Product Culture: What Is It and Why It Matters

Company culture has always played a crucial role in business. It attracts top talent, keeps employees engaged and helps provide a sense of inspiration. But there’s another type of culture you should be fostering within your product team. One that’s often undervalued and overlooked — Product Culture. Similar to company culture, product culture is a way of thinking. A shared mindset that helps set up and drives teams toward success. The key difference is that company culture focuses on people; product culture focuses on the product. 

If you’ve built a digital product, you know there’s no one right way to reach your goal. As a product manager, the methodologies and principles you implement will shift and change based on the problem your team is trying to solve. To succeed when building products, you need to empower your teams. And a product culture needs to be woven into your company so that product teams feel confident in solving problems versus merely delivering features.

In this article, based on the latest episode of the Product Builders podcast, we will look at what product culture entails and how you can build one within your organization. 

The Pluto TV interface on multiple devices
Note: The examples provided come from our interview with Abhishek Nagaraju, Director of Product at Pluto TV.

What Is Product Culture?

Most of us have a basic understanding of what it means to promote a healthy company culture. But what does it mean to build a product culture within your overall company culture? At its core, promoting a product culture is about creating an ecosystem and safe space for product teams to solve problems. It’s about empowering employees to communicate effectively and align on the problems they’re trying to solve. 

Leaders within a product culture don’t see their product team as just a means to deliver features. Instead of viewing product teams as a feature factory, company leaders create the opportunity for clear communication about successes and failures. Leaders also focus on providing the resources and environment that product teams need to solve problems versus sending them an endless to-do list.

Product Culture Essentials

Empathy and Communication

Human beings are running the show regardless of what products your organization delivers. We all have different problems, perspectives and needs that should be considered when communicating. When organizations can focus on transparency and honesty, delivering great products becomes a team sport. 

Leaders and employees should aim to be vulnerable about their successes and shortcomings. Sharing mistakes should be welcomed. Taking this kind of ownership builds trust throughout an organization. Additionally, the more transparency that gets brought into conversations, the more alignment and growth your teams will experience.

It’s also important to bring empathy into your internal interactions and how you approach solving your product users’ problems. Without empathy, it’s easy to bring your own biases into the solutions you’re trying to deliver. Just because a solution seems right to you doesn’t mean it meets your users’ needs. By empathizing with the people you’re trying to solve problems for, you’re in a better position to deliver products that will make a real difference.

Staying Connected With Users

A significant part of building a product culture is taking the time to understand and communicate with your end users. There needs to be a focus on figuring out the most critical user problems to solve, user pain points, how your product might be creating friction for users, and how you can best deliver on your value proposition. This understanding of your users and their problems should continually evolve and be reinforced with consistent user communication.

Companies must also understand how to best communicate with their users and be willing to evolve their approach as user habits change. Remember, it’s not about how you want to communicate with users; it’s about how your users prefer to engage with you.

For example, regarding gaining user feedback, Abhishek Nagaraju, Director of Product - Discovery and Experiences at Pluto TV, says: 

“At Pluto TV, we have a set of users that we’ve recruited and constantly expand to gain insight on our product features. We take the time to form a relationship with these users and talk to them about what is and isn’t working with our products. Some of these discussions happen one on one while other feedback is gained through the use of specific surveys. We also have our research teams analyze app store reviews, online forums and social media to keep a pulse on what our users are saying. All of these methodologies have been extremely helpful in aggregating user feedback and building deeper connections with our user base.”

Welcoming Failure

Another part of promoting a product culture involves having a healthy view of failure and its role in your company’s overall progress. In many ways, failure is good as long as you learn something new every time you fail. The more you fail and learn, the faster you will find real solutions to the problems you’re trying to solve. The key is to get comfortable with this process and let your product teams try new things without the fear of failure. 

Failing fast can be your quickest path to a successful solution. Failure should be welcomed because the more you learn from failure, the faster real solutions can be found.

Bringing a Product Culture to a New Organization

Product managers or directors coming into a new organization must remember that product culture isn’t a one-size-fits-all methodology. Though there are some best practices we’ve explored above, every organization will have its own set of circumstances you’ll need to adapt to. Before trying to implement culture changes, it’s best to understand the current talent, processes and products you’ll engage with.

According to Abhishek Nagaraju:

“It’s great to bring your own awareness and expertise into an organization, but avoid bringing your preconceived solutions to problems that you may not have a clear understanding of yet. Put in the effort to gain context of where an organization is at and take the time needed to truly understand your new organization’s current problems. Though some problems seem straightforward on the surface, the” why” behind those problems could be much different than you initially thought.

Implementing a product culture successfully also ties back into empathy. Before you can begin bringing solutions to the table, you need to know who you are actually solving these problems for. Get to know your organization, deeply analyze what problems it’s running into and trust the process as it unfolds.”

It’s great to bring your own awareness and expertise into an organization, but avoid bringing your preconceived solutions to problems that you may not have a clear understanding of yet.

Building a Product Culture Matters

Organizations that take the time to promote a product culture will reap many benefits. They’ll have better internal communication, more empathy between team members, feel empowered to solve problems, stay connected with their users, and find solutions more effectively. For a product culture to take hold, it must be a company-wide effort from leadership and employees. Though product culture will look different from company to company, the core essentials we have discussed will go a long way in establishing your own product culture.

If you’d like to learn more or have questions, please get in touch with us at Majestyk today!

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