Principles Research

3 Habits of Highly Successful Products

Being a Product Manager is a pretty tough gig. Your job probably didn’t exist when you were in school, you’re always moving at warp speed and your list of stakeholders, like your backlog, seems endless.

The good news is you have one of coolest and fastest-growing careers on the planet right now.

Market demand for digital products continues to increase and as a result product teams are expanding. If they keep users happy and revenue rolling in, they’ll soon hold even more power in the organisational structure.

But keeping users happy is no simple task. The process of building a successful product is still far from anything approaching a science.

Product roles differ wildly across companies and most Product Managers have their own style of validation which they’ve stitched together from different places.

Sometimes that works. Sometimes you end up here:

“This is what I’m calling the Product Death Cycle.” – David Bland

Working with product people over the last few years has revealed some common patterns. From clients in start ups, to those in big corporates, teams who’ve built great products share similar habits. Here’s three of them:

1. Consistently validate your assumptions

In the last few years, there’s been some great stuff written about user-centered design and customer-centricity. Lean Customer Development and Jobs To Be Done are two examples gaining well-earned traction at the moment.

Whatever the method, the simple truth is you need to get out of your building and test what your team is thinking with target users as AS MUCH AS YOU CAN.


Once you’ve committed some resource to this very important task, you’ll need to decide how you should talk to them.

That’s going to depend on where you’re at on the Product Life Cycle, for example a growing product faces different challenges to a mature one. This means you need to frame questions correctly in order to get a meaningful answer.

You can always choose not to validate and assume you’re right. Then you’ll contract Groupthink. The prognosis is usually terminal: another sacrifice to the Product Death Cycle.

2. Focus on a big problem and try to solve it quickly

Sometimes the product backlog is so big it’s hard to know what’s important to the user and what’s not. Despite a PM’s best efforts to prioritise, they end up with too many problems to solve at once.

Paralysis by analysis takes over.

To break the inertia, agree one problem that is important to the customer (based on the validation mentioned above) and try to solve it quickly.

GV Design Sprints are an excellent way to go from aligning a team behind a big problem and putting a prototype in users’ hands for testing, all in five days.

Design Sprints existed before Google Ventures coined the term, and they can be adapted to be shorter and even more user-centric (as Pivot recommends).

However you approach it, by focusing on one important problem and testing a solution quickly, you’ll often scratch three, four or more items from your product backlog.

And that holds true whether your solution worked or not.

3. Measure your solution

You’ve tested the prototype with target users and they love it. Your dev team can’t wait to build it into the product as soon as possible. Now it’s time to sit back and watch the kudos roll in.

Just a sec. You need to measure what you’ve built.

Keep in mind that you tested your prototype with a handful of users. That gave you a steer on how your solution will perform in-market but it can never be statistically representative of your entire target market.

Running a Playback Session after the sprint allows you define KPIs and measure success going forwards.

Once you agree those as a team, you can quantify those metrics using your own in-house data or by partnering with powerful and intuitive services like Apptentive.

It’s hard for stakeholders to refute success when they’re staring at data from 1000s of happy and engaged users.

Habits don’t guarantee success, but they do make success more likely

The validation and iteration process itself is being constantly improved. The more successful products we create, the better we’ll get at this process.

Avoid the Product Death Cycle at all costs and get your team into these three habits:

  1. Pinpoint the pain
  2. Solve it fast
  3. Measure your solution

It isn’t the most revenue generating products that survive, simply the ones most responsive to change.