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220317 Leah Series

Defining Products as a Basis for Improving Them

by Leah Tharin

You can also read this article in German, Spanish, French and Italian.

Is a product just an object with potential benefits or a solution to a problem? And how might this impact how we might make better products?

This series, Products & Their PMs, by Leah Tharin, Product Lead at Smallpdf, aims to delve into the dance between product and product manager, and the delicate balance that needs to be struck to achieve not only impact, but success that can be sustained.

But first, let’s explore how best to define a product and how this impacts our view on how to improve it.

How Should We Define a Product?

The prevailing view of a product is that a (tech or online) product is a collection of features held together by some kind of interface made accessible and maybe even attractive by product designers.

While it’s simple enough to view a product in this way, I like to use a metaphor of cars here to get to grips with the definition of a product. In this sense, you could describe a product in two different ways:

Feature View

Just as the name dictates, the feature view means we define a product in terms of the features it has. A car in this realm is not much more than a transport vehicle with doors and usually has four wheels, which can be used to drive on various types of roads. A car can be propelled with gas, electricity, or maybe even hydrogen, and is typically used to move goods or people from one point to another. It could also have some convenience features like radio, heating, and GPS, among others.

Solution View

When we define a car as a product from the view of the solutions it offers or the problems it solves, we gain a very different perspective of what a product is. A car in this sense, is a means of personal freedom and autonomy of movement, and helps to get people and goods to where they need to be as quickly and/or as comfortably as possible.

The feature view is universally a more inclusive perspective and likely closest to objective reality when it comes to describing an object or product. Granted, though I’ve tried to keep my perspective on the solution view more restrictive here, it generally doesn’t cover all the potential uses of a car. Maybe you collect cars or have other reasons that have little or nothing to do with the car as a means of transportation, like social status or participating in motorsports?

Humans are naturally inclined to a feature view when describing objects to other people, rather than describing the problems they solve. Even though this natural inclination means that the feature view is easier to resort to, it’s far less useful for improving on a product.

When viewed from the perspective of what problem the product solves, the problem becomes the real focus, which is foundational for any relevant improvements.

Next up in this series, Leah will be weighing up the pros and cons of finding better solutions for products versus incrementally improving on existing products. Stay tuned!

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Leah Tharin
Product Lead @Smallpdf