What’s the mission beyond your product?

It’s time to rethink how we design and build products.

There’s much to celebrate about the status quo of product leadership in today’s business world. In practice, product thinking gives us a way to align everything a business is capable of around delivering real customer value. But as we look ahead to the next decade and consider the future of product thinking, we're facing some of the most complex challenges humanity has ever had to confront.

Income inequality gaps continue to widen across the world. Technology trends are outpacing the legal and ethical boundaries that once incubated their growth. Climate change is threatening to accelerate past a point of no return. We're more isolated as a society than ever before, despite being more connected. And we’re living longer, but not necessarily healthier.

Despite all these pressures, our rhetoric around product hasn't yet evolved to meet the demands of our times. The measures of success for most product leaders remain firmly rooted in business growth within a marketplace.

But to what end are we growing? Against the larger backdrop of challenges facing humankind, how might we harness product growth in service of something greater?

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Look beyond your organisation

Some of these challenges are so immense, they can seem insurmountable. And for the lone product team, they largely are. So what needs to change? Perhaps, to overcome these challenges, we need to start thinking beyond our organisational boundaries.

Reflecting on how we used to work without product thinking brings some handy hints. When departmental silos were the status quo, the product perspective looked beyond them and emphasised alignment and collaboration – alignment across an organisation on what we’re working towards, and collaboration across departments to equip teams with all the necessary skills to realise value.

But how might we create the necessary alignment between organisations at an industry-wide scale? One answer comes in the form of a mission. Hearing Mariana Mazzucato speak about mission-oriented government strategy at The Economist Innovation Summit in October 2019 sparked our thinking. A shared mission is one of the key ways to point diverse groups of organisations in a common direction.

At their core, missions are about creating alignment and working towards a common goal across organisational boundaries. When everyone comes together to contribute, the value created is greater than the sum of the parts.

Embrace radical collaboration

Articulating a mission well requires a broad worldview. And against the Grand Challenges laid forth by the UK government, everyone holds a piece of the wider solution. The public sector can place infrastructure at a scale that the private sector can't. The private sector can move faster, experiment, and take on more risks than the public sector can.

Countless product strategies, aligned to organisational missions, then laddered into societal missions, can create the connective tissue that shakes an entire industry into coordinated action through bottom-up innovation.

But collaboration won’t happen if we view our competitors as threats to our own survival as a business. Partnership on a mission – radical collaboration – defuses the threat and recognises the larger impact we can have in working together.

And product leaders, with their heritage of breaking down functional and departmental silos within their own organisations, are uniquely positioned to start breaking down barriers between their organisation and the wider industry.

We’re on a mission. Are you? 

Maintaining a sustainable business while adopting a mission focus is something we’re also grappling with at Red Badger. Our work today is largely focused on supporting our clients to solve the problems their own customers are facing, in a way that emphasises openness, honesty, and continuous learning. But the more our clients align their own desired outcomes in service of societal missions, the more our work will also address the complex challenges of our time.

We’re excited about the opportunities that missions pose, both for the ways in which we can collaborate with interested and like-minded people, and for the impact we might make together, advancing the common good.

Please get in touch if this resonates with you. We’re discussing the new approaches we might all take together here.

Authors: Joe Paice, Sean Gabriel, Andreas Conradi

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