • Cultivating a product-centric culture: Ensuring that everyone from engineers to marketing understands the importance of focusing on client and user needs.

In Conclusion: B2B product development thrives on a deep understanding of customer problems, not a relentless pursuit of features. By embracing the discovery phase, using language strategically, navigating client relationships effectively, prioritising with discipline, and focusing on the right problems, B2B product leaders can unlock success in complex and demanding B2B environments.

Remember that true innovation stems from solving the problems that truly matter.

As you ponder about Product and explore the potential within your product management practices, remember that you're not navigating these waters alone. We, the 25Friday team, are dedicated to guiding tech companies through the maze of product strategy. With our expertise in consultancy and nearshore development, we partner with organisations to fine-tune their product vision, align their teams, and craft strategies that resonate in today’s dynamic market. Reach out to us, and let's work together to turn your product challenges into successful ventures that stand out in the tech landscape.