Step By Step Guide To Creating Your Own Product Principles (Part 1)
A good set of product principles guides product teams with the decisions they make and actions they take. They help us repeat good behaviours, which result in positive outcomes and avoid bad behaviours, which lead to failures. Good ones will even help us with prioritisation! 🤞
Bad principles on the other hand are easier to come by but just get in the way.
A few product people I’ve spoken to recently said they’re either in the process of creating product principles for their organisation, or want to. I’ve been fortunate enough to get involved in the creation of product principles for a few organisations now and thought it could be useful knowledge to pass on.
My hypothesis is that if I share my experience of creating product principles with the product community, it will help more organisations decide whether they actually need a set for themselves, and increase the chances of those principles being good enough to lead to positive outcomes.
Does my organisation need product principles?
How do you know if your organisation needs product principles?
Well, if you’re part of a small organisation, with one or two product teams and simple lines of communication, you should already be making good decisions fast and cutting off bad behaviours before they lead to unsuccessful outcomes. You can hold off and focus on more important things right now.
If your organisation is growing rapidly, with more than a couple of product teams, it’s highly likely you would benefit from some shared product principles to speed up decision making and clearly communicate desired behaviours.
Finally, if you’re a large enterprise without a good set of product principles already, please read on!
There are a bunch of benefits you can expect from a good set of product principles, and a couple that really matter.
Consistency. Change is constant — products evolve, people come and go, but good product principles ensure consistent behaviours remain, regardless. Think how much easier it would be to onboard new people and create great products if your principles described desired behaviours that have repeatedly led to successful outcomes in the past.
Guidance. With so many decisions to make every day (some big, and many small) we can’t viably spend the amount of time we’d like to on each of them and expect to successfully build products customers love, which are also good for business. Product principles help us make the easier decisions faster, leaving time and energy to spend on the harder ones that really matter long-term.
Are there other benefits you think are really important? I’d love to hear them in the comments below.
What makes a good product principle?
By definition a principle is a belief you have about the way you should behave, which in turn influences your behaviour. Therefore, principles are ever-present beacons. They enable predictable behaviour in the future.
Des Traynor over at Intercom said it best for me. When talking to Paul Adams (also of Intercom) on their Intercom on Product podcast, Des explained that companies will often come up with truisms for principles, like “ship good software” and you’d never disagree with that. Des quite rightly states good principles should be pointy enough that there is as an equal and opposite counter-principle. This acid test is what I’ve found to be most useful in my own experience creating product principles for organisations. For example, a government might say one of their principles is “everyone has equal access to healthcare”. We know it’s good because there is an equal and opposite (albeit sad) counter principle I’m sure resonates with some of you (“not everyone has equal access to healthcare”).
ProductPlan’s Anatomy of Product Principles are also a good guide too, once a principle has passed the initial acid test.
- Make them specific. You need to quickly determine if the decision is in line with the principle. Generic principles don’t help. For example “release early and often” is more actionable than ‘’release good software’’.
- Make them relevant. As changes inevitably arise in the organisation you’ll need to revise the existing principles. In saying that, changes should be well-considered and not a regular occurrence.
- Make them emotional. Product principles should get people excited and make them feel passionate about the work they do everyday.
- Make them concise. Keeping product principles short and sweet using simple words will increase the likelihood people remember them. 3–5 principles is more than enough.
- Let them help you prioritise. Let’s face it we need all the help we can get to prioritise well. Principles describing the most important behaviours for your context will inevitably help you prioritise the most important things higher.
Tell me how?!
If planned well, you can have a set of principles ready to test in just 1.5 hours of collaborative work! Trust me, I’ve seen it done before.
In part 2 of this story (coming very soon) I’ll show you how.
Intercom on Product blog and podcast https://www.intercom.com/blog/tag/intercom-on-product/
ProductPlan Anatomy of Product Principles https://www.productplan.com/learn/product-principles/
Cover photo created by kjpargeter — www.freepik.com