6 Common Mistakes to Avoid with Customer Personas

This excerpt is great for any product leader or product manager trying to make more customer-driven decisions that won’t be overturned at the next meeting. One artifact that helps in this plight is the persona. Don’t roll your eyes! There are ways to develop effective personas that drive action for your teams and not just collect dust on a shelf. This excerpt from our book introduces some pitfalls that teams fall into in the development and use of personas. The full book expands on this and more!

The following has been excerpted from Groundwork: Get Better at Making Better Products by Vidya Dinamani and Heather Samarin. 

We once walked into our client’s building (name not mentioned to protect the innocent) and as part of the kickoff for the project, we asked for any documentation they had on their target customer. “You mean personas?” they asked. Yes! Exactly! 

They tapped out a message on Slack and minutes later, the UX designer walked into the conference room and placed three laminated, full color, 20” x 30” flip charts on the table. Each had four pages of detail, including pictures and text. Our eyes widened for just a second. As we started to thumb through the beautifully produced flip charts, we started asking questions. 

PR: How are these used?

Client: We use them when we design or redesign areas of the UX.

PR: Does the extended development team have copies of these? 

Client: No. They don’t need them.

PR: When was the last time you used them? 

Client: About three months ago, when we redesigned the onboarding experience.

PR: How were these developed? 

Client: We hired a design firm to research and produce these for us.

They had big, beautiful, professionally created personas they could hang on the wall, and could even spill food and water on without issue! And the research team used them. So, what’s the problem here? There were a few things:

It’s Not a Contest to Write the Longest, Most Detailed Persona

Don’t be fooled. Less is more here. You want the entire organization to know the personas, use them, and refer to them in all aspects of the product planning and creation process. They need to be simple, easily communicated, and constantly referenced.

It’s Not a Broad Persona

Too often we see wide swaths of the population depicted as the target market because they all experience the problem we’re solving. Hence, we create a broadly scoped persona. That may include solving it for someone who has the problem but doesn’t feel enough pain to act on that problem. This is a huge pitfall to avoid. Your target personas are only those willing to take the action you want them to in exchange for solving their problem; be it open their wallet, donate their time, respond to your communication, and so on.

One question we recommend asking during persona-related research is, “What would you be willing to pay to have this problem solved?” or “What would it take for you to open your wallet to pay for this solution concept we’re showing you?” or “What would you expect to pay for a solution like this?” Choose your own words to help you understand whether or not the research participant would be willing to take the action you want them to take. 

This is not meant to be a pricing discussion. We don’t recommend interviews for pricing research. To be clear, you should be focusing on people who have expressed a willingness to pay, donate, or act to have their problem solved and not those that show a mere interest in solving the problem. Your persona will become clearer as you understand who is willing to pay and who isn’t.

It’s Not About Outsourcing

Taking ownership of your customer is your job. This is the Groundwork you and your team must do with your own hands. Interacting with customers, discussing what you learned with the team, and coming to a shared vision on your target persona is a requirement for creating products that customers love. Don’t get us wrong—we do outsource research, but there is a time and place for outsourcing. For this aspect of the Groundwork, you need to learn from your customers firsthand.

It’s Not A Laundry List of Demographics

Our client didn’t make this mistake—they did a great job of deeply understanding the archetype and bringing each of these personas to life. But we frequently see personas represented as a list of demographics and a couple of attitudes, rendering the personas one dimensional and not actionable. Demographics are good for marketing in terms of buying direct mail lists, filtering within social media campaigns, and calculating available market sizes. But they are bad for making product and design decisions. You need to understand attitudes, behaviors, goals, a day-in-the-life, and similar information.

It Isn’t A Job Description

Many B2B personas we see describe a job and the daily tasks within that job. A list of job responsibilities is very helpful when you’re trying to understand where your problem space fits into the world of that persona and when you’re identifying relevant needs that must be addressed to solve the problem well. However, just knowing a person’s daily job tasks tells you nothing about who the person is or how you should build an experience that delights them. So, in other words, a job description is helpful in describing the “what” you’re going to do, but it doesn’t give you any guidance on “how” you’re going to do it. There are many ways to design a feature depending on the traits of your user. The feature addresses the task at hand but the design approach (the aesthetic, placement of buttons, vernacular used, types and number of steps to complete the task, etc.) will vary widely depending on who you are building that feature for. Avoid just focusing on what could turn into features (job tasks and responsibilities) and focus more on the inputs to your design approach (this person’s aspirations and how they go about their daily life).

