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How to define product, service, solution

I use the term "product" all the time to mean a combination of products and services but many of my clients equate "product" with "software" and rarely consider services as part of their products.

I enjoy reading SPM Intersections by Greg Prickril, a product management consultant, coach and trainer. In Does your organization really know what it's taking to market?, he explains a convenient taxonomy for what is delivered to clients:

  • An offering is an umbrella concept representing anything that your organization takes to market for customers to consume.
  • A product is a good, virtual or otherwise, that is developed and delivered to multiple customers in essentially the same form.
  • A service, in the context of offerings, is work performed by people for customers, whether it involves "knowledge work" or physical labor. Services are an under-served offering in many organizations, representing a way to add incremental customer value while strengthening customer relationships.
  • A solution bundles products and services (and other solutions!) to solve customer problems. Solutions are very often customized heavily for individual customers. Market solutions are defined a priori and promoted in the market. Customer solutions are an instance of a solution delivered to a specific customer.

What are you delivering to your clients? It's an interesting question. Is it an offer, a product, a service, or all of those combined into a solution?

Instituting a common language, for offerings as well as job titles and document names, is a key part of my typical initial engagement assessment. What steps are performed from idea to market? What artifacts do you produce? Who does what? The Under10 Planning Canvas is one tool to help teams create a world-class product organization.

For another point of view, see Products and solutions: do you know the difference? by Kenneth Trueman.

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