Part 5

Ask not what the developers can do for you but what you can do for your developers.

Why a product mindset is a game changer

Think of your favorite product. Why do you love it? Because it caters to your needs, anticipates your wishes, and offers something unique, right? Now, apply that same logic to platform engineering.

When a platform team adopts a product mindset, they shift from just "building stuff" to creating solutions that truly resonate with users. This mindset is about putting the user first, continually evolving, and driving value.

It's not just about what the platform can do but what the user can achieve with it.

Building bridges with internal customers

In this context, "internal customers" refers to developers, teams, or departments that will use the platform within your organization.

With a product mindset in place, the platform team’s relationship with its customers becomes more interactive and collaborative. It's not simply handing them tools but understanding their challenges, needs, and aspirations.

Regular feedback sessions, workshops, or even casual coffee catch-ups open communication channels, helping the platform remain relevant and impactful.

Shifting the focus from infrastructure to the platform team

Transitioning from a traditional infrastructure mindset to a product-oriented platform team can feel like learning a new language.

Historically, infrastructure teams worked behind the scenes, making sure systems ran smoothly while staying somewhat detached from end-users. They communicated only through change requests in their Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) system.

Focusing on platform engineering teams means interacting directly with users and taking ownership of the user experience.

This shift isn't merely changing operational strategies but the very DNA of the team. It demands proactive engagement, a focus on user feedback, and an openness to constant evolution.

And yes, there will be teething issues, e.g., resistance to change, fears of overstepping boundaries, and even understanding new dynamics. But with commitment and a clear vision, the transformation can lead to profound organizational and personal benefits.

The people behind the product

As a ship needs a captain to steer its course, platform teams benefit immensely from product managers (PMs), product owners (POs), and user experience specialists.

These experts bring in-depth knowledge about user needs, market dynamics, and product evolution. They help prioritize features, streamline user feedback, and ensure the platform remains user-centric. Think of them as the bridge between the technical world of the platform and the real-world challenges of users.

Balancing “say data” with “do data”

It's an age-old conundrum; people might say they want one thing, but their actions reflect another. This is where the difference between “say data” (what customers express they want) and “do data” (how customers engage with the platform) comes into play.

Imagine being told that a tool is too complicated and then observing high engagement rates from it. This discrepancy can be a goldmine of insight.

It's essential to strike a balance. While “say data" provides valuable feedback, “do data" offers genuine behavior patterns.

By analyzing both, platform teams establish the difference between what users think they need and how they interact with tools. This results in informed teams building impactful software.

Product vs. technology-driven approaches

When transitioning to a product mindset for platform teams, a common debate is whether to be product-driven or technology-driven. Both have their merits, but the trick lies in finding a sweet spot between them.

Product-driven approach

Being product-driven means user needs, desires, and challenges predominantly influence your team's decisions. This approach often leads to:

  • Close alignment with business outcomes: The focus on user needs naturally translates to business outcomes.
  • Higher user satisfaction: You're designing and building what users need.
  • Clearer roadmaps: Objectives are usually more straightforward because they're tied directly to user and business outcomes.

However, being excessively product-driven can sometimes lead to missing out on innovative technological advancements that could propel the product ahead of the competition.

Technology-driven approach

Being technology-driven means decisions are primarily based on technological advancements, trends, and capabilities. This often leads to:

  • Innovative solutions: Being at the forefront of technology can lead to solutions that users haven’t even considered.
  • Performance and security advancements: This approach tends to push boundaries in terms of speed, efficiency, and safety.
  • Future-proofing: Leveraging the latest technologies can make the product more adaptable to future changes.

Yet, an overly technology-centric approach might lead to developing features or using technologies that, while flashy, don't necessarily meet user needs or align with business objectives.

Walking the middle path

The magic happens in the balance. Here’s why:

  • Optimal use of efforts: Balancing both approaches ensures that efforts can be channeled toward key user-centric features while staying on top of technological trends.
  • Staying relevant and innovative: Marrying user needs with cutting-edge tech means meeting current requirements and anticipating future ones.
  • Mitigating risks: While you’re innovating, you’re also grounded in real-world needs, avoiding the pitfalls of tunnel vision over tech and user requirements.

While the allure of being entirely product or technology-focused is tempting, the key to success lies in the synergy between the two.

It’s about creating technologically advanced solutions that users truly need and value. Avoid the extremes, embrace the equilibrium.

Platform teams adopting a product mindset prioritize user needs

Crafting solutions that move beyond tools to genuine experiences is the result of product mindset adoption. Such teams foster deeper, two-way interactions with internal customers, which may include developers or entire departments.

Transitioning from traditional infrastructure roles can present a set of unique challenges. While the shift is often monumental, touching both operational and cultural facets, the rewards are significant.

As they evolve, the inclusion of product experts becomes crucial. These individuals, be they user experience specialists or PMs, act as the bridge between the platform's technical capabilities and the real-world challenges of users.

A recurring theme is the balance between “say data” vs. “do data.” It's essential for teams to weigh what users express they want against their actual interactions with the platform, leading to informed decisions in software delivery.

Lastly, platform teams often grapple with the decision to be product or technology-driven. While each approach has its merits, true success lies in integrating both. Platform teams can create impactful, enduring solutions by ensuring technological innovations serve real user needs.

Further reading

If you're interested in learning more about the nuances of a product mindset and understanding user behaviors, the following books come highly recommended:

"Escaping the Build Trap: How Effective Product Management Creates Real Value" - by Melissa Perri

Melissa Perri explores the common pitfalls organizations face when focusing more on building features than creating value. It's an insightful guide for anyone looking to adopt a true product-centric approach.

"Decoding the Why: Behavioral Science in the Next Generation of Consumer Business" - by Nathaniel Greene

Nathaniel Greene delves into the world of behavioral science, shedding light on why consumers make certain decisions. This book offers valuable insight for businesses aiming to truly understand their audience.

Both books provide a wealth of knowledge for those keen on understanding and optimizing the user experience and product development. Happy reading!

Now that we've navigated the product mindset, let's find out what measuring success looks like in platform teams.

Published: September 28, 2023

Software developmentDevOps