If the disruption of the last couple of years has shown us nothing else it’s that the best performing companies are those that are able to adapt to changing market conditions.

To be brutal, one man’s burden is another’s opportunity. Whether it’s gin distillers switching to hand sanitiser production, passenger airlines offering cargo flights, or restaurants offering cook at home meal kits, the ability to flex and act quickly are fundamental attributes for successful businesses in today’s uncertain, globally connected world.

Benefits of being lean

There is a structure for taking advantage of such market opportunities – it’s lean businesses with a strong product culture that possess this flexibility and nimbleness. In short, lean product teams can take advantage of market disruption because they’re poised to act. 

Our friends at Mind the Product know all about the benefits of being able to act quickly when there’s market disruption. It’s a prime example of a product-led lean business, and, prior to the pandemic, was primarily a conference business. As we know the pandemic forced many, many conference businesses to either temporarily cease operations or to fold entirely.  Very few were able to change their model and keep trading through the last two years. But because it is lean and product-led, Mind the Product was able to act quickly. It also had the right mindset, the psychological safety and culture to be able to change its model – and it is now a membership-led business, offering content and training as well as events.

Even the biggest companies can find ways to be lean and able to adapt quickly to changing conditions. As I’ve written in this Mind the Product blog post, Growing up Lean: Lean Strategies for Maturing Products, the shift from nimble to slow is pretty much inevitable for any maturing product, but the most successful companies have found ways to compete with smaller more nimble competitors. It might be through hackathons or through labs that look and feel like a startup. Or it might be like Google, which allows its staff to spend 20% of their time working on whatever they like. Or it might be like Facebook, which never releases something to everyone at the same time. All are strategies that big companies use to stay close to their markets and adapt to changing conditions.

Tools in the lean toolbox

What tools does a lean business need to spot and act on new opportunities? In my experience, OKRs (objectives and key results) are invaluable – they allow the business to see what important objectives and metrics need to be moved to deliver success. They set a clear direction and keep everyone focused when market change is causing chaos. 

OKRs allow teams to work out how to achieve their goals. Each team can use its collective knowledge to work out how they can contribute to meeting objectives rather than top-down instructions coming from the leadership team. OKRs allow knowledge workers to use their knowledge – you’re not limited by the time and insight available at the top level, and instead have a way to unlock the collective intelligence of the organization as a whole.

Prototyping is also a hugely powerful tool in the Lean toolbox. The prototypes themselves aren’t worth that much, the value is in the prototyping process, in the laying out of assumptions, the conversations and the learning that comes from putting pen to paper, or being able to hold and see a representation of what the final version will be. This prototyping shouldn’t just happen at the product or feature level, teams should essentially engage in prototyping at a strategic level. A team can use their roadmap to prototype and test their strategy.

By bringing the business’ collective knowledge to the fore everyone should get a deeper understanding of the problems it faces. It should mean that the strategy is more robust than one that results from a top-down approach and that everyone understands the steps ahead. 

Make it ongoing

It shouldn’t be a one-time exercise. In the best lean product teams the process is ongoing, with teams regularly sharing insights and feedback about possible next steps. Objectives and roadmaps are artifacts that are meant to be reviewed regularly, so that new insights from knowledge workers can be addressed and then tactics and strategy adjusted to encompass them. I liken it to a business having thousands of eyes and ears, so that it’s built on the collective knowledge of all its smart people, while still being driven by and towards its top-level objectives.

It goes without saying that ProdPad is designed for lean teams: you can use it to ensure a team is able to adapt, communicate and understand the product management process

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