Mar 16, 2024

Descriptive, Prescriptive, Predictive


The arc of a product team cycles through three mindsets: descriptive, predictive, and predictive. There are other ways to describe this arc, but I like this one because it rhymes.

Product teams are descriptive when they are finding what is known as "Product Market Fit". They describe a a pain point in the world around them and find a solution for it. This mindset helps capture mind share and to get in the door.

Product teams become prescriptive when they make choices about how their product should and should not be used -- or rather, how it can or cannot be used. This is a complex hierarchy of tradeoffs between the features of the product as well as an alignment to the underlying vision. For example a product could do more things, but it doesn't because that would dilute its brand or make it confusing or otherwise take away from the problem it hoped to solve in the first place. This mindset of prescribing helps product begins a two-way dialog with customers, and helps orient the team towards the same narrative.

Product teams become predictive when they attempt to solve problems that do not yet exist in the minds of their customers. Another way to think about this is that they build on top of the new world that is created after incorporating their solution. Solving problems that exist in the world is not a pure function. In other words, solving problems with solutions (even if they are perfect) has side effects. Sometimes those side effects creates new opportunities and product teams can predict these problems and get ahead of them with new solutions, even before they have become clear.

I think the predictive phase of product development is particularly magical, because that's how you (forgive the clichΓ©), change the world.

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