It Isn’t “One-And-Done”

Personas are always evolving. Most of the time, you start with hypotheses about who your target user is. You’re never right the first time. For example, you may assume your persona is focused on accuracy given that they are an accountant and spend a lot of time playing the role of “accuracy police” with their staff. But as you conduct more research to investigate their needs you find that, yes, accuracy is important, but they actually view themselves as a coach that helps their staff build good data hygiene. 

Think about how differently you might design an accounting software experience for someone who views themselves as a coach to help others with their accuracy checking instead of someone who views themselves as the “accuracy police.” The former might have the product team prioritizing data reconciliation functionality for the staff roles, while the latter might prioritize the ability to check their staff’s work. It doesn’t mean you can’t do both, but it certainly would dictate your prioritization of the two areas of functionality.

As you conduct more research you will learn more about your target customer, proving or disproving your hypotheses and refining the persona. Without this refinement, personas get shelved and become out of touch with reality.

 

If you like what you see, there’s more where that came from. Pick up Groundwork: Get Better at Making Better Products by Vidya Dinamani and Heather Samarin from Amazon.

Product Rebels is a product management training and coaching firm run by long term product executives for companies like Intuit and Mitchell International. We have trained over 200 companies, small and enterprise level, in the skills and frameworks that help product management leaders and product managers deliver kick-ass customer experiences. We have a passion for finding efficient ways of infusing customer insight into everything product teams do in pursuit of experiences that customers love …and that drive growth.  Join us in the Product Rebels Community on Facebook or the Product Rebels Community on LinkedIn.

Take a look at our very practical training courses and coaching programs that give you practical tools, frameworks, and support you can use tomorrow in becoming a more effective product leader.  www.productrebels.com

Virtual conferences create delight

Like you, we’ve were disappointed and sad to see all the in-person conferences cancel one after another. In the early days of the pandemic, some brave conference organizers decided to switch to virtual experiences , but these first few experiments were mostly pretty painful. Trying to recreate the excitement of an in-person experience was so daunting, most didn’t even try. We watched webinars, and gave presentations had no interaction with anyone else other than through a chat box, or moderated through a host. Luckily, there’s been a lot of experimenting in the last six months, and now we’re starting to get delightful online experiences. In the last month, we’ve attended three amazing virtual conferences which have exceeded expectations. They’ve transformed expectations of conferences and they created delight. We want to share three examples of these experiences with you because they’ve re imagined their offering and we hope it inspires you to think differently about your product and customer experience.

  1. Personal Connection. Networking can be hard at in-person conferences. They can be awkward affairs where it’s hard to make a meaningful connection. I have tons of business cards from various conferences, but no memories of their owners. In the Product Leader Summit conference last week, the organizers offered up three virtual networking sessions starting a week before the conference. There are multiple networking apps, but the better experience was that there were multiple chances to connect in six minute chunks, which is enough to have a real conversation when it’s just 2 people. You get to sample a personality, make a connection and then decide if you want to continue the discussion. There are multiple apps that offer networking, but consider the experience. The networking portion was received so well, there were requests to continue these post-conference.
  2. Shared Experience. It’s hard to create a shared physical experience when we’re all sitting at our own desks. However, the Women’s Venture Summit, offered a happy hour get-together in between their 2 day conference. This event asked the audience to purchase a set of ingredients a week prior to the conference (with lots of reminders so that we were ready). The maker of the featured cocktail, Emily Josenhans of Domain Sante, made a new beverage (crafted by her team) online. She took us all step-by-step through the process, and we created a cocktail (or mocktail) together. I’ve been to many happy hour events online, but creating something together made the experience much more delightful.
  3. Insights & Learning. Zoom breakouts are a good way to break up any large group and have people able to talk to each other. In two conferences, rather than a random distribution, we were told why we were put together in the groups. This information about who would be in the room with you was shared a few days in advance, so we could look up (linedin stalk) the people we would be meeting with. This act of forethought made the breakout room immediately more active, because there was a sense of knowing the other attendees were. They also helped much better attendance, knowing that a group was expecting you to show up. There were better conversations because we felt accountable to prepare to share thoughts with a team we’d never even met. We all use breakout rooms, but consider designing an experience instead of hoping for the best, so that attendees have a significantly better chance of learning from each other.

Each of these examples elevated and improved the conference experience because the conference organizers deeply thought about the attendee (customer) needs. They knew what in-person conferences promised, and they worked with existing technology (not developing a single new feature or product) to not just improve, but create delight. How can you go back to your core customer needs and given the new way in which we all live and work, deliver an experience that delights?

