Whole Product Concept – A Quick Guide for the Expert PM

Whole Product Concept is discussed in this article and will help guide you through the holistic experience of your product – and might just help your product and career succeed.

When a Product Manager truly understands how their “Whole Product” delivers value to their customers, they can deliver products that are superior to the competition and keep customers coming back for more.

Shifting Focus

One of the biggest mistakes that we see Product Managers make is that they often focus exclusively on features (as opposed to benefits – more on that later in this post.) Don’t get me wrong – having the right features is critical to your product’s success. However, there is something much more important, and that is the Whole Product Concept. You can have the most amazing product in the world, but if you don’t pay attention to the Whole Product Concept, it may fail.

The Origins of Whole Product Thinking

The concept of the whole product was first introduced by Theodore Levitt and Regis McKenna. Geoffrey Moore helped popularize the term in his bestseller “Crossing the Chasm“. Here’s how Wikipedia defines it: “Whole product is a generic product (or core product) augmented by everything that is needed for the customer to have a compelling reason to buy. The core product is the tangible product that the customer experiences. The whole product typically augments the core product with additional elements required for the product to have compelling value to a customer.”

Whole Product = Whole Experience

To help our understanding, let’s use a car as an example. If you buy a car that has the features that you want but it doesn’t have some of the other critical components of your ownership experience, like a nearby service center, an adequate warranty, availability of parts, etc. then you won’t be happy. The whole product is the entire experience, not just the features of the product.

Another related mistake that Product Managers often make is, again, focusing on features. Customers don’t care about features (I know that doesn’t sound true, but stick with me). What customers care about is the benefit that the feature provides for them. Using cars as an example, one of the features of the Prius is that it gets >50 MPG. What’s the benefit? It is much less expensive to drive because you don’t have to buy gas as often as other vehicles.

Variations on the Whole Product Concept

Below is another variation of the Whole Product Concept that we teach in our Optimal Product Management and Product Marketing course where we emphasize benefits as being at the core of the Whole Product.
Whole Product Concept variation

As with many aspects of Product Management, you might not have direct control over all aspects of your Whole Product offering. But as a Product Manager you should do everything possible to influence every area so that your customers are delighted. As we say in the Product Management Manifesto, “Though I have all of the responsibility, it is highly likely I have little or no formal authority. Therefore, I will do whatever it takes to persuade others to do what is right for our customers and my company.”

Join our upcoming AIPMM-hosted Webinar, Becoming Expert: Delivering Superior Value with Whole Product Thinking to learn how to relate customer needs to the product characteristics that can deliver value to meet those needs and how a Product Manager can work within their company to build and deliver that value.

Wrap Up

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to use the Whole Product Concept and write down everything about your product. Start at the Core – what are the real benefits that my customers expect to receive or experience from my product? With that in mind, then consider the features needed to deliver these benefits. Then expand your thinking to consider all aspects of the customer’s experience, from purchase, first use, experienced usage, maintenance, add-ons and accessories, even to how the product may be replaced or upgraded. Consider all of the touchpoints your customer will have with your company – Sales, support or sales engineering, customer service, online resources, forums, etc. How can you best enable each of these touchpoints to provide the right service at the right time to your customer? Think about all of the augmented attributes in our model above that you want to ensure provide the right customer experience. It may change the way you view your job, and it might just help your product and career succeed.

NOTE: This webinar has passed, you can view the slide deck below to learn more.

About the Author

Brian Lawley - Founder of 280 Group

Brian Lawley
Founder of 280 Group

Brian Lawley is the Founder of 280 Group. He is the author of six best-selling books, Product Management for Dummies, Optimal Product Process, The Phenomenal Product Manager, Expert Product Management and 42 Rules of Product Management and is the former President of the Silicon Valley Product Management Association (SVPMA). He was awarded the Association of International Product Marketing Management Award for Thought Leadership in Product Management, and has been featured on World Business Review and the Silicon Valley Business Report. He is the editor of the Optimal Product Management blog and newsletter, and also writes guest articles for publications such as the Software Development Forum newsletter, Softletter and the SVPMA newsletter.

280 Group is the world’s leading Product Management training and consulting firm. We help companies and individuals do GREAT Product Management and Product Marketing using our Optimal Product Process™.

One Reply to “Whole Product Concept – A Quick Guide for the Expert PM”

  • Hey Brian – you should frame Whole Product in a SaaS mindset. So many of the benefits of SaaS aren’t actually product, they’re tech-enabled or non-tech services. Too many product managers aren’t thinking about the customer experience, only the tech. This is beyond even your ‘augmented product’ for enterprise software, although it’s close. I haven’t seen anyone talk about great SaaS delivery.
    Just a thought!

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