Thinking about a system-shifting approach to new product development

I’ve been thinking for a while now about a) the limitations of most product development models and b) how product management could/should play a role in systems change.

Most new product development models are essentially linear (although some of the issues with that are down to how the model is drawn rather than how it is put into practice) as they describe a manufacturing approach to product development that is increasingly unfit for an uncertain modern digital world.

Most product management practice is informed by the history and narrative of user-centred design, which is increasingly recognised as problematic in how it places the needs of individuals ahead of the needs of society and planet. It fails to recognise the interconnected complexities of the modern world, especially unintended consequences and externalities.

So, I’m interested in thinking about how a new product development process could be based on complex adaptive systems thinking, rather than a manufacturing mindset, and aim to create things that leverage change in systems rather affect individual user behaviour. My thinking is informed by the systems-shifting design report, the systemic design toolkit, and the mobius outcome delivery, with a bit of Theory of Change too.

This is my first attempt at describing what a system-shifting new product development process might look like. It’s a long way from from being well-refined, but it’s useful for exploring some ideas. The key mindset shift is away from building software to shifting systems (with building software as one mechanisms that might cause the shift).

1: Identify the actors

Identify the actors

Actors can be individuals, communities, organisations, even objects.

What problems do these actors face?

Centres those with lived experience, but is consciously not user-centred.

2: Map the systems those actors interact with

Map the systems those actors interact with

Understand the problems the actors face and cause.

3: Define the future state of the system

Create a theory of change for the system.

What might it look like if our interventions are successful?

4: Design the mechanisms of change

Design the mechanisms of change

Might be software products that create a change of behaviour among actors, or incentives and process changes.

Designed holistically, with an eye on unintended consequences.

5: Build the mechanisms of change

Build the mechanisms of change

Creating the things that will cause change.

6: Intervening in the system

Intervening in the system

The mechanisms of change interact with the system.

7: Measuring the change

Measuring the change

Measuring the effects on the system, looking out for unintended consequences.

8: Feedback into the system

Feedback into the system

Feedback into the mechanisms of change to improve them.

Feedback into the system intervention.

Feedback into design on the future system.

The changed system now informs future change.

Next: Thinking about the tools and activities for each section.