Questions are a powerful tool in product development. They open doors to dialogue and discovery, inviting connection and creativity. Today, I invite you to reflect further on the most important question: why. Asking why is not always intuitive or easy to answer, so we often end up asking what and how instead. But here are the reasons why asking WHY is important.

why dude

Why is what drives not only everything we do but also our emotional reactions to everything that happens to us. When we understand the reason behind something, we are way more likely to accept it and be part of it. The same is true in product management.

The WHY of the company – beyond profit

When we think from a company perspective, the why is connected to the mission and purpose of the organization. Many of the most successful and loved brands communicate their why upfront in order to develop their customer base and increase revenue. Why is a huge driver of strategy in product management. Here are some of the whys of the top performing companies in the world:

  • Tesla’s about us page starts with this quote: “Tesla’s mission is to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy”. 
  • Spotify wants you to know they are on a mission to unlock the potential of human creativity—by giving a million creative artists the opportunity to live off their art, and billions of fans the opportunity to enjoy and be inspired by it.
  • Apple dedicated the intro of their most important yearly-help conference in 2013 to communicate their why, they go on for two minutes to explain “Why Apple is Apple.”

Your product is not that different

The scope of these companies is massive, but they did not start that way. Fundamentally, the why also applies to smaller organizations, products or sub-products within an organization, and areas of a particular product. Let’s use an e-learning platform as an example:

An electronic learning platform is an integrated set of interactive online services that provide consumers with tools, information, and resources to support education delivery and management. There are multiple tiers and whys involved in an e-learning platform: 

  1. Platform: Connect people through knowledge.
  2. Business: Help organizations bring knowledge to their employees
  3. Mobile team: Provide frictionless access to the platform on the go

These examples are grossly simplified but it illustrates how each level within an organization can have its own whys to serve them. Each works together like a well-oiled machine to provide a seamless user experience. 

But why does it matter?

1. Everyone works towards a common goal

Why build a train that is powerful, beautiful, efficient, and always on time only to find out that it didn’t take you where you wanted to go? Checking the route in advance and throughout the journey is key to ensuring that the train is moving in the right direction. These same principles apply to product development. 

Sharing the roadmaps and mission and evolving them with your team enables them to work together towards a common goal. Building a great product requires collaboration between many teams and people. Each individual on your team will affect the route in many ways – leaders prioritizing, developers choosing the architecture, designers crafting animations, writers selecting the right words, and so on. Imagine the possibilities if everyone on your team is aligned on the path and purpose. Think of all the ways it can empower them. This is how new and innovative projects are born.  

2. Better culture → Motivated team → Greater Products

Sharing the why with your teams not only enables them to work together towards the common goal, but also to understand that their contributions matter. Imagine how much better our organizations would be if everyone believed that their job directly contributed to the overall mission.

During a visit to the NASA Space Centre in 1962, President Kennedy noticed a janitor carrying a broom. He interrupted his tour, walked over to the man, and said: “Hi, I’m Jack Kennedy, what are you doing?”

The janitor responded: “I’m helping put a man on the moon, Mr. President.”

While this story is likely “apocryphal”, it illustrates how connecting the work with purpose can create better engagement and motivate your team. 

3. Long-lasting Products & Product Flexibility

Products are adjusting and evolving faster than ever, and the whys might help you to keep up with that demand. Think of Apple- the company started more than 40 years ago and has since revolutionized the end user’s access to technology. The mission applies to early Macintosh computers back in the 80s, and it also applies today to the many iDevices and new services that the company offers in the Digital Era. Making sure the why was well understood and shared helped them to decide what products to build, and to sustain a strong connection with customers who shared the same mission.

4. Brand Recognition

The why also impacts the way products and brands are seen by customers. People might resonate with your product more when you share the why and inspire them. 

Simon Sinek’s first TEDx talk from 2009 is now the 3rd most watched TED talk of all time, and he believes, that “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” His inspirational talk and book invite us to “Start with the Why” and by doing so you will connect with your audience on an emotional level to then sell your products. 

If your reason why aligns with your customers, there is no doubt that they will be satisfied. By digging into your customer’s needs and pain points, you can better understand both the why and the why of your product. 

How do we focus on the why?

why graphic
  • Get started: It might start by simply asking the whys more – Why are we having this meeting? Why is this feature working this way? But it goes way beyond that – Why does this product exist? Why are we building it? Why is our work meaningful? 
  • Keep evolving it: The origin of the why will vary depending on the scope (company/product/area) and ideally, it is something that is understood early on but it’s going to be evolving with you. Determining your why should involve employees, customers, suppliers, and members of the communities you serve.
  • Create milestones: In previous teams, we decided to break the year into a few cycles to bring back focus to a given area. Planning for each cycle requires a lot of questioning. And it helped us forge our path to what we wanted to implement and what we wanted to dismiss. This was a powerful way of keeping everyone aligned toward the shared goal and cross-department collaboration. 

Every team has its culture and its needs, so you have to explore and find the right cadence to keep your purpose surfaced and culture alive. And focusing on the whys will help you maximize the success and reach of your product.

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