The Service Provider Mindset and why you might not want it

Most people with an “agile mindset” will agree that we’re here to serve the customer in the Product company. By customer we here mean the real customer, purchasing and using the Products we’ve developed. Sounds obvious – what else?

In a hurry? Jump directly to the conclusion.

The Service Provider Mindset

In many Product companies you’ll still find the blurry notion of “the internal customer” being e.g., Sales, Marketing, Functional managers, Executives, (the old school) Product Management etc. This results in a Service Provider Mindset where the development teams service the business; not the real customer. In addition you make your teams focus on Output and not on the resulting Outcome.

The Product Owner (Scrum role) will essentially focus on a Product Backlog as a compromise between these “internal customers”. The development teams end-up as mercenaries being told what solutions to implement which is why they cannot be held accountable for the Outcome. This accountability is as blurry as the “internal customer”.

Note: As Marty Cagan points-out again and again, the Product Owner is far less than the (modern) Product manager (see also the CSPO Pathology).

This summer Jeff Patton wrote the article The Mindset That Kills Product Thinking elaborating on why you do not want a Service Provider Mindset in your Product company, and where this mindset came from. Should you have the time, you might also want to hear Jeff talk in the video below from last year. Jeff’s focus is on digital products, but most of his insights apply in general.

Here is an attempt to extract some of the essence from Jeff

The Agile Manifesto from 2001 was written from a Service Provider mindset!

The 1. principle in the Manifesto states:

Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuously delivery of valuable software

The focus is clearly on Output – deliver software – and not on Outcome.

Jeff suggests that the biggest missing value statement in the Agile Manifesto is:

Successful outcomes over efficient delivery

How to spot the Service Provider Mindset


You and your team are evaluated based on your velocity of work, and not the outcomes your product results in

Someone outside your team decides what you’ll build & you rely on their approval before considering your work done

Your biggest risks are almost always time, cost and scope & risks are rarely about whether customers really want, can and will use your product

You and your team don’t know the real outcome of your work

Given you happen find yourself caught in a Service Provider Mindset, Jeff has some suggestions for how to get free from its gravitational field:

Identify your product(s)

Evaluate the success of your product(s) as it is today

Really get to know your customers and users

Identify opportunities for continous product improvement

Talk about expected outcomes before you build, make or change anything

Reflect on the outcome of everything you deliver


If you happen to be in a high-tech Product company, you have to do what the best do: focus on your real customer and focus on Outcome. You might currently be caught by a Service Provider Mindset in your company. In that case you need to re-calibrate the understanding of your customer.

What probably most people are not aware of, is that the Agile Manifesto was carved-out from a Service Provider Mindset. The Service Providers see their client as their customer which in turn is accountable for the real customer and Outcome. Put in other words: adapting one of the Agile Frameworks does not automatically make you focus on Outcome – actually the opposite!

Not only is getting your people to master Agile Frameworks only a fraction of what it takes to become a strong Product company. You need to make sure to have your “Agile coaches” understand, who your real customers are … and it is not the internal stakeholders.