10 Tips to move Strategy Sessions Online

We’ve written this article to help you plan a focused and effective strategy session when you’re all online/virtual. This is targeted towards product strategy sessions, but these 10 tips will work as effectively for bigger company strategy sessions. Just a note – moving your session online takes work. At the very minimum you need 3 weeks of pre-planning. Start soon!

  1. Design for outcomes. Remember a strategy is the plan by which you achieve your company/product objectives. A strategy meeting is the means by which you collectively create the plan on which you’ll execute. This might seem obvious – but it’s easy to lose sight of the reason you’re bringing people together. We’ve been in lots of in-person strategy offsites that end up more as information sharing sessions – or team bonding, or an excuse to talk about loads of new ideas (shiny new object syndrome!).  Then all the decisions get made at the post-offsite strategy session. Virtual strategy sessions need to be designed carefully. Start by getting really clear on what you want at the end of the virtual sessions and what information is needed to achieve the results you’re looking for.  Are you looking to refresh your strategy entirely, or are you looking to validate existing strategy? Has your business set new growth targets because of the pandemic, do they have a new set of objectives for the coming year? What factors will you have to consider – COVID impact, competitor analysis, market research, customer learnings, sales & finance updates, technology needs – what has changed and what is relevant?  Now write down what success looks like – share them with your peers so that you’re on the same page. Here’s an example: We need to update 2 out of 4 of our existing strategies in order to meet the new growth target (list the two). A successful strategy session means that we have produced a draft set of product strategies that are aligned to the company objectives and strategy, and each team is positioned to create a set of initiatives that are driven by strategy.
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  1. Break it up: We’ve all been on all-day offsites where we immerse ourselves in strategy and so the urge to replicate the process is strong. But you just can’t possibly do an all day strategy online – it’s painful even thinking about sitting in front of your screen for that long for one meeting! We’ve learned that 2 hours is the ideal time to have the team fully engaged, energized and effective. We’ve tried longer periods and it’s hard to keep everyone focused. 1 hour isn’t quite enough – people are getting warmed up and you’ll find yourself going long anyway. Some teams have insisted that we work in 4 hour sessions – but we see fatigue set in, then we take longer and longer breaks – it just doesn’t work. We recommend a series of 2-hour sessions spread over a week. With the right planning, this set of sessions can be even more effective than an in-person offsite.
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
  1. Set mandatory pre-workTo make the most of 2-hours together, you need to set pre-work. As you determine success outcomes – you’ll naturally uncover the most relevant topic areas (competitor analysis, market/economy, customer success, etc.). Two-three pages of pre-reading for each area is recommended. Summarize each of main points:  clearly list market & customer insights that are most critical to the discussion, articulate each of the major problems that need to be addressed. Write these down  in a paragraph or two, providing key data and backup links for anyone wanting to dive deeper means that everyone coming to the sessions is prepared. You can send all the pre-work together a week before your session, or set your sessions to be 3 hours, with the 3rd hour individual time for the team member to do the pre-work each day. This isn’t easy – but it’s invaluable for having great sessions. And we recommend asking people not to attend if they haven’t done the pre-work, don’t let your sessions devolve into opinion-sharing. Keep discussions focused on facts/data.
  1. Assign Champions. Share the workload and assign champion to each of the major sections of work. This is a great opportunity to highlight your team, or to even ask important peers at your strategy sessions to lead. When you engage others in leading the pre-work research, or summarizing the data points – you take the burden off being the sole facilitator, and all the research coming from one voice. You want everyone at these sessions to feel ownership over the strategy that’s developed, and one of the best ways we’ve seen to achieve this, is by starting with ownership right from the start.
How to Lead Better Virtual Meetings - Duarte
