Mental models are simple expressions of complex processes or relationships. These models are accumulated over time by an individual and used to make faster and better decisions. Mental models are powerful, but their utility is limited to the contexts they were extrapolated from. Therefore, breaking out new models and freshening existing ones is necessary to avoid getting stuck in a single mindset. Most mental models concentrate on one of the following three areas.
Here we present some product management techniques that are known for their efficacy.
Inversion can be incredibly useful because it plays upon the psychological principle of loss aversion. This breaks your repetitive thought loops. By considering what would cause things to go wrong—instead of what would cause them to go right—you may start to identify areas of your process leading to adverse outcomes.
Shipping Time Value
The model assumes that the quicker the users get the product, the more valuable it is to them. So when deciding which functionalities to focus on and what features ship first, think about the customer value of a product shipped faster.
Law of diminishing returns
In any system, additional units or resources increase value and returns until the point of diminishing returns, where any addition could lead to a negative result. This also applies to products — if adding more features to mature products is not converting in terms of increased users or revenue, it is a signal of diminishing value. As a PM, this could be a helpful way to test if the effect of adding a new feature is valuable enough to maintain or kill the product.
To understand the multi-spoked impact of your decisions, build causal loops. These are visual maps that identify positive and negative correlations. This mental model can also help you explain and justify your choices to different teams, who might not see the benefits of certain decisions directly. Depending on what you want to prioritise from a business standpoint, you might bump up improving design on your to-do list.
The root cause
Explore the root causes of problems by asking why something is happening without preconceptions about the reasons behind it. The deeper problems—that emerge after you ask five whys—often involve systematic issues, UX confusion, and misalignment within the team. This helps solve significant points of conflict within your design team and allows a platform for the team members to air their opinions.
Jobs to be done
To understand what your users want and figure out what will be most helpful to them, we start by defining the persona (the type of user), their action (what they’ll do with your product), and the outcome (what they hope to achieve with this action). When you’re at a dead-end for product improvement, you need to take a step back and find out what users want to accomplish with your product. You can also supplement this with direct user feedback. This mental model helps you avoid thinking about your product in a vacuum. Instead, it puts it in the most relevant context possible—how it’s helping your user.
The problem hypothesis
The problem hypothesis helps you reframe something cerebral or theoretical as something that can be proven true or false. So be confident that the project is worth pursuing and have a clear goal for what you’re trying to accomplish.
It takes all kinds of people and ideas to build a great product. So understanding the right time to build, sustain, or scale helps you become more efficient with your time and capital. To put this into practice, try categorising decisions into actions that innovate, feed, or are scalable. Then make sure that the category these decisions fall under matches your company’s objectives.
Utility (marginal, increasing, diminishing)
The idea is that as additional units of a product/service are consumed, utility increases up to a critical point, where any more additional units have the inverse effect of diminishing utility. This is a valuable way to determine how to manage limited resources for product development because it can help to illustrate what sequence of events should come first concerning implementing the backlog. If a product feature is producing diminishing utility, this can be de-prioritised over one that is increasing.
When you’re comparing possible projects you could take on, you should always choose the one that maximises impact on customers for every unit of resources you have. The right investment decision changes based on the period you are optimising. It follows then that aligning with your team and stakeholders about what time horizon to optimise is often the first discussion. It’s just as essential to design the marketing experience and the support/distress experience. Feedback loops help us remember that some of the biggest drivers of growth or decline for a product may be from other parts of the system.
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