Advantages and disadvantages of using templates for product teams.
For a long time, I used to flip whenever I heard the word “template” being used. I disliked using templates and discouraged people from considering them. My initial experience with templates created bad memories. But I realized I had to reflect more.
Are templates bad, or have I been using them wrong? Both sides can be true, but the second option was my truth.
Let’s look at the other side of the coin.
Product Managers, Scrum Masters, Software Engineers, and UX Designers are incredibly busy. Take the Product Manager as an example. They have to take care of the following:
- Vision → Point where to land
- Strategy → Define the critical aspects of playing the game
- Objectives → Set goals aligned with the strategy and vision
- Discovery → Lead teams in uncovering opportunities to create value
- Delivery → Collaborate with teams to produce what drives value
At the same time, everyone wants something from product managers. Sales, Finance, Operations, Business, Customers, Legal, Tech, etc. In this scenario, assuming someone has the time to craft everything alone is too naïve.
When I lived in Brazil, I learned one thing: Don’t reinvent the wheel, someone has probably had a similar situation as us. We just need to find it.
The challenge is knowing which templates to use, when, and how to use them. Let me share what I learned with you.
The mindset matters
What happens when you give a hammer to a five-year-old? Big chances that everything becomes a nail.
During my product management journey, I evolved from a fixed mindset to one of growth. In the beginning, I wanted to maximize output, and I thought that to be my mission—more features in and more value out. I missed the point.
With a fixed mindset, whatever template I’d come across, I’d use it to accelerate output. A simple example: I started using “Now, Next, Later” for roadmaps, and I’d name the features. The template wasn’t wrong; I was.
As I developed a growth mindset, I understood that using what we know to uncover what we don’t is magic. I became more curious and realized that features weren’t the point; what they created was. That meant I’d have to drop some features on the way to focus on what would drive value. Once again, I came to the same template, “Now, Next, Later,” and instead of saying what happens when, I stated what we aim to achieve when.
Small change, massive transformation.
Knowing when to use which templates is challenging, and I’d say it’s ultra-challenging because of the number of choices.
Let’s say you want to know how to craft a product strategy. Sorry to inform you, but you’ll find at least 100+ templates, and each of them will have compelling reasons for you to use.
I don’t see a magical approach to choosing templates. It’s a matter of practice and learning. Some work for you, and some don’t. One thing I like doing is learning from practitioners I respect. They just share their work and what they do, and this gives you a lot of insights.
Some months ago, I shared my recommendations for people to follow and learn from. You can find them here.
Now, let’s get real. I’ve tried at least a hundred templates and methods throughout my journey, and most are noise. I’ve got a collection of fifteen templates that work well for me and may help you.
I structured the following list to help you boost your productivity by knowing which template to use and when. Hopefully, this helps you in whatever your situation may be.
- 𝗣𝗿𝗼𝗱𝘂𝗰𝘁 𝗩𝗶𝘀𝗶𝗼𝗻: Inspire people to pursue an audacious but achievable mission
- 𝗟𝗲𝗮𝗻 𝗖𝗮𝗻𝘃𝗮𝘀: Bring clarity to the critical aspects of your business model
- 𝗩𝗮𝗹𝘂𝗲 𝗖𝘂𝗿𝘃𝗲: Define how you differentiate from your competition
- 𝗥𝗼𝗮𝗱𝗺𝗮𝗽: Focus on continuously delivering outcomes
- 𝗕𝘂𝘀𝗶𝗻𝗲𝘀𝘀 𝗢𝘂𝘁𝗰𝗼𝗺𝗲: Define desired results, what to sacrifice, and what not to
- 𝗢𝗽𝗽𝗼𝗿𝘁𝘂𝗻𝗶𝘁𝘆 𝗦𝗼𝗹𝘂𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻 𝗧𝗿𝗲𝗲: Connect the dots and prioritize what to focus on
- Identify Assumptions: Figure out what you need to test before investing too much
- 𝗔𝘀𝘀𝘂𝗺𝗽𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻 𝗠𝗮𝘁𝗿𝗶𝘅: Categorize assumptions and test the most critical ones
- 𝗘𝘅𝗽𝗲𝗿𝗶𝗺𝗲𝗻𝘁 𝗧𝗲𝗺𝗽𝗹𝗮𝘁𝗲: Define the right aspects to succeed with experiments
- 𝗘𝘅𝗽𝗲𝗿𝗶𝗺𝗲𝗻𝘁 𝗥𝗲𝘀𝘂𝗹𝘁𝘀: Document your results and share the learning
- 𝗣𝗿𝗶𝗼𝗿𝗶𝘁𝗶𝘇𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻: Filter out distractions and commit to valuable opportunities
- 𝗕𝗮𝗰𝗸𝗹𝗼𝗴 𝗥𝗲𝗳𝗶𝗻𝗲𝗺𝗲𝗻𝘁: Build a shared understanding of problems worth solving
- 𝗣𝗹𝗮𝗻𝗶𝗻𝗴: Set a goal and figuring out how to reach it
- 𝗥𝗲𝘃𝗶𝗲𝘄: Present results and engaging with stakeholders
- 𝗥𝗲𝘁𝗿𝗼𝘀𝗽𝗲𝗰𝘁𝗶𝘃𝗲: Identify Opportunities to become a better team
I started this post by discouraging you from using templates. The reason is simple: they can mislead you.
Whenever you opt to use a template, the goal isn’t to fill it in and forget. If you fall into this trap, you will massively fail because you won’t be doing the necessary work.
For example, say you decided to have a Lean Canvas for your situation. You get excited, fill in all the blocks, and then you hope everyone is aligned with that. Sorry, not so fast. Templates are better used when you have the following in place:
- Collaboration framework: Use the template to structure your collaboration and focus on understanding each aspect behind it.
- Commitment: Crafting a Lean Canvas template can be exhaustive due to different options, and that’s great. Identify conflicts, address them, and commit to a direction.
- Clarity: Get the necessary people involved, and together use the template to ensure transparency on what’s part of it and what’s out. Most importantly, clarify the reason behind such decisions.
The result is valuable when you use templates to create room for the right engagement. But when you get too busy filling forms or blocks, the result is nonsense.
Templates can be a blessing or a curse. It depends on how you use it. I’d compare templates with cars: A car can be a vehicle to get you from A to B with a safe and pleasant journey. Or it can be a killing machine when a reckless driver is behind the steering wheel.
A good use of templates can help you accelerate value creation, and a wrong use of them will ensure you trap your team.