  1. Write down assumptions. When doing the pre-reading, have the team write down their assumptions. This way, each team member is coming in prepared with a set of notes that lend themselves to a discussion. The pre-reading is not just for information, but to help form product strategies (remember #1, outcomes!). The reason we recommend this approach is that it helps provide the rationale for the opinion.  It’s much easier to invalidate a stated assumption, rather than argue opinions. We really don’t like opinion-based discussions if that isn’t already obvious. When the team can’t readily invalidate an assumption – this can easily be turned into a hypothesis that can be tested after the meeting. We know exactly what information we need to help us make sense of the data.
  1. Address the elephants. Don’t bury bad news in the pre-reading or avoid it altogether. Some of the teams we’re working with are losing their funding, others have seen their customers disappear or put purchase decisions on an indefinite hold. This is critical information, and it’s not business-as-usual. You want the most out of these strategy sessions – you want your teams to armed with all the data. The impact of the elephants are pretty significant in terms of how the company will respond – perhaps the growth targets have doubled, or the retention goal has increased significantly. Make sure the pre-reading provides the “why” and the context – and don’t avoid those big, hard problems.
3 lessons learned when developing a new product with the Minimum ...
  1. Standalone Ideation. It’s really easy for each of these 2-hr strategy sessions to devolve into ideation sessions. Once people have their pre-reading done, and they understand what the business is trying to achieve – they’ll want to solve problems – it’s natural. We’re all full of product ideas, and asking people not to share them can be painful (and derailing). But you don’t want to continually talk solutions before you get a full understanding of all the areas that need to be reviewed. We suggest having a shared whiteboard to capture all the ideas generated. Don’t have this as a shared screen, you don’t want it visible and distracting – you just want a place where people know that they can add their ideas/solutions. Once you’ve finished the information sessions, you can move into ideation for product strategies. This is towards the end, and a 2-hr focused session on strategy ideation is ideal. Having your list of whiteboard ideas is a perfect input for this. Your team can self-select which ideas move forward, and which go away now that they are fully armed with all the background.
  1. Small Discussions. We design our strategy sessions to be about 5 minutes together as a large team, then 15–20 minute sessions with a small team. By small team, we mean about 3–4 people, a group where everyone has a voice. We move in and out of this format — so that we’re constantly regrouping, sharing updates, and then going back into real discussions. Consider if you want random groups so that different people are constantly reviewing data. This is good when you have a close working team, and the groupings are less important. Perhaps you want to deliberately create cross-functional breakouts if you have invited others in the company — you’ll want to design each small groups to have a voice from all the functions that are represented. This is an important part of pre-planning, looking closely at putting the right people together.
  2. Document Collaboration is a must. Zoom, or teams, or whatever video software you use is insufficient. You want to be virtually around a working board where the pre-reading is loaded, the assumptions are listed – everyone can see and have access to the documents and be able to write their own thoughts/comments. We have been using the in-built notepad on zoom, and then Mural to share all documents. We pre-build our boards with stickies – color-coding for teams, and sometimes individuals – so that we can make sense of all the notes at the end of the session. Avoid a facilitator writing down other people’s ideas – it’s nowhere near as effective as enabling everyone to have control over exactly what and how much they contribute.
No! No! Not Another PowerPoint! (BoomerBlix)
  1. Lose the PowerPoints. Hopefully this goes without saying given the first 8 tips – we want the strategy sessions to be all about working together, discussions and making decisions. Feel free to create PowerPoints for pre-reading if that fits with your company culture. But by no means spend any time (not even 1 minute) sharing a PowerPoint deck. You’ll set the tone and expectation for this session if you avoid PowerPoints altogether. Let’s be clear – we’re still asking you to make sure that everyone understands the pre-reading. You should still start each session by recapping or highlighting the relevant facts, check in for understanding and questions and then jump into the assumptions that people have written down. Work through the data in a structured way. We just don’t want you reading slides!
Zoom party tips: Virtual hangout ideas for a fun night in - Los ...
Celebrate!

