How Good Product Principles Support Your Workflow and Team
If your company is anything like ours, you strive to make product decisions quickly but thoughtfully. You work tirelessly to improve and evolve your product into its best version possible, meet your customers where they’re at, and provide a service they need. These decisions aren’t made in a vacuum–they’re informed choices based on your company’s product principles.
A product principle is a statement that expresses what a product strives to achieve for its users. It guides everyday decisions of varying magnitude, pointing everyone at the company toward the same shared goal. Product principles create alignment across teams and departments, each responsible for a different component of product development. Whether it’s engineers working to prioritize their next sprint or the marketing team cooking up the messaging for the next ad campaign–we’re all led by the same principles.
Here at Guru, we believe that product principles unite all of our teams around how we’re going to make Guru the best version of itself. Product principles boost alignment across departments, guiding decisions and orienting everyone around the same set of shared objectives.
At their core, product principles are thoughtful statements that parallel the company values and guide decision-making. Let’s take a closer look.
Where do product principles fit in?
The best product principles situate the entire company around a shared goal. When everyone is on the same page, your team is more likely to make better decisions, work faster, and feel more confident about their goals. We have five principles that guide our decisions here at Guru:
Simple is innovative
Sharing creates value
There is only one (source of truth)
Lives where our customers work
Plays well with others
When crafting our product principles, we don’t necessarily get into discussing the future we’re trying to create with the product (cue a product vision) or explain the step-by-step benchmarks to achieving a goal (hello, product strategy). Instead, product principles are concise, specific statements that can be applied in numerous ways throughout our daily work and focus on keeping all our teams in sync. Product principles tie the product’s vision and strategy together.
Product principles are often inspired by your company's core values or mission statement–the two mirror each other and capture everything your product strives to achieve. They aren’t a write-it-and-forget-it asset, but they aren’t revised every month or even every quarter. The principles you write should be able to hold their ground for at least a year as they foster alignment across the organization. Your product features and monthly marketing campaigns, for example, will change more often–your product principles should not. That said, maintain a flexible mindset when establishing product principles–they aren’t set in stone.
For product principles to be effective, they need to be communicated across your entire organization. You can have incredible product principles, but if they aren’t accessible or known throughout your company, they’re pretty useless. Product principles are designed to keep everyone on the same page–in order to do this, everyone needs to be informed.
In short, product principles:
Unite everyone at your organization around shared product objectives
Capture what a product strives to accomplish
Help guide everyday decisions
Here’s how we view our product principles at Guru:
“Principles are statements of what we believe should be true about the products we produce. It’s a further listing of product-wide priorities that generally capture things that aren’t addressed or implied in the Vision or Strategy.”
Now, we’ve mentioned product principles, visions, and strategies–what’s the difference?
A product vision expresses the future you’re trying to create with your product. This is a statement that builds a case for why customers want your product. It inspires and excites prospective customers and investors. A product vision says, “See how good the future of your company’s workflow could be with our product?” At Guru, our product vision captures what we hope our product will accomplish:
“Giving every team in the world trusted information so that they can do their best work.”
You know why your product is the best today and how it will only get better in the future–use your product vision to communicate that to the market.
Every product needs a strategy–it’s product marketing 101. Your product strategy includes the steps for how you plan to make your product the best it can be. This is usually company-specific and remains internal knowledge. For example, if you’re trying to double the number of product activations per quarter, your product strategy should list measurable, actionable steps to making this goal a reality. You’re trying to answer the “how?” of reaching your objectives and then creating tangible steps with metrics attached.
To summarize, product visions position your company and product in the eyes of customers while product strategies are specific internal knowledge pertaining to how you’ll accomplish company goals.
Why do you need product principles?
We like to think about product principles as having two primary functions at Guru. They align all our teams toward building the product we aspire to create in our company vision and provide a framework for decision-making by clearly communicating what matters most at Guru.
All that said, why do we even need product principles? Here’s how they’re important:
Guide and support decision-making (goodbye, decision fatigue!)
Create consistency and transparency across the entire organization
Invite a focus on the goals at the heart of the company
We mentioned this before, but we’ll touch on it again because it’s just that important: Sharing your product principles across your organization makes them actionable. No one can utilize your stellar product principles if they don’t know the principles exist or where to find them. Think about your product principles as the baseline for your internal communications–how well does your organization understand and implement them? Your internal comms give your teams the information they need to apply their expertise and excel.
How to write good product principles?
As you begin writing your product principles, keep in mind that they should be expected to be at play every day. Take one of our principles, “lives where our customers work” as an example.
At Guru, we pride ourselves on our users being able to access Guru without ever leaving their workflow. We accomplish this through our integrations. Our Chrome, Slack, Teams, and iPaaS integrations are at the heart of this principle and we’re always focused on improving their functionality.
Before each project, we ask ourselves how this will better serve our users in their day-to-day work. We strive to meet our customers where they already work, saving them precious time, money, and energy. Every one of our teams applies product principles in their own way, so we’re all delivering toward the same shared goal.
Remember: product principles should guide everyone at the company toward the product and experience you’re striving to deliver.
Characteristics of a strong product principle
Keep it specific
Keep your product principles short and sweet. Each principle statement should only be a handful of words, so make every word count. Use specific language that clearly articulates the principle. Try to stick to the information your team needs to know (not all the background chatter that helped you arrive at each principle).
Evoke an emotion
Every good product story resonates with its audience. You’ve most likely already established a set of use cases for your product. Your product narrative should resonate with users, speaking to pain points and illustrating how your product can relieve them. Now, translate this same sentiment to your product principles.
Be as concise as possible
The longer the principle, the harder it is to remember and implement. No one needs to read a lengthy document covering all the ins and outs of why you chose this product principle. Better yet, try to give each principle a little ring to it and make it catchy. Give your team a few sentences to explain each product principle and let them take action.
Express the relevance
Do your product principles draw from your company’s mission and values? Make sure your team knows how your product fills a gap in today’s marketplace, so they can then translate that into their everyday work.
Lean into existing strengths
Your product’s existing strengths are what make it unique, helping it stand out from the crowd. Try to capture these strengths when writing your product principles. Emphasize what your product does well and why that’s important. You can use this to paint a clear picture of what someone can expect from using your product.
Creating your product principles
Start with the company’s core values or mission statement
Your company is most likely already being guided by a set of core values. Ask yourself how these values can work hand-in-hand with the product principles. Your product principles should reflect your company’s overall philosophy. The two don’t need to align completely, but they should loosely parallel each other.
Narrow down to the big ideas and goals that matter
You might start your product principle planning with a huge list of goals and objectives. These can be as broad or specific as you want in the beginning. However, your final product principles should focus on big ideas rather than specific, measurable goals (these belong in a different place in your overall product strategy).
Figure out the right language
How do you want to talk about your product and company? How do you want your customers and employees to think about your company? The language you use in your product principles sets the tone for the perception of your product. You want to be precise with language. Carefully choose the words that tell the story you want your product to tell.
Select your top 3 to 5 principles
After you’ve narrowed down your list of product goals that matter, form them into 3 to 5 ideas. These will become your principles. You want to keep the number of principles relatively small. Too many can become overwhelming for your product team to remember.
Finalize your product principles
Now, go ahead and finalize your product principles. Run them by everyone on the product team and beyond and revise the language to make sure it’s as precise as possible. Finally, congratulate yourself on a job well done. Developing good product principles is no easy task and now you have a set of core pillars to guide product decisions.