4 strategies to build products like a marathoner.

Prachi Nain

In the marathon, the first half is just a normal run. At 15 kilometers, 20 kilometers, everybody is still going to be there. Where the marathon starts is after 30 kilometers. That’s where you feel pain everywhere in your body. The muscles are really aching, and only the most prepared and well-organized athlete is going to do well after that.

— Eliud Kipchoge, marathon record holder with a time of 2:01:39 hours

Building a product is like running a marathon. Only the most prepared and well-organized keep going when the going gets tough. Let’s unpack some of the strategies that runners employ and use those to boost our product journey.

Runners focus on improving their personal bests. “My finish time is less than what I want. I’ll include more strength training and hill running to go faster.” In the process, they get faster than others but that’s not because they are trying to beat others. They are just trying to beat themselves.

If you are a bank and a rival bank launches a chatbot, you don’t have to follow suit.

Do what a runner would do — Reflect on where your product needs to improve.

For example, if bank customers are complaining about the unexpected charges, it’s a sign of distrust. Work on making all kinds of fee transparent and scrap it, where possible. If you are facing a 50% drop off while sign up, fix the form.

I know someone who decided to run a marathon in just 2 weeks. Her experience was excruciating and non-rewarding. That was the only race she ever ran. Runners realise that it takes planning and months of training to run a marathon. You just can’t wing it!

Random runs in product design include ‘jazzing’ things up, bringing in the ‘wow’ factor, basically anything that is more of a facade and doesn’t make any difference on how the customer uses the product.

Do what a runner would do — Plan for progress.

Instead of asking “how to improve the design of our product”, the right question is “how can our product help customers make the most progress?”

Carve out the most optimal linear path with milestones. At any point, they are aware of where they stand in their action plan and where they are headed. Design your product for the high-expectation customer to help them make the most progress.

Runners realise that they need to consistently push themselves a little bit harder each time they train. Push too little and you don’t progress. Push too much and you burn out. Interval training involves short bursts of high-intensity runs alternating with rest or low-intensity runs. It helps runners to work more in a shorter period of time. It’s more comfortable than an entire workout at a high intensity that leads to burn out.

I use a website to order dog food. It’s not the most efficient experience but it gets the job done. Few screens are redundant. Few inputs are confusing. They probably keep getting reviews from customers to improve their website. They end up going up for a design revamp every few months! There’s a new look and feel each time, which customers don’t care about. What matters is that the flow of finding the right item and placing the order changes each time. The new site brings new set of issues. It doesn’t always have to be an all out or nothing. Do what a runner would do — Try shorter bursts for faster results.

Instead of spending months on a complete design revamp, sometimes it’s wise to quickly fix the low-hanging fruits for instant results.

Fixing broken fields and links and getting rid of redundancies is a better deal for customers than a complete design revamp that brings its own set of problems each time.

I have been running for the past 5 years but I never ran with friends before. Recently, I joined a group of marathon pacers who are training themselves for upcoming runs. In case you don’t know, marathon pacers are the people in a race running with balloons marked with a finish time. They help other runners finish their run in specific times. Running in a group is so much easier and more fun.

Each group has runners of different age, sex, and experience. The one thing that binds them to a group is their pace. On their runs, one runner would be responsible for playing music, another keeps track of the route, another would make sure the team stays hydrated. Everyone has different roles but they are all aiming at the same finish time.

The entire journey from idea to market is full of hustle. The hustle becomes slightly easier and a lot more exciting if you are a team. A team with a mix of hard and soft skills — one person good at building, another good at selling. Someone with a lot of experience, another who’s a newbie. A team with varied skill sets but a common vision for the product.

A team with a common vision runs together, keeps each other pumped, and finishes strong. Whether you start as friends or not, you cross the finish line as friends.

Thanks for reading! I am Prachi, co-founder of Bayzil, a product strategy and design studio based in Singapore. We love to talk and hear about the latest and best in product strategy, design, and content. Would love to hear your thoughts in comments and claps ? if you liked what you read.