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What is product strategy?

Product strategy involves areas ranging from market research to product design, development to optimization. From our perspective, we focus on creating and improving digital and connected products for users.

To accomplish these objectives, organizational leaders, researchers, strategists, and designers work through market definition and system strategy processes, followed by methods like customer journey mapping and user testing, to ensure they are reaching the right users in effective and goal-driven ways.

With this understanding of the market, organizational opportunities, objectives, and capabilities, a product strategy synthesis process is then used to define the most effective product that can be brought to market to meet the shared objectives of the organization and consumer base.

From a well-formed scope, timeline, and budget, a lean and agile plan is then executed upon to achieve ongoing learning throughout the development process, launch, and continuous improvement practices.

Continue reading for definitions of commonly used product strategy terms.

Continuous improvement

Continuous improvement is an approach that monitors the interactions and outcomes of a product or service after launch through validated learning and ongoing iteration. The objective of this approach is to find ways to consistently improve customer experience and optimize your organization’s efforts. This is driven by the unique opportunity in digital, where you can track and learn from every interaction, every person, every click or tap that occurs across digital channels.

Validated learning helps us pinpoint where we can focus efforts to improve customer experience and service delivery on an ongoing basis. This involves using user analytics, user testing, and other data gathering to inform these efforts.

The iterative process of continuous improvement means continually working to increase conversions, drive engagement, and make sure the team is working optimally towards meeting user needs and business goals.

Our approach to continuous improvement

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Digital excellence Service design

Customer journey

Also known as: consumer journey, user journey

The customer journey is the path the user takes in deciding whether or not to purchase and continue to use a product or service. This includes their journey in making a purchase decision as as well as their journey during and after experiencing the product or service.

At each stage of the customer journey, the user has needs and goals. By understanding these needs and goals, organizations can engage with customers across physical and digital touchpoints to help users move through each stage of the journey.

Often, organizations look at the customer journey through the lens of the touchpoints where they know they’re already interacting with consumer. This is a limiting view that can dearly cost an organization as the customer journey typically extends beyond direct touchpoints through an extended series of stages that don’t necessarily or even can’t involve your organization. This is why it’s so important to understand the journey from the customer’s point of view, and then confirm of there are places across that extended journey where your organization can have an impact.

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Service design Touchpoint Customer journey mapping System strategy Service blueprint

Customer journey mapping

Also known as: journey mapping

The customer journey map helps identify each stage of a consumer’s decision making path, including before, during, and after using a product or service.

Interviews, observation, and other tactics help determine the customer’s decision-making process. Customer journey maps also identify consumer pain points organizations can address by modifying a product or service to better connect with, serve, and retain customers.

With a customer journey map, you have a clear path for improving service delivery across the entire organization while meeting customer needs and expectations.

Our approach to customer journey mapping

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Service design Touchpoint Customer journey System strategy Service blueprint

Dark patterns

Dark patterns are ways that organizations or designers nudge or trick users into taking action that they might have not intended, or that make it intentionally difficult for a user to complete a task.

An example of a dark pattern is a process that makes it very difficult for a user to cancel a subscription. By hiding options within multiple menus, writing instructions that confuse a user (e.g. making them think they succeeded in completing a task when they didn’t), or requiring multiple unnecessary steps to complete a task, these kind of user hostile dark patterns set a bad tone for your customer relationship.

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Service design Intuitive Usability

Diary study

A diary study is a type of qualitative user research, which typically involves a user recording their activities, thoughts, or behaviours over time at regular intervals (for example, when you wake up, or just before bed, each day for a week, after a phone call, or each time you brush your teeth, and so on).

This type of qualitative data helps teams better understand user behaviour, especially in cases where it isn’t practical to observe users directly. A diary study enables organizations to see how the usage of a product or service varies depending on different contexts and over time.

A public transit user recording when they took public transit, along with their experiences, thoughts, conversations, and differences about each trip over a period of two weeks would be an example of a diary study for a public transit agency.

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Inclusive design Service design Ethnography Evaluative research Generative research Qualitative research

Digital transformation

Digital transformation is the changing of organizational processes and capabilities by leveraging technology and new interaction models. Through digital transformation, organizations can provide a superior customer experience and optimize team efforts.

Digital transformation can extend product and service delivery to provide increasing value, hone existing digital channels and products, and define new initiatives that drive customer engagement and retention.

Digital transformation is not just about technology, as it impacts people and processes through core tenets such as human-centered design, continuous improvement, and upskilling to grow the digital maturity of the organizational and team members.

Our approach to digital transformation

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Digital excellence Service design Continuous improvement Digital maturity

Edge case

The term edge case is used to describe an atypical or less commonly encountered use case or user for a product or service. The traditional approach implies that the edge cases are more difficult to solve and serve fewer people and therefore are to be avoided. The long-held belief is that organizations can serve most of their addressable market without solving these tougher challenges.

