Maker or Product Mindset?

What do I mean by Maker Mindset? And which is better?!


I’ve spent the last 25 years of life with startups and large companies in Product Leadership and Engineering roles.

I believe teams using a Maker Mindset can combine Product, Design and Engineering thinking, methods, practices and culture to create things people want and thereby, value.

Anyone can be a Maker.

We have entered a period of time where Makers are more enabled than ever. Enabled with access to ever improving abstractions of complexity through easy to use design and development tools, high level languages, libraries, frameworks, knowledge, training and all the tools GenAI has already started and will continue to spawn.

What is a Maker Mindset?

  • Maker Mindset encourages novel applications of technologies, and the exploration of intersections between traditionally separate domains and ways of working.
  • Maker Mindset is about learning through doing.
  • Makers gather and use direct feedback to improve what they make.
  • Makers use tools and services to experiment, configure, build or create valuable things.
  • Maker Mindset emphasises informal, networked, peer-led, and shared learning motivated by self-fulfilment.
  • Maker Mindset advocates for communities of practice, sharing what’s been learned and experimenting together.

What does this mean for Product Managers? Are we Makers? Should we be?!

Read on to get the long read and go deeper into the topic.

Or skip to:


“I love Product, but…”

Over the last 15 years I’ve worked in Product roles across consumer experiences, financial services, government, healthcare, startups and many others. Working with teams all over the world to make things millions of people have used.

I spent 10 years before that as a developer including 4 years as a founder.

Working with, and learning from, many people more skilled and smarter than I, has given me a perspective (that’s by no means unique) about what helps tech teams do good things.

Aside from tech, outside of work I’m involved in mechanical engineering and composite construction projects. In terms of making, I’ve made lots of mistakes in both areas.

I love Product, but what I’ve learned from these differing experiences sounds extremely simple; that making is the most valuable thing humans can do. And that there are many ways to make.

It’s almost crazy that has to be said, but I’ve equally observed teams and people that have made successful careers out of doing and making almost nothing. And sometimes sadly having no desire to even try. People that have spent their lives pushing electrons around in emails to make nothing more than entropy and a monthly salary.

How to survive and grow using Maker Mindset

I love being a part of teams that make things people use. And I know many of you do. I’ve made some of my best friends and had the most interesting experiences in my life by doing exactly that. Making stuff with people.

So after this bloated “he really likes Product and making stuff” introduction, I want to make clear I’m not about to flip and hit you with a critique of Product as a Mindset, the opposite if anything, but more my view on where Product is heading.

And more importantly how we can all not just survive but grow in the coming years as we evolve Product Management and Engineering together by sharing a Maker Mindset.

It’s also a view on Engineering culture and how, over time, it seems to have happily delegated out Product thinking to people like me. For lots of good reasons, but I believe that’s changing and should change with a rebalancing.

Even your body wants you to make things!

There is a deeply visceral feeling that we all share when you make something people want or just something that works.

It doesn’t matter whether its a good coffee, a cup of tea, a slide deck, a User Story, a Figma design, a beautifully crafted code snippet or a graceful Gitlab pipeline.

It makes you feel good when you make something that people want to see or use.

Your mind and body literally responds with endorphins and hormones and smiles and happiness. The positivity reduces cortisol and you probably live a bit longer! Science fact.

I work on the basis that teams function best, when every discipline in a team feels that sensation. A cross functional group all making their part of something great.

The growth in Maker tools is massive and growing

Making things has always been enabled by tools. Right from our cave man cousins using flint to make fires, the industrial revolution spawning foundries to cast steel, farmers using combines or in our information age; IDEs like Visual Studio, IntelliJ, Figma or ChatGPT helping to create designs and even code. You could even count Jira! (maybe not).

Good tools abstract away complexity, reduce effort and increase our ability to do things we couldn’t do before. Great tools help you do all that at scale.

Making content, has exponentially grown in the last 15 years (or less) through social media, the tools they provide, the hardware we have access to in our mobile devices and the connectivity that has expanded around us.

