Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Learning from the Unexpected

I'm like a lot of product managers, many times things don't go as planned and that is ok as long as you and your organization are focused on learning and improving. When the unexpected happens, executives of product managers may ask questions like:
  • Why are our sales not where they should be?
  • Why did our product launch not go as planned?
  • Are we really solving the customer's problem?
And then the team scours through the data, talk to customers and then come up with a recommended plan to address those challenges. But are we really solving the right problem? Are we really digging deep enough to challenge those assumptions that we implicitly made, but just never wrote down.

Here are two things you should consider doing to help answer those questions and prevent those types of surprises in the future:

I've read "Lean Start-Up" (which is great by the way) and they talk about Leap Of Faith assumptions. These are the assumptions we are implicitly making when we build a product. Assumptions like:
  • Of course, processor speed is the biggest selling point.
  • Of course, you need an on/off button on your music playing device.
  • Consumers are always interested in more megapixels. 
Some of those sound crazy, right? They sound crazy because hindsight is 20/20. So before you dive into the data, I'd recommend listing out all the assumptions you made about your product in a spreadsheet and determine how you are going to know if those assumptions are valid. This is a really great way to uncover new insights that weren't necessarily top of mind.

While data may help you answer your questions, data does not replace deep customer empathy. I read a great article this weekend about truly understanding the problems of your customer. In some cases this is not necessarily the problems you are trying to solve, but rather these are problems you could solve if you asked the right questions. It really brought to focus that companies and product managers are sometimes just missing the point because we aren't thinking big enough or asking the right questions. Check out this short read here.

So when faced with a new product idea do the following (and if you are asked what happened in hindsight)
  • List out the assumptions and think about all the different unsaid things that have to happen to make your product successful and then sort out these things based on what you have experienced vs. what you need to have happen in order for your product to succeed. Be expansive here. Figure out how you can prove that those assumptions are in fact true.
  • Really immerse yourself with your customers. Perhaps a customer visit, ask them questions, watch them use your product in their day to day. Understand what excites them and what frustrates them. Maybe you can tie your product into some unmet need or exciter for your customer.
I know that much of this sounds obvious, but product managers never have the time to do those things. I would encourage just trying it. It doesn't take long to list out assumptions and maybe just schedule a customer call once a month at least that is just focused on getting to know their challenges, pain points, what makes them happy, etc. I'm sure for a $50 Gift Card, a customer wouldn't mind spending an hour with you!

Thoughts? Feedback?

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