It’s common for product teams to find themselves having routine lengthy conversations about how to approach a given design or implementation, what to prioritise and when to compromise. Often, these conclusions are reached based on the same few arguments and reasoning that complement the team’s values and priorities. Another term for this type of reasoning is product principles.
Product principles are an important component of product culture. And just like product culture as a whole, they are unique to every company, and agreed upon by everyone.
When done right, product principles talk to the nature of the products you intend to put out into the world. They provide guardrails to teams, enable distributed decision-making and help teams reconcile contentious issues or difficult trade-offs.
Product principles should be specific to your business. In addition, because of their profound implications, they should be shared with everyone in the company and have real longevity. They are a crucial form of context for empowered product teams.
As an example, if you operate in a multi-sided marketplace where your teams balance issue resolution between buyers and sellers, one of your principles could focus on transparency and trust. This means that every decision made when solving problems and designing new solutions will consider trust as a key element in the product experience, and one that should be respected across the organisation.
A good product principle:
- Describes the product and reflects beliefs about priorities without vagueness or ambiguity. As former design VP at Facebook, Julie Zhuo, says, “Good principles are solid. There is a weightiness, a certainty behind them”.
- Consists of simple words and short sentences. It should be possible to remember and recite the core value proposition of every principle.
- Isn't obvious, but is meaningful. It doesn’t even have to be 100% original, and the point is for it to have meaning to your team.
- Helps to resolve conflicts & influence choices.
- Connects at an emotional level to motivate, excite and commit team members to the mission, vision & goals of the company. Principles can’t work without the team buying into them first. The best way to do that is by encouraging collaboration and creating an environment of psychological safety.
Although these guidelines contain the key ingredients for making great product principles, like with most things in product, you need to adapt them to your company's situation and needs. It’s worth mentioning, too, that a particular product principle doesn’t have to be forever. They are a dynamic artefact that should evolve and mature with the company and its product.
Establishing sound product principles requires team alignment, built over time through a combination of intention and strategy.
At Beyond, our core team of practitioners are experts in helping companies understand their product-market fit, clarify their product vision and strategy as well as navigate any product innovation challenges. If you need support, check out our Product Driven Growth solutions.
What more to expect?
If you’ve ever wondered how to connect product strategy to your product discovery and delivery efforts, the answer is: by setting outcome-oriented goals. The right Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) can help teams maintain alignment and agility at scale and measure product success easily. In our next habit, we’ll explore the how and why of implementing shared and highly visible goal setting (OKRs).
Here’s an overview of our six-part series:
Part 1: Using rich stories to communicate your vision & product strategy
Part 2: Bringing your strategies to life with visiontypes
Part 3: Establishing clear & consequential product principles
Part 4: Implementing shared and highly visible goal-setting (OKRs)
Part 5: Engaging in continuous product discovery
Part 6: Creating rituals that reinforce focus & accountability