Why product-centric approaches are outdated

Summary: Why are product-centric approaches outdated? Because companies have evolved beyond building products to building services alongside or within a product flow. As a result, we need to embrace a product-service system mindset. Service Design is capable of designing for this complex omnichannel system.  

Why product-centric approaches are outdated

First, let’s acknowledge the limitations of product-centric development. Product-centric approaches were the norm post-WWII and extended into today’s software environment. Even product research (eg focus groups) follows a product-centric pattern of that period.

While teams work on products and services interchangeably, management has not fully caught on… Is it just our language? Why do we constantly refer to ‘the product’? Why are we managed by “Product Management” groups?

Looking at the product means looking at features. A feature view hides the complex environment where products or services get used. This is why context of use is so critical to understand and explain to your boss.

The Pitfalls of a Narrow Product-Centric Approach

A product-centric approach often overlooks the broader context in which a product operates. Focusing solely on the product’s features and functions can lead to missed opportunities, ignoring the potential wider system effects and interactions with customers’ lives. Such an approach might miss the chance to provide more comprehensive solutions that cater to customers’ evolving needs and preferences.

Understanding Product-Service Systems

A Product-Service System (PSS) is a paradigm that combines tangible products and tangible or intangible services to create a holistic offering. It recognizes that beyond the feature, customers seek the value and convenience that product-services can provide. By integrating products and services into a seamless package, businesses deliver a more complete and satisfying customer experience. Yet, most teams approach UX with a “product hat” on.

Instead, by starting with a Service Design approach, we automatically have to look wider, in a channel and UI-agnostic mindset. Service Design might involve a product, a service, or a cost-cutting change in policy, for example.

For many, mobile apps have offered a platform for powering a service. Users access the product, to interact with the service so they can have an experience.

That is why avoiding a product-centric mindset is important, and instead, embracing the wider, more holistic problem space is more realistic.

5 reasons why product-centric approaches are outdated

1 You need to realize Product-Service systems are the default 

Product-Service systems are everywhere…Uber, Airbnb, Groupon, order by app, e-commerce delivery, and more! It is inappropriate to only focus on the product (UI or the feature) and ignore the service with all its touchpoints. Touchpoints show you where value is exchanged and help improve those customer-brand interactions.

2 You need to look at the holistic impact of Product-Service Systems

A successful Product-Service System offers more than just products and services; it provides customers with an end-to-end experience that is seamless, personalized, and memorable. It touches multiple channels and leaves a brand impression on them. By attending to the broader system effects, businesses can ensure that their offerings align with customers’ “moments of truth” and add genuine value.

3 You need the power of Ecosystem Thinking

Product-Service Systems encourage triple ecosystem thinking – a perspective considering the broader network of stakeholders, including partners, suppliers, and the community. Businesses can leverage diverse expertise and resources by fostering collaborations and partnerships to create more sustainable and impactful solutions.

4 You need Service Design for Product-Service system strategy

Service Design is a methodology that centers on designing the customer journey and the interactions between customers, employees, and the PSS. It looks wider at experiences by default. It focuses on making the entire product-service experience delightful, user-friendly, and memorable. Service Design allows businesses to identify pain points in the customer + employee journey and strategize ways to address them, ensuring a cohesive and customer-centric PSS.

5 You need Stakeholder Co-creation to surface hidden value

Product-Service Systems thrive on the principle of customer and stakeholder “co-creation”. This requires involving stakeholders in the design process to avoid stakeholder sabotage. Customers are central but without bringing the hidden insights of employees and senior or channel managers to your design decisions, you could lose momentum.


In conclusion, the limitations of narrow product-centric approaches have paved the way for a more comprehensive and customer-centric concept – Product-Service Systems. By integrating products and services, businesses can deliver an enhanced customer experience while considering the wider system effects and fostering sustainable partnerships. Service Design is crucial in shaping the customer journey and ensuring a cohesive and delightful PSS. As the business landscape continues to evolve, embracing Product-Service Systems and Service Design will be instrumental in staying ahead and meeting the dynamic needs of customers in our ‘new normal’ of complexity.

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