The importance of product thinking: why you should walk in users’ shoes

Oleksii Donetskyi, Middle Frontend Developer at

April 13, 2023

The IT industry is constantly transforming. To increase our competitiveness, we have to abandon the mechanical implementation of projects in favor of product thinking. It’s fair for any kind of industry, from manufacturing software development to video streaming or IoT solution development. 


This approach focuses more on user needs and provides each participant with a comprehensive product vision. My name is Oleksii Donetskyi; I’m a Middle Frontend Developer on the project. Today, I want to talk about how the perception of everyday tasks and their own role is changing for each specialist on the project.

What is product thinking for a developer?

We are used to being mechanical performers – implementing the technical design agreed upon with the customer in detail. In this situation, the developer has very little room for initiative. 


On the one hand, this simplifies the task – you see your work front and implement it as efficiently as possible. But on the other hand, code is just a tool, and products are the exciting things we can improve. 


Since my uni days, I’ve been impressed by a comprehensive view of a product, where you know everything from user needs to advertising and sales details. Every IT product is actually a business. And in 90% of cases, it’s an honest business that aims to improve the user’s life and bring profit to the owner. 


When I can influence not only my area of work but also the overall product concept, I have more opportunities to create something genuinely new, useful, and profitable. 



What exactly can a developer offer to improve? 

Many things affect the cost of the project and the final profit. For example, I can point out how the development phase can be shortened, which tool at a certain rate will save costs, and so on. 


On the project I’m working on now, which is related to car sales, the customer actively communicates with us and considers all our initiatives. It is implemented if we understand that the proposal has significant business value. 


Also, as a front-end developer, I want to offer the team a component-based approach to interface development. This will automate the designer’s work and allow us to build constructor-based websites in the future. 


That’s why I am sure that you should constantly analyze the product you work with. By paying attention not only to the code but also to business processes, you have a better chance of making improvements. 


I once worked with a real estate rental and purchase solution in Estonia. The problem was that often low-quality photos and descriptions slowed the promotion of apartments. I had a good understanding of the client’s company and product, how they made money, and who their customers were. This knowledge helped me come up with a new sub-product. 


I proposed it to the head of the division and said that I was ready to implement it entirely on my own in exchange for a share of the revenue. Since I worked in a product company, I could discuss it directly with the decision-maker, and I didn’t have to pay for it 🙂  


We thought of the concept and successfully tested and launched the sub-product. We found a contractor company that could evaluate and photograph the objects and engaged a copywriter to describe the real estate properly. We also developed a simple CMS to manage this content. 


Our solution increased sales/rentals of apartments through the service by 30% in the first month after its release. Meanwhile, we gained valuable experience interacting with the people who work with you outside of Jira or Trello. 

How are suggestions tracked and implemented? 

The project should have good communication between all team members. This way, no initiative is lost, and we can discuss its feasibility and relevance. Minor changes, such as setting up pop-up notifications or uploading instructions, don’t require special conditions. 


For significant initiatives, you need to understand the priorities at the moment. This includes knowing the chosen roadmap, the workload of the whole team, the overall task, etc. Any proposal should be not only interesting but also timely. 


The person must be psychologically ready to take the initiative. It’s not just about optimizing the project; it’s a chance for personal and professional development.

Is it really necessary to delve into the project in detail?

Yes, your attitude has a significant impact on quality. At the beginning of my career, I had a case study while developing a product solution. When I suggested changes in the designer mockups, my colleague asked, “Alex, why would you want to change that?” 


I got the impression that it was enough to work within the given framework and not dive deeper into the product. So that’s what I did, but it backfired: the company didn’t like my work, and I was fired. 


On another project, the team and I communicated directly with the client at the concept development stage. My colleague suggested that the client’s idea was not financially profitable. I agreed with him, so we developed and conducted a discovery phase, and based on its results, we changed the concept. That’s how we saved the client’s money: a caring attitude benefits everyone. 

Why is product thinking gaining popularity? 

Firstly, a holistic look at the product allows me to see the details that the product owner or designer didn’t see. That’s because I have a fresh mind and another perspective on the product. The constant exchange of ideas is actually now an organic and even mandatory condition for successful work. 


Secondly, by imagining myself in the shoes of the customer and the end user, I can create a truly high-quality product. A customer who outsources their project is more likely to look for a partner who shares their interests and is full of ideas rather than just a contractor. Such a person will offer non-standard solutions that will lead the client to the goal. 


Similarly, the user benefits when I put myself in their shoes, understand and protect their interests. I think this is something only a human being can do, and it brings an element of creativity to my work. 


In conclusion, product thinking offers a complete view of the development process and the product itself. Such an approach also allows developers to influence the product concept more. This includes offering steps to shorten the development phase, save costs, and automate the designer’s work.

Product thinking offers a fresh mind and another perspective on the product and lets developers create truly high-quality products. Good communication between all team members is key to allowing developer initiatives. However, the proposals also should be relevant, timely, and interesting. 


While working in your current specialization, you shouldn’t abandon your tasks. But taking more initiatives will definitely improve customer loyalty and open up a new level of communication and opportunities.   


So, practice product thinking when it doesn’t interfere with your primary job. If you are interested in it and have free time, this is a good time for a detailed project review. 


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