As a result of this traditional approach, edge cases would often not be accommodated by a  product or service, making it more difficult or even unusable in these cases.

For example, for a website, an edge case could be considered someone who would exclusively view the site in high contrast mode due to an uncommon vision impairment. However, this kind of consideration would be a common benefit for many users, not just those with a particular kind of vision impairment. Dismissing such a benefit because it may impact only a small percentage of users would be a detriment to the overall product and could require a significant effort to accommodate in the future.

As such, we know now that solving for the more difficult use cases first—particular when they lead to more ways to access content and engage with an organization—leads to much richer products or services that ultimately require less time and resources to capture market share.

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Ethnography or ethnographic research

Ethnography describes a form of research that involves the observation of people. It is a qualitative research method based on observing ideally natural behaviour and speaking with users in context.

For example, an ethnographic study for a research question for a pharmacy would involve observing and speaking to pharmacists in situ at the pharmacy. This kind of unobtrusive approach to research within the natural environment aims to gain genuine data about how someone behaves and direct insight into a process.

This is especially vital in understanding people and processes where it may be impossible or difficult to accurately document, reflect, or draw insight from other, non-observational research methods such as user interviews or surveys.

A complement to an ethnographic study, or a best compromise where this kind of direct observation may not be possible, could be a diary study.

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Inclusive design Service design Diary study Generative research User interviews Qualitative research Customer journey

Evaluative research

Evaluative research is a type of user research that aims to determine or evaluate how well a product or service is meeting the needs of its users.

Evaluative research is key to identifying specific issues with a product or service that is in development or already in market. As such, evaluative research practices typically occur once a product or service is in development, rather than during early exploratory phases.

Research methods used as part of evaluative research include usability testing, A/B testing, and first-click testing, all aimed at gaining insights into participants’ behaviour while using a product or service and on an ongoing basis.

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Digital excellence Inclusive design Service design First click study Qualitative research Quantitative research Continuous improvement

Experience mapping

Also known as: user journey mapping, product journey mapping, user paths, user flows

Experience mapping is a design tool for mapping out the end-to-end experience of an existing product or service, or for mapping out a proposed experience for a new product or service.

In contrast to customer journey maps (which take a broader view of the steps and factors for a customer to consider and engage with a product or service), experience mapping focuses on the steps users need to take as they move through a specific user experience flow designed by an organization. For example, the steps required to check your balance in a banking app, or all the possible ways you can get to a page on a website.

An experience map can be used internally, to understand all the paths and options for working through your website, app, or another product or service. This can be a vital tool to understanding the full scope of your offering.

Experience maps can also be expanded upon to include a user’s behaviours and feelings throughout the experience. In this case, to identify opportunities for improving each of the stages in the flow.

They can be crafted manually or be created from existing analytics and secondary research in order to give you a full scope of your product or service and begin to identify and improve how a user will work through your product or service, if there are any missing or cumbersome steps, and how to more efficiently manage your product or service.

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Service design Touchpoint Customer journey Customer journey mapping

First click study

A first click study or first click testing, is a method of evaluative user research that tracks where a user clicks first when asked to complete a task.

First click studies aim to uncover unexpected user behaviour and confirm if the user’s mental model of how to complete a task aligns with how the interface of the product is designed.

This type of study allows a product team to better understand how users perceive the actions a designer would like them to take, and judge how intuitive a product is for every day users.

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Experience mapping Usability

Generative research

Generative research, also known as exploratory research, is a type of research typically used in the earlier stages of research, strategy, and design processes. Generative research can include activities like user interviews, ethnographic observation, or workshops with the aim of validate a market opportunity, concept, or to understand what users need in order to better conceptualize a product or service.

Through generative research, teams can find ways to innovate from the building blocks of a comprehensive understanding of user pain points, contexts, and potential use cases of a product or service.

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Digital excellence Inclusive design Service design Ethnography Evaluative research Qualitative research Quantitative research

Heat map

A heat map is a way of visualizing user data or statistics. Heat maps typically offer visualizations of where people stopped scrolling or clicked on a webpage.

An example heat map which visualizes where people click on a webpage.
This example heat map highlights where people have clicked on a page. Warmer colours represent more clicks.

This method is one way of better understanding user behaviour on a website or digital product.

Product teams can use this data to create stronger page hierarchy, emphasize key areas that are receiving less user attention, or understand what other areas of the page could benefit from richer content or a link to more detailed information.

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First click study Usability Continuous improvement

Intersectionality

Intersectionality is a way of describing and understanding how different identities that an individual might have (e.g. gender, race, sexuality, class and so on) combine to create different experiences when navigating the world.

Rather than looking at people through the lens of a singular identity (e.g. identifying as a woman), intersectionality looks at all the identities a person has, as well as more fluid factors like circumstances and ability. The combination of these considerations affects how a person engages with a product or service, interacts with people, and perceives the world.

Since it is a more holistic way of viewing people, intersectionality forms the backbone of inclusive design and diversity, inclusion, and equity (DEI) work.