Tiktok, Instagram, Youtube are full of Makers – creating content that entertains, informs or melts your brain.

In our Product domain, we are seeing a dramatic growth in software engineering and productivity tools via Generative AI and related products. Tools that have already abstracted away so much complexity for us over several decades of evolution.

We are already seeing this manifest through low-code no-code, SaaS applications and content creation tools providing functionality to individual contributors (or consumers) that was previously the domain of software engineers, designers, researchers, marketers or copywriters.

The rise of the individual maker, not just contributor

GenAI is already spawning a new world of maker tools that will enable individual contributors to create many things they could not before. The cognitive load of learning multiple disciplines, methods and techniques being simply too much for most humans. The time to acquire those skills being one of the key reasons people just can’t do it (including me!).

Imagine instead simply prompting an AI to carry out some research for you. To analyse months of data and draw actionable conclusions. To create 3 variants of a prototype. To build an API integration with a system. To scan and identify security vulnerabilities on your production code.

All these things are already possible now. But not yet truly available to us in a single consumable way… Yet.

They’re also not yet as good as a highly skilled experienced person from any given domain doing the same task. But again, they’re improving. And what they do create is a vast time saving on having to acquire the skills to do the same task, given you or I may have almost no ability to achieve the same outcome individually.

We see common examples of these new Maker tools already reaching massive audiences in things Adobe Creative Cloud, Google Workspace, Microsoft Office 365 Copilot and whole bunch of development code generation tools. They are by no means perfect as they’re new.

But Product people and Engineers like you and I are making these tools better constantly and they’re backed by massive investment and infrastructure. They will continue to improve with new modalities and interfaces at pace.

The best time to make is now

It’s easier than it’s ever been for individual contributors and teams to create digital experiences, content, apps, websites, API services, databases and much more.

At the Product level, if you’re a founder, there’s almost nothing stopping you from creating a prototype, or even a pretty decent product to test your value proposition and bring it to life. From an Operational perspective, there are hundreds of SaaS products that can help you setup and run a business with no technical expertise whatsoever. From CRM, to accounting, to customer support there is a SaaS offering out there for just about any conceivable business.

At the infrastructure level, the likes of AWS have created the tools needed to create, build and run everything from simple websites to highly complex distributed systems and infrastructure that humanity relies on. Multiple other companies provide the tools necessary to scan code, search for vulnerabilities and ensure what you build is safe and secure.

Serverless architecture is a further abstraction of complexity, enabling developers to instantly gain access to the types of functionality at scale that would have been unavailable to them less than a decade ago.

Modern software engineering tools have removed massive, exponential levels of complexity through high level languages, operating systems, open source frameworks and libraries, created by generations of engineers before us.

At present many of these Maker tools are scattered, holistically incoherent mix of multiple tools in multiple domains. But sooner or later there are going to be companies bringing together valuable sets of these tools that enable individual contributors to create end-to-end products.

Got a great idea? Go make it.

Imagine if some of the largest Cloud services providers, AWS or Google or Microsoft created complete proprietary ecosystems where you could not only host and run your applications, services, databases – but also prototype, design, build and test consumer native or web applications? Imagine if they abstracted away the need to create databases, or build an API and did all that for you? That essentially already exists across different platforms, but there are barriers to entry and its not a one stop shop.

Soon those barriers will begin to disappear. What were once developer portals, or AWS dashboards will become consumer friendly creator hubs. Loaded with tools enabled by GenAI.

If you were a Product person with a great idea, an innovation, why would you not just use those kinds of maker tools to simply build your app yourself? Launch your website to advertise it, create videos to tell people about it, configure a CRM to manage, integrate it with your customers APIs, scale it using Cloud infrastructure? With all the complexity abstracted away so you don’t have to worry about HOW it all happens, but instead focus on the value proposition of WHAT it does for your customers and WHY they want it.

