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Building Better Products with the Product Thinking Playbook

Ian Foster

Ian Foster

Lead Product Strategist

August 25, 2022

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

Illustration of random shapes and patterns in Thoughtworks brand colors

Our mission at Connected is to build better products. The Product Thinking Playbook is how we do it. Like any good product, the Product Thinking Playbook constantly evolves, guiding us when designing new projects for better team alignment, pivoting projects to yield better results, and learning new techniques to become better product practitioners. Learn more about our Product Thinking Playbook and what it can do for your product vision.

At Connected, we use our playbook for just about everything: from designing new projects with clients, pivoting projects to yield better results, to learning new techniques as practitioners. The interesting thing about the Product Thinking Playbook is that instead of being a predefined set of plays it’s a collection of tactics, techniques and milestones (from a wide array of disciplines) that when used strategically create distinct plays for our projects and our clients. This allows us to be modular and flexible when approaching our client’s unique problems. Complex challenges require thoughtful approaches to create innovative solutions and the playbook has a proven record of success. In this article, I will go into more detail on what the playbook is, how it’s used, why its flexibility is important as well as how you and your organization can leverage it to improve your product development practice.

What is the Product Thinking Playbook?

The Product Thinking Playbook is a collection of techniques, tactics, and milestones in the form of cards that is used for product development project design, the output of which we call ‘plays’. There is a hierarchy to the playbook where Tactics consist of Techniques, and Milestones are the critical stages of the project that should be called out.

Part of the reason the playbook is so useful is that it forces us to think of what techniques would be most beneficial to a particular client problem.  This diagnostic exercise ensures that we design with intent and consideration of the overall project’s purpose. By doing this, the project team is better set up for success.

True to our mission to always build better, we’ve recently done a substantial refresh to ensure that we’ve added new and more advanced techniques to meet the challenges and opportunities of modern product development. We now have an even more robust repository of techniques that our clients can learn about, and our practitioners can employ. Soon, our peers in the product community will have access too (for now, 90 techniques are available to download here). 

Benefits of Modularity

Many organizations have their own innovation playbook (or methodology) with the process that they believe will foster innovation and create needed solutions. While this may be true, having a singular approach to product development runs the risk of innovative atrophy, whether it’s using rinse and repeat methods or looking at problems through established lenses. No professional sports team would rely on a singular set of plays. The environment changes and the game evolves, which necessitates a commitment to continual improvement and adaptation of how you do things. 

The Product Thinking Playbook is a modular tool that tackles this problem. Project design can be a combination of proven techniques with needed experimentation. Each project is a unique opportunity to use a bespoke approach that fits the project objectives and demands. In my experience at Connected, no project has been the exact same because no business is.

Tailoring Outcomes to the Maturity of Your Practice

End-to-end product development requires talent and an array of capabilities. In these current market conditions, this talent is hard to come by and many product companies are lacking the ability to design, build, and deliver on their product aspirations. This doesn’t mean that they need to cease any form of product development, though. 

Instead, firms that understand (or want to uncover) their limitations can use the playbook to design projects within their wheelhouse while exposing where they may need outside help and expertise to fill in the rest of the capability gaps. For example, a UX Design team can leverage the myriad of design techniques and then partner with a  software/product development firm to use the playbook as a tool. Similarly, an engineering team can do this with discovery-oriented tactics and techniques, essentially using the playbook for cross-disciplinary alignment.

Co-creating with Connected

Lastly, at Connected we welcome the opportunity to co-create plays tailored to your project needs and product aspirations. We actually encourage it. By leveraging our expertise across 0->1 product development we can help you develop the right product development approach to meet the many requirements of your product innovation, especially across the four product risks (Desirability, Viability, Feasibility and Usability) that we use to ensure products are built for impact in the market and are resilient to competition. 

In addition, one of the benefits of partnering with Connected on your product innovation journey is that we are adept at pivoting project approaches by incorporating new and different techniques that may be needed. As mentioned earlier, the inherent modularity of the playbook allows us to cocreate in motion if a project needs it. This may be more difficult with established and embedded innovation frameworks at organizations that are static and inflexible in nature. 

It is all of these benefits of the Product Thinking Playbook; its rich repository of techniques and tactics, the flexibility of its use and how it is used as an insightful tool for project design and alignment, that work together so that you can build better products. 

Download your digital Product Thinking Playbook here

Ian Foster

Ian Foster

Lead Product Strategist

As a Lead Product Strategist, Ian is responsible for leading product development projects from a product strategy lens to help clients build best in class products and create value in the marketplace. 

Ian is a strong advocate for taking a multidisciplinary approach to product development; he believes that this is the best way to achieve business innovation and better products for everyone. 

Ian is always seeking new and evolving perspectives to incorporate into his work, currently he is fascinated by biophilic design and systems theory.  

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