Learn more about intersectionality

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Intuitive

If something is intuitive, this means that it is easy to use without a lot of instruction or learning time.

As an example, an intuitive interface or website has a way of navigating the website or product that makes sense to the user without them needing to read help documentation or spend a lot of time looking for what they need to complete a task.

This is accomplished by using standard models for navigation, interaction, and engagement so that users can recognize familiar patterns and do not need to try to figure out a new interaction model.

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Web accessibility POUR Usability Continuous improvement

Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

A minimum viable product (MVP) is the simplest form of a product that can provide enough value to your market in order to prove a business opportunity.

It’s a methodology that gets the first release of your product to market as quickly as possible by only initially developing the features that are required to provide the most impactful outcomes for both users and the organization. It’s a great tactic for cutting back on up-front engineering hours, and starting to validate the product with user engagement earlier in the life of the product.

The purpose of the MVP is to reduce the number of assumptions an organization carries forward into further product development, including the core assumption that what you think is right for the market is actually what the market will use and support.

Ultimately, it’s about ensuring whether or not the product is worth continued investment as quickly as possible and, if so, to capture market share, engagement, and growth based on real world interest, not assumptions.

Why a strong MVP is not just a collection of features

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Continuous improvement

Product owner

A product owner is the person responsible for guiding the product vision and the roadmap for the product. They oversee the outcomes of the design and development process, working to prioritize scope, budget, and timelines, alongside user needs and organizational requirements.

The product owner is the central communicator between the team building the product, the stakeholders, and the users. They play a vital and ongoing role in ensuring the product delivers as much value as possible for the organization building it and those people who will use it.

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Digital transformation Digital maturity

Qualitative research

Qualitative research describes data collected in non-numerical or non-statistically relevant ways.

Qualitative data can include quotes from interviews, observations from ethnographic studies, or notes from a diary study. This data can be used to form a more holistic picture of users and participants, help build a case for specific product or service use cases, and is great for building empathy towards users among stakeholders and design teams.

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Service design User interviews Quantitative research Customer journey mapping System strategy Service blueprint

Quantitative research

Quantitative research describes data collected in a measurable, numerical, and/or statistically-relevant format.

Typical formats for collecting quantitative data include rating scales, various large-scale surveying methods, evaluative usability testing (using metrics like time to task completion and the number of clicks), and analytics like heat maps and A/B testing.

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Service design Heat map First click study Qualitative research Usability

System strategy

System strategy is the essential framework for driving customer experience and organizational effectiveness. This framework helps accelerate internal decision-making with an approach that uncovers key opportunities to drive customer engagement and retention while optimizing operations.

For organizations that are looking to improve product and service delivery, system strategy provides the roadmap to accomplish this. It aligns operations and channels with the customer journey in order to uncover new market opportunities, accelerate organizational objectives, and define new efficiencies in delivering product and service.

Our approach to system strategy

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Digital excellence Service design Customer journey Customer journey mapping Service blueprint

Touchpoint

Also known as: touch point, point of contact, customer touchpoint, consumer touchpoint

Customer touchpoints refer to any interaction an organization has with a customer.

All the interactions between a customer who discovers your organization online for the first time, to eventually acquiring your services, and then engaging with your service on an ongoing basis. These are all touchpoints.

This could include browsing your website, speaking to a sales representative, downloading a PDF, ordering something online, receiving a shipment, and so on.

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Service design Customer journey Customer journey mapping

Universal design

Universal design is a method of designing environments, services, and products to be usable by the highest number of people in a given population. Univeral design has its origins in architecture and industrial design but has recently expanded to include digital products and services.

The Ronald Mace working group developed a standard set of seven principles of universal design in the 1990s, from which all universal design processes originate from. Some universal design principles include flexible use, simple use, and tolerances for error. When using this design philosophy, designers create a single solution designed to reach the most people, with the goal of not needing to develop additional solutions for people with different needs.

The seven principles of universal design shown through drawings of hands performing different actions
The principles of universal design: equitable use, flexibility in use,  simple and intuitive use, perceptible information, tolerance for error, low physical effort, size and space for approach and use. From the Interaction Design Foundation.

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Usability

Usability is a general term that describes how an interface or experience functions for users. It refers to how users can perform tasks in a frustrating-free, efficient, and delightful way.

The more usable a product or service, the less difficult it is to engage with, the easier to understand (or more intuitive), and the more pleasant the experience will be for users.

Usability is a key tenet of interaction design, product design, and service design.

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User interviews

User interviews are a research tactic where researchers or designers talk to a user and ask them questions to gain insights needed for the design process. User interviews are typically used in the earlier stages of the process, and form the foundation of exploratory research. These interviews can be structured, semi-structured, or free form.

User interviews can help you define a product or service concept, identify user pain points, and understand your users on a deeper level to better define design requirements.

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Inclusive design Service design Experience mapping Usability System strategy