Right now, with complex proprietary business models, or regulated financial services propositions, very little of that might be possible at larger companies with legacy spaghetti tech. But some of it is. And that some will grow over time.

Over the last few years I’ve seen first hand several significantly sized startups and scale-ups configure and build their entire operating models using SaaS off the shelf. They’ve successfully delivered innovative, complex offerings to their customers. I’ve seen large, sophisticated businesses with legacy tech begin to do the same in isolated areas.

Many of the most valuable tech businesses we recognise today, Facebook, Apple, Google, Tesla were founded by Makers. People who learned by doing. And 3 out of those 4 companies have barely existed 20 years. 10 years before them, the internet didn’t really existed. Time moves fast.

So there has never been a better time in tech to be an engineer or product maker. And use these emerging tools to experiment, test and put innovative things out there.

There are maker tools already on your machine. Use them.

Google and Microsoft, the two massive all conquering productivity suite owners obviously recognise the maker opportunity. They are almost saturating their product line with AI tools to see what consumers (individual contributors, or makers) use the most. Microsoft Copilot and Power Platform being the largest application of that strategy so far.

It’s going to be interesting to see how we all as individual contributors learn, adopt, share and adapt to these new productivity tools post the hype. Tools which at present, (besides Copilot) are only really reaching a niche or early adopter audience. Small, if you really compare the volume of consumers or user who are long familiar with Word, or Excel (which in the 1980s were seen just as radically advancing as AI is in some respects now).

The harsh reality

We are not the only ones who have recognised that it’s now much more possible to do more with less.

VCs, investors, shareholders, boards, senior leadership and your peers recognise this too.

The days when VCs would pump in $10million dollars to some random startup to hire a bunch of people are gone.

Investors rightly want to see a return. They want to see creative, lean, smart teams making valuable things. They want to see creators making innovative products that people love. They know that is the best way to create return on their investment.

Product & Engineering are going to change.

And for the better.

I love working in Product. I could list the reasons but this post is already massive, so I wont. You’ll have to trust me.

If you’re a Product Manager, we probably love it for the same reasons. But equally we have difficult days. I’m with you.

But I believe that Product Management, which is really a facilitating function of software development, is going to be almost unrecognisable from it’s current form in 5-10 years. Just as I believe software engineering will equally radically change over a similar period.

And I hope that happens, because there is so much more I believe we can enjoy doing.

Levelling the playing field for small vs big businesses

For large, complex businesses that adoption of productivity tools, methods and maker mindset will no doubt take longer, as it always does, for many good reasons. But maybe it won’t.

Sadly in some companies and cultures, making things quickly is almost seen as bad. It’s seen as risky, or cowboy, or “solutionising”. This is where the Maker Mindset can rebalance and bring us back out of the dogma rabbit hole.

We’ve spent years instilling in people that “solutionising is bad!”. But in reality, it’s only bad if your “solution” is not evidenced with data or is biased by your subjective opinion. No investor is going to be critical of a team that uses new productivity tools to create a beautiful product that solves a valuable problem quickly, using real factual insight and tools.

Should you have an accident. You would not complain that a paramedic has ‘solutionised’ how to stop the bleeding from your brain with a bandage. And inform the paramedic that you’ll only be happy to take the treatment once they’d written a detailed specification document and business case for the bandage. And that it had been approved by passing through 3 committee approval stages.

Making valuable things quickly wins in competitive markets.

And the warning to large firms is; challenger businesses, startups and companies without the heritage or legacy are going to be enabled at a scale we’ve not seen before.

You’ll hear people say “we’re in a really complex regulated, compliance heavy business, this wouldnt work”. I’d disagree, if ever there was a use case for GenAI its to absorb multiple regional regulatory frameworks and pop out the other end the key takeaways and deliver those guard rails to maker teams in a format they can understand.

Those lean Maker teams would then be able to compete using those productivity tools and Maker mindset. They’ll be more nimble and responsive than larger, slower businesses. We see this even as a common trait now, that will get amplified and more potent in the years ahead.