Bonus tip!: Don’t lose the happy hour. Last, consider how you can celebrate together at the end of the strategy session. Maybe it’s a separate hour after every session is complete – but it’s important to acknowledge the end of this hard work. Here are some ideas that we’ve experienced or seen work. Send everyone a bottle of wine, or their favorite beverage a few days in advance, so you can open it all together at the end of the session. It’s always fun getting a surprise in the mail! I took part in a chocolate tasting by an expert a few weeks ago – I was sent a package of 4 bars (yes, it was hard not opening those) and couldn’t wait for the event. It turned out to be a really fun experience, as we all opened packets and tasted together while the expert shared the history and taste notes of each bar. A month earlier, I was part of a sommelier experience, and the prep for that was to bring in the bottle of wine that you’d always been saving for a special occasion – so the only company expense was providing the expert. Hopefully these ideas get your creative juices flowing – whatever you do, mark the end of the session with something fun and a way to connect and have a shared experience.

Agile is GREAT, but…

Agile is great, but…

Agile is awesome. Nearly every Product Manager we know would agree. But I bet you’d be surprised by how many conversations we have with product leaders around their questions, issues and sometimes not-so-stellar experience with agile development. Questions & comments like:

  • Our product managers/owners feel constantly overwhelmed working day-day with dev, we have no time for innovation!
  • Anyone else have confusion over roles within their agile teams, or is it just us?
  • How are others dealing with technical debt, our seems to just keep growing…
  • Do you need to have both product managers and product owners?
  • We can’t expect our product owners to also be strategic…can we?

Agile is so clear about roles, and ceremonies. Backlogs are groomed continuously to focus on the highest priority. Customer Value is built right into the manifesto. So, why are there so many “we love agile, but…” conversations in the product management community. What’s going wrong? We have a hypothesis on why this is happening, and a proposal for a universal fix across all agile teams. Let’s start with three assumptions that we have about how we believe products should be built.

  1. Before you build…You know what is important to customers. There’s a loaded sentence. We built an entire business helping companies get this right. Anyone can create epics and sets of user stories — that’s easy. That’s how exploding backlogs happen. Because it’s just so easy to create work, and agile is a well-oiled machine designed to keep churning out work in tidy increments. But, as we all know, outcomes aren’t equal to effort. And meaningful business outcomes are those that prove we’re providing value — because customers buy and continue to invest in the products we deliver. All that comes from deeply understanding your customer.
  2. Before you build…You can define the customer problem. That doesn’t mean being able to describe all the incredible features you’re building. It does mean being able to state the customer problem that exists, independent of your product ever being launched in the world. That means, there are lots of ways to potentially solve the problem, but you (team, company), are uniquely positioned to deliver a solution that will win in the market. And btw, the problem should be a big enough pain that the customer is willing to pay to make it go away. When you can do this, you know you’ve got an important problem to solve.
  3. Before you build…You have a vision and a roadmap. A roadmap is not a rolling collection of features — it’s a clear, well-thought out, logical and prioritized map to achieve a vision. Having a vision is what allows you to make tough trade-off decisions, and it’s what keeps the team (and you) energized and motivated to make it happen through all the ups & downs of development. Having a vision starts with #1 & #2 above — knowing what’s important to the customer and what problem you’re solving.

If you buy into these assumptions — then let’s talk about how you can leverage them to make a big impact on how well agile can work for you. This is based on years of experience working as a product leader with with dozens of agile teams, and from our coaching practice improving the ways that product managers and product owners can succeed working within agile development.

You have to know where you’re going. Remember the bad old days of waterfall development? If you don’t, lucky you! For those of you who shuddered when we asked the question — you had flashbacks of writing massive requirements documents. But, the one (and maybe only) good thing was that it forced you to think about where you were going. You had to think about the big picture before you could break it down to endless requirements and (depressingly) writing down every possible exception. We’re not suggesting for a second we go back to the dark ages. However, what we’ve missed in our head-first dive into agile is providing the team with the big picture in a way that’s meaningful. That doesn’t mean one flashy PowerPoint slide of a vision, or some high-level product mockups which makes your CEO happy. We’re talking about providing a real schematic that offers a picture of where you’re going, and enough details that allow the teams working with you to ask great questions, offer alternatives and help improve the overall solution.

Let’s say you were giving the job of building a house, your first step probably wouldn’t have been to assemble a building crew, and say to the foreperson — we’re going to get started and build a room at a time. Let’s see where end up! Before you had a team start to pour concrete, or put up framing, you would have worked with an architect to create a plan. The inputs to that plan are customer needs. Imagine a home for a young couple, mobile, working from home, wants amenities/access such as pool/gym…and then think about a family with 4 kids, one member is in a wheel-chair, they entertain a lot, generally home-bodies. Very different needs, very different home. Your understanding of how the home would be used, the people who live inside, what they would do within their home — all of these are critical elements in understanding the type of building we’d create. We don’t expect a building crew to start building without a plan — and the opportunity to ask questions, and maybe suggest some changes that would make it cheaper to build, or offer additional value elements for the same price. Because they understand what you’re asking them to build — they can have a voice.

The same is true for a product — we need a picture of our customer, what she cares about, her habits and attitudes — and through understanding this, we enable our teams to imagine a real person that we’re building our product for. A product manager’s job is to provide this picture. Agile wants you to know these things -it really does. It just doesn’t give you any time to make it happen. If you forgive agile for not building in a ceremony just for product management, then it changes the way you will look at your development cycle. The way to coach teams to provide this critical information is to develop and share a Product Scope. A Product Scope gives the schematic, the plan for what you’re planning to build, it provides a picture to the team so they can imagine it. They can then connect with you on the plumbing, the electrics, they may even suggest shifting rooms around, or describing a completely different approach which you never imagined. This will happen because you have everyone on the same page, then…you can begin Sprint 0, start planning and happily create epics and write user stories. You all know where you’re going.

