The Key Points for Building Successful Products, Hiring, and Creating Value

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Sep 02, 2023

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The Key Points for Building Successful Products, Hiring, and Creating Value

Introduction:

In a recent interview with Ivan Zhao, co-founder of the versatile tool Notion, he shared his insights on the key factors for successful product development, hiring practices, and creating value. Drawing from his experience and observations, Zhao highlights the importance of attention to detail, hospitality, and the balance between quantity and quality. Additionally, he emphasizes the significance of feedback, commitment, and holistic thinking. This article combines Zhao's interview with Kwan's Hierarchy of Product Needs to provide actionable advice for product managers and leaders.

Attention to Detail and Hospitality:

One of the key points that Zhao highlights is the importance of attention to detail, which he refers to as "craftsmanship." Having lived in Kyoto, Japan, Zhao has been inspired by the meticulousness and simplicity that characterize the city and its residents' way of life. He believes that this attention to detail translates into the software-as-a-service industry, where hospitality plays a crucial role. Zhao emphasizes that providing a product is not just about offering a solution but also about providing support, sales, and customer success services. By incorporating hospitality and treating software as a service, companies can enhance their overall product experience.

Balancing Quantity and Quality:

Zhao acknowledges that many individuals want to solve the problems they encounter, often turning to traditional tools like Microsoft Office. However, he points out that building products with a strong business sense was not initially considered. Over time, Zhao and his team have started to view personas and core use cases as essential components that their product should fulfill. To achieve this balance, Zhao believes in sacrificing the number of products in favor of improving their quality. By focusing on quality, companies can achieve better results and meet the needs of their customers more effectively.

Importance of Feedback and Community Involvement:

To ensure continuous improvement, Zhao recommends actively seeking feedback from users and involving them in the product development process. By directly engaging with users through social media platforms like Twitter and Reddit, companies can create a sense of community and build a reputation as toolmakers who genuinely care about user input. Zhao highlights the significance of involving people outside the company, as their perspectives provide valuable insights and help shape the product's direction.

Applying Kwan's Hierarchy of Product Needs:

Kwan's Hierarchy of Product Needs offers a framework for understanding the different levels of product management based on a company's evolving needs. The hierarchy consists of four levels: Shipping, Planning, Strategic, and Strategic Partnering.

  • 1. Shipping: At the basic level, a product manager's role is to ship features. They work closely with design and engineering teams, ensuring successful releases and gathering customer input for feature development.
  • 2. Planning: As a company grows, a more senior product manager is needed to align the team on a mid-term vision for the product. This role involves understanding customer needs, creatively gathering feedback, and building a vision that guides the team's decisions.
  • 3. Strategic: When a company achieves product-market fit and has enough runway for survival, a strategic product manager is necessary. This individual takes the company's vision and maps out pathways to reach ambitious long-term goals. This involves making critical decisions and rallying stakeholders to support the chosen direction.
  • 4. Strategic Partnering: At this level, a Chief Product Officer (CPO) becomes essential for bolstering the company's moat, establishing partnerships, and designing an organization for sustainable growth. The CPO plays a key role in shaping the product organization's culture, facilitating the product vision, and ensuring the company's continued success.

Actionable Advice:

Based on the insights shared by Ivan Zhao and Kwan's Hierarchy of Product Needs, here are three actionable pieces of advice:

  • 1. Prioritize attention to detail and hospitality: Incorporate meticulousness and a focus on customer service into your product development process. Consider how your product can provide not only a solution but also a positive experience for users.
  • 2. Seek feedback and involve the community: Actively engage with users through social media and other channels to gather feedback and involve them in the product development process. This will help create a sense of community and build stronger relationships with users.
  • 3. Understand your product needs and hire accordingly: Assess your current and future product needs to determine the level of experience and expertise required in your product management team. Consider hiring a CPO or fractional CPO to navigate the challenges associated with scaling and long-term planning.

Conclusion:

The insights provided by Ivan Zhao and Kwan's Hierarchy of Product Needs offer valuable guidance for product managers and leaders. By emphasizing attention to detail, hospitality, feedback, and community involvement, companies can build successful products that meet the evolving needs of their users. Additionally, understanding the different levels of product management and hiring accordingly can contribute to long-term success and growth. By incorporating these actionable pieces of advice, companies can strive for excellence in product development, hiring practices, and creating value.

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