What is Ethical Product Strategy?

A set of empty bronze scales against a dark background
Cynthia  Gandarilla

Content Marketing Strategist

Cynthia Gandarilla

You’re probably not building a product you hope will alienate your user base, fall behind the competition, or leave you with more headaches than it’s worth.

Fortunately, with the right tools in place you can avoid all of those scenarios without significantly increasing your investment in the product development process. The key is ethical product strategy.

You already know that product strategy on its own has a multitude of benefits for your product and your team. Ethical product strategy takes it just a small step further to open new avenues to risk mitigation and product strength than ever before. By considering just a handful of ethical implications around your development process, you’ll make your product stronger, more resilient to competition, and longer-lasting.

In this blog, we’ll cover what ethical product strategy is, consider just a small portion of what it can do for your business, and examine some of the ways going without it might cause you problems.

What is Ethical Product Strategy?

Ethical product strategy is a tool to both mitigate risks and keep your users at the center of everything you do.

Like product strategy, it’s the foundation for your project and a way to set the roadmap for your development process. And—again like product strategy—it’s a process that helps you iron out misalignment and keep development on track and headed toward success.

But it takes the process a step further. By incorporating key ethical considerations, it takes your product and makes it even stronger by building in resilience to change and competition, safeguards against misuse, and more.

Ethical product strategy takes the same work you’re already doing for your product strategy and makes it more thorough. You’ll consider the same four core principles of value, viability, feasibility, and usability, but you’ll ask additional questions that center the most important people in the product development process: your users.

For example, when developing a product strategy, you might ask:

  • Will customers buy it or users choose to use it? (Value)
  • Will this work for the various aspects of the business? Can the business support this? (Viability)
  • Can we build it with the time, skills, and technology we have? (Feasibility)
  • Can users figure out how to gain value from it? (Usability)

But with ethical product strategy, you’ll also ask:

  • Is this a meaningful solution? Do your users feel in control? (Value)
  • Who is not in the room in product development? What is the code of ethics of our organization? (Viability)
  • How are we collecting and storing data? Are our products accessible? (Feasibility)
  • What is the unintended use or misuse? Are we challenging users as well as validating? (Usability)

Focus on Users

It’s easy to fall into the trap of building the product you, your team, or your stakeholders want. After all, for the first stretch of your product’s life, those are the people interacting with it day to day. But that’s not who you’re building for. By taking the time to ask the questions it takes to build your ethical product strategy, you’re keeping your user top of mind in everything you do.

Perhaps most importantly to your business, ethical product strategy is a valuable risk mitigation technique. By creating your ethical product strategy, you’re uncovering potential weak points, removing areas that could drive away your audience, and avoiding future scandal from misuse of your product.

What Can Ethical Product Strategy Do for You?

Ethical product strategy has wide-ranging benefits for your product and your organization. As you answer all of the questions that come up while developing your ethical strategy, you’re also building a foundation for your product that will last the test of time.

Fix Mistakes (Before They Happen)

In the process of developing an ethical product strategy, you’re putting in the work to identify any weak points in your product. Then you can address them before they become a threat to your product or your business.

You might uncover a lack of accessible design, realize you’re facing potential data storage weaknesses, or come to find that your product could easily be misused by bad actors. No matter what you uncover, you’ll benefit from finding it now rather than waiting for it to become a problem later.

Take user data privacy, for example. Plenty of companies, from Facebook to Tim Hortons, have found themselves in hot water for storing too much data or not storing it securely enough.

But if you take the time to think about what data you need to store and how you’ll store it, it’s simple to build in the safeguards that will keep your users’ data safe, your reputation intact, and your legal team out of court.

Set Your Scale Up for Success

The product groundwork you’ll build while creating your ethical product strategy is especially important to complete before you scale your product or your organization. Companies often experience growing pains when moving from a startup to a more mature organization. But many of those pains can be solved with ethical thinking ahead of time.

Take, for example, your approach to accessibility. If you’re working with a small team on tight deadlines, it’s easy to see a scenario where accessibility research and implementation fall by the wayside. After all, you need to get your product to market as quickly as possible so your users can adopt it and your organization can start earning revenue.

This is a common mistake. Too often organizations focus on just two of the core tenets of product strategy (feasibility and viability) and ignore the other two. Unfortunately, that only leads to more—and more expensive—problems to fix later when you want to expand your product to new markets.

If, instead, you’ve already done the work to implement accessible design in your product before launch, the work is done when it’s time to scale. When you stop to ask whether your product is accessible to a wide variety of users (part of the usability considerations), you’re doing easier work now so that it’s already done and not a roadblock when it’s time to scale.

By building an ethical product strategy, you’re taking a brief pause to consider the long-term ramifications of the decisions you and your team make during the development process. That gives you the opportunity to make choices that will work for your product now and in the future, so you’re not facing roadblocks when it’s time to scale.

What Can Go Wrong Without Ethical Product Strategy?

Without ethical product strategy, you can leave yourself open to what is now a well-traveled product road: A company launches their product, it becomes popular, and users adopt it quickly. At some point, however, a problem arises. Maybe it has to do with data storage (or data leaks), or users find that the product negatively impacts their physical or mental health.

No matter what the specifics are, the product company now suddenly has to address the issue at hand. What that looks like can vary widely, from rushing to deploy new data security features to facing inquiry from government regulatory agencies.

No matter what the scenario, it results in your team scrambling to find a solution that keeps users happy and stops competitors from taking your business. Sometimes product teams in this situation succeed. Other times they don’t, and the product is never as successful again.

How Can You Get Started With Ethical Product Strategy?

No matter what stage of the product lifecycle your product is in, you can apply ethical product strategy.

If you don’t have an MVP yet, you can start implementing it during the discovery phase with expanded user interviews. If you’re already partway into creating your product, there’s still time to consider how you’ll handle issues like storing user data or implementing accessible design. Even if your product is already launched, all that means is you now have access to real user data to start building the foundation of your ethical strategy so you’re ready for growth.

When you’re ready to dive further into ethical product strategy, download our Ebook, “Ethical Product Strategy: Your Key to Long-Term Success to learn more about how to get started and find additional resources you can use.


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