The power of three will set you free (or improve your outcomes)
How to get the most out of your Product Trio, in witchy detail
The early 2000s were filled with revolutionary experiences; the opening of the Tate Modern, the rise of laptops in homes, AOL. But nothing stands out as monumentally, and I’m sure you’ll all agree, as TV fantasy-drama Charmed. A captivating family show following three sisters, Prue, Piper & Phoebe, reeling off life lessons about love, friendship, conflict, and most importantly, teamwork. We follow the three Halliwell sisters uncovering they are witches, navigating their new found powers to protect the innocent, discovering along their path the Power of Three and all they can achieve when they work together.
It sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
If you’re wondering where you’ve seen that before, it’s probably in your Product Trio (albeit protecting the innocents from bad apps, not demons). Teresa Torres speaks of the Trio as “missionaries”;
“Great products tend to be built by missionary teams. A missionary team needs to have a say in what they are building…
When a product trio works together to develop a shared understanding of their customer, they are in a much better position to create products that customers love.”
After recently re-watching (read: binge re-watching) Charmed, and in the throes of my own Product Trio, I couldn’t help but feel that it has some excellent lessons for really getting the most of your Trio.
A Trio’s core purpose is to ensure the right thing is being built, in the right way, for the right users, so you can have the Halliwell confidence in your product “Doesn't every demon KNOW by now whose house this is?”.
Not always an easy feat, so here are some Charming things to bear in mind.
The three elements
The concept of the Product Trio has been around for a little while now, and whether you’ve come across them in your development team or worked in a Trio yourself, you’ll know that their primary objective is to support driving outcomes. It’s all about balancing the core 3 elements (although it doesn’t have to be restricted to 3 people): the customer (design), the business (product) and the technology (tech), much like the Charmed Triquetra. A step away from traditional, siloed development where you do your part, and hand it over, the Trio is all about keeping the three elements together from start to finish, building a shared knowledge base about your user, your tech strategy and your business objectives.
Much like the three Halliwell sisters, each individual component is a powerhouse of knowledge and skills in their own right. They can operate in their own domain, but should they?
Well, no. Not if you want to work faster and smarter.
Charmed is all about The Power of Three, where your individual strengths are great, but combined you reach new heights and “the power of three will set you free”. When working effectively in a Trio, you tackle everything from user interviews to opportunity mapping to strategy & solutionizing together, walking the same road, gathering the same context, building the same vision.
Whether it’s witchy sisters or product trio’s, you won’t always see eye to eye. Balancing three different elements can be tough, especially when you may have competing priorities or drivers. I’ve seen many Trios fall at this pitfall, where they let tension build and overwhelm them, leading to rash decisions.
This is where learning how to build healthy tension is critical. When you reach a point of contention, and you’re not sure how to move forward, here are some things to think through:
Remember that your ultimate goals are the same. It’s easy to get attached to your own lens and fight for that, but ask yourself if you’ve really stepped back and considered your teammates' views.
Maybe you haven’t got the aligned context you thought you did. You all went to the same interviews, and reviewed the same strategies, surely you all understood it the same way? Maybe not. Run an exercise where you all individually map your view of the research, see where you may have some divergence in understanding. I’ve done this using an Opportunity Solution Tree session with my Trio, and it helped to show us that we all had a slightly different understanding of the problem space and what our priorities should be. After days of misunderstandings and disagreements, we finally had a path forward.
Take a break and do something fun (like watching Charmed). We’ve all been there in all day workshops, or staring at the same Miro board for three days straight; the words and the diagrams start to melt together and you can’t really remember your own name. Walk away, or close down your tab, and do something fun. Distance and distraction can do wonders for perspective.
Trust each other
Personally, I think this is the most important one.
As I mentioned before, you’re all experts in your own domains and with that comes a determination and confidence in your field, which can be excellent. But remember to trust each other's expertise, and trust each other with radical candor. Feedback, questions and conversations are inherently the backbone of how we work, so building trust in each other to do this respectfully and openly will create an effective environment, and a fun one.
Think of forums for sharing feedback that create safe spaces. These could be designated slots during the week (like design Crits) or specific phrases that move away from subjectivity and towards objectivity (the research suggests, instead of I think). Remember the 5 Whys and drill into each other's thinking, it helps with moving away from subjective opinions.
Check in on each other, like Phoebe said, “I figured only one of us could break down at a time, otherwise, we'd all be useless”. Make sure your team is swimming, not sinking; the ability to understand each other, how you work as individuals and your communication styles is what will build a strong trusting relationship, and it’s what will enable you to build healthy tension and balance your core elements, ultimately learning to work as one.
Fundamentally, the concept of the Product Trio is there to make sure that you’re able to make collaborative, iterative decisions about how to move forward, and it’s what makes the concept such a success. It’s okay if you’re not working in this format right now, and it’s okay if you’re not nailing the balance, this is never about being perfect. Just focus on what you do have, and what small steps you can take to become more in tune with the core elements; can your Developer start joining your research sessions? Can you do more to share the business strategy with your design and development team? How do you make sure your user needs are easily understood?
And finally, remember that the power of three will set you free.
Finding Product Breaks valuable? Please consider sharing it with friends - or subscribe if you haven’t already.