It starts with WHY
The Golden Circle by Simon Sinek is a model that helps companies to change the way they think about their products and propositions. Many companies sell products and services and are successful, but why is one company more successful than the next? Are their products or services better, or are they better able to connect with their customers because of they way they have positioned themselves? This article describes Simon’s model, and makes the connection to product management to test the Golden Circles application in this domain.
Companies operate at three levels – what, how, why
- What – the products and services the business offers to customers/users
- How – how the company positions these offers to their customers/users
- Why – the motivation behind doing all of this
When you ask someone to describe a business, they typically talk about the WHAT. The great phone that Apple makes, the brilliant shoes provided by Nike, or the songs provided by Spotify. The What however is not what defines the success of the above stated companies as many companies make phones, shoes or publish songs. The WHY is what drives these companies, and what makes them immensely successful, the why defines the soul of these companies. The HOW in the end describes the competitive advantage or differentiating features or processes that support the proposition.
Let’s look at Patagonia for example, a high end outdoor clothing company.
- Why – We’re In Business To Save Our Home Planet.
- How – Our focus is on simplicity and utility. We build the best product by focusing on function, repairability and durability.
- What – Upscale outdoor products
People working for Patagonia are passionate about saving the planet. This is reflected in the products they make. For example by using recycled products, by explaining the footprint every product has, or by launching a program to reuse clothing.
Many companies work outside in. They build products and after they have developed products they try to figure out why they did this, and then tell people about it. Nothing wrong with this, and many companies operate like this but super powerful companies work inside out.
WHY, WHAT, HOW in the context of product management
The Patagonia example is a great example of the Golden Circle explained. The company has a great vision, and as a results builds great products that are aligned with that vision. This is why people buy Patagonia products. Product Management is about running your product like a business so the same logic that applies to a company should also apply to products.
Start with WHY
Simon Sinek book is called ‘Start with WHY‘, and that’s for a reason. It starts with a vision, a raison d’etre. Every product needs a vision to exist. Amazon is famous for working backwards, they write the press release before the product is being build. I started applying these principles as well for every product that i’ve build, with a little twitch though. I typically start by creating a presentation that explains the value proposition of the product, and once done I use this presentation in every conversation that I have while discussing the product.
- Why would customers bother buying your product
- What is the problem that you are solving for them
- Can you outline your product proposition in one sentence
And all of this without mentioning features – feature statements are forbidden!
By doing this right, you are probably preventing many products, or product features from being developed. For those products that you are developing, it helps everyone in the team to be aligned with the vision for the product. It helps to create funding for your product with executive leadership, and it helps you to win over other products in a prioritization discussion. Trust me – half the battle won.
HOW – How are we going to achieve our goals
The HOW for products are the differentiating factors. This is what makes your products stand-out from the competition.
A famous example is one provided by Apple: ‘challenging the status quo by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user-friendly’.
In most markets there are many competitive products out there and by just having a great vision and hence a solid WHY is not enough to make your products stand-out. Your sales teams, your customers need to be able to easily understand what makes your proposition stand out from the rest.
- What makes your product stand out from the competition
- What are your products Unique Selling Points
- What makes your product unique
- How do you sell your products and services.
WHAT – the capabilities of your product.
This is the easy part. Here you talk about what your product actually does or what features your product has. This is where many people start instead of starting with the WHY.
A smart Japanese colleague used to tell me: ‘no features, stop explaining features, and start explaining the problem your product solves’. I was working in the training business, and we had just launched a great 12 hour e-learning program. How hard I tried, it was not ringing a bell for me until I read Simon Sinek’s book. I was explaining features. For example that the program was available on smartphones, had a great case study, was super interactive with quizzes and assignments, included reference materials and downloadable aids. I kept hammering on these features as the value of my product. Instead, I should have focused on the problem my learning program was solving, or how by taking this program the learner was better able to perform their job.
Credits for the Golden Circle – > Simon Sinek – he’s available at simonsinek.com
I’ve worked in product management most of my professional life. I enjoy all aspects of the product management role, except for anything related to administration. Coming up with new ideas, building great products, and working towards adoption and satisfied users drives me. Always looking forward!