Engineering & Maker Mindset

Engineering is about solving valuable problems using tech.

Over the last decades, Software Engineering, due to the cognitive load of coding, frameworks, methods, practices and everything else involved, has delegated out the identification of valuable problems to solve to Product people. For loads of good reasons. But some bad ones.

I worry that somehow Software Engineering has moved away from the Maker Mindset to a Coder Mindset. Or to use old skool terminology, Programmers. The proposition and problem solving, delegated (by organisational structure and common practice) to designers and Product people.

It’s easy to see teams where the Maker Mindset isn’t there. You’ll hear things like “Product tell us what to build” and “we just work on the thing at the top of the backlog” or “you guys write the Stories and we build it”. These are teams that are not getting those warm feelings that I describe Makers get. They are teams that need rebalancing.

However, all that is for entirely separate article that I’ll write another day when I can stomach the comments from my engineering friends and family 🙂

I believe over time, that Engineering and Product should essentially be one of the same thing. There is no reason Product Engineers should not become a model for what we all used to call Full Stack Engineers. The difference being with that title, we must consider a stack that is more than just front end and back end.

Engineering fundamentally is much more than coding and laptop stickers. Just as Product Management is much more than slideware and gilets.

I hope Engineering will adapt to become more Product minded, and that Product will adapt to become more Engineering minded. This is already the case at several well known tech companies that have restructured or adapted during 2022, 23 and this year.

If we are to grab the Maker opportunity and the incredible tools that are going to become available to us over the next 5-10 years we all need to think seriously about how we adapt our own roles, goals and ambitions to take advantage.

Recap: Product Mindset definition

  • A Product Mindset is a way of thinking that focuses on creating product solutions that provide real user value.
  • It’s the foundation of Product Management.
  • Product Mindset keeps the customer front-and-center is the best and most sustainable way to create successful products. 
  • Product people work with Engineers to make Products.

Recap: Maker Mindset definition

  • Maker Mindset encourages novel applications of technologies, and the exploration of intersections between traditionally separate domains and ways of working.
  • Maker mindset is about learning through doing.
  • Makers use direct feedback to improve what they make.
  • Makers use tools and services to configure, build or create valuable things.
  • Maker mindset emphasises informal, networked, peer-led, and shared learning motivated by self-fulfilment.
  • Maker mindset advocates communities of practice, sharing whats been learned and experimenting together.

What can companies do to experiment or establish a Maker mindset?

If you agree that making valuable things is important, and you’re in a position of leadership, I would encourage you to experiment with setting objectives that establish a Maker Mindset in your Engineering, Product Design and Product Management, Data, Marketing and Operational teams.

Conventionally the likes of ‘hackathons’ are a good manifestation of ‘making’ but are almost always aimed only at engineers, are always time boxed, and are typically seen just as some motivational or morale tool rather than a mode of operating perpetually.

Making should now be for everyone with the right guidance, mentoring and objectives.

A good example of anti Maker Mindset, is where teams that request access to tools are told “you can’t use that, we don’t allow it!” without a deeper investigation of why. That request noise is your Maker community begging to be enabled.

As leaders we should always be looking for ways to unlock human capital with access to tools and clear objectives that enable teams to do more of what our customers want, safely, as quickly as possible.

You may well discover that with the right enablement, mentoring and transformative guidance there are many Makers in your organisation who would love to envisage, create and improve your products and services. And that this process of creating a Maker community is both valuable and aligned strategically, if given the right objectives, tools, guard rails and shared vision.

Wow, you made it this far!

Apologies for the long read and I hope it was at least an interesting topic that has made you think about making something. Maybe another coffee to start off with!

I would love to know what you think on the Maker vs Product vs Engineering mindset topic.

I’m interested to see how things evolve, and I’m sure I’ll look back on this post and laugh if it’s still here in 5 or even 10 years 🙂



Some Examples of Maker Tools