Having a Product Scope will change your experience with Agile

We’ll talk more about how to create a Product Scope in a follow-up post and the product work needed before sprint planning. We’ll give you a hint — writing kick-ass Product Scope documents comes from deep customer understanding, which starts with setting up hypothesis, ideating, prototyping, testing — all with customers.

Before we close, just a couple of extra agile tips for kicks. Spikes are not your friend. A lot of the time, we see customer research being placed on a sprint plan as “research spikes”. A spike, technically is something that is not clear to the team, or can’t be estimated well. The whole purpose is to provide an answer or solution so that the team can get going again. Assigning points to research is meaningless — your entire product success rests on your ability to learn from your customers and build that into every sprint. That’s right — you should be learning from your customer EVERY sprint. That doesn’t mean fitting them into research spikes. btw, spikes aren’t great for the team either, it impacts velocity and timelines and all the things your scrum master cares about. Don’t use them.

Build in Time to Watch Customers. Technically this isn’t an actual way to make agile work for you, but it’s just the very best gift you can give your team. It works whatever development method you’re using. It will change the way your team work. We suggest at the very minimum once a quarter, you should provide a way for your team to spend time watching customers. It will dramatically change the customer value your team delivers.

What other agile and product management tips do you have? Share your comments and thoughts.

Product Decisions in Crisis Mode

Are you feeling an urgency to make immediate changes to your product? Or trying to resist the urge to react to this current crisis? Are leaders in your organization bombarding you with ideas about how you should be responding? We’ve talked to dozens of product managers and product leaders over the past 2-3 weeks and we’ve heard many stories: teams undergoing complete pivots – scrapping all their current work and radically changing what they’re working on responding to immediate customer needs…to pulling up products with launch dates that were 6+ months ahead because they now seem to be much more relevant…to staying the course and adopting a wait-and-see attitude.

Now, more than ever, it seems critical to us that teams have to focus on core product principles to make decisions that aren’t just knee-jerk reactions, but based on real understanding. Before you stop reading because you can’t deal with yet one more thing to have to do…this core work can be done easily and quickly – and we believe can make all the difference. At least take 5 minutes to finish reading this before you completely change what your team works on.

Here’s a quick recap on the three steps that we describe as core foundations:

  1. What problem are you solving? Don’t just throw around new feature or product ideas – identify and discuss the actual customer problem. Get your team on the same page what’s the customer experiencing and why. Write it down so everyone is on the same page.
  2. Who is the customer? Is this a current customer, and if so, what’s changed in their attitudes, ability to pay, access in relation to your product. What do you know, vs what’s a hypothesis that can be tested. If this a potential new customer – how much do you understand them? Create a quick persona and build some empathy so that your solution ideas can be tested, before you start building something new.
  3. Validate with scrappy research. We know it’s hard to get to execs right now if you’re b2b, most leaders are completely unreachable. But think about who you might use as a proxy, test your thinking with someone you know who has a similar position – even if it’s in your own company. If you’re b2c, there’s a lot of people staying-in-place who are easy to access for a quick 10-15 chat – especially if you can offer a small stipend. Even if you contact just 5 customers (or prospects) – at least you’re getting out of your own head and testing your ideas.

We feel so strongly about teams needing to go back to basics that we’re offering up our foundations course for free to all product teams. This online course is less than 3 hours, usually people take this over a week, but you can cram it all into a morning. If you pick just one area to check out – refresh on the problem statement. Making radically different decisions can be justified if you have these basics in place.

Even in this crisis, let’s stay true to solving real customer problems that we understand.

Product Rebels is a product management training and coaching firm run by long term product executives for companies like Intuit and Mitchell International. We have trained over 200 companies small and enterprise level in the skills and frameworks that help product management leaders and product managers deliver kick-ass customer experiences.    We have a passion finding efficient ways of infusing customer insight into everything product teams do in pursuit of experiences that customers love …that drive growth.  Join us in the Product Rebels Community on Facebook or the Product Rebels Community on LinkedIn.

Take a look at our very practical training courses and coaching programs that give you practical tools, frameworks, and support you can use tomorrow in becoming a more effective product leader.  www.productrebels.com

And stay tuned for our new book.  Sign up for updates on our new book “Groundwork. Get Better at Making Better Products”

So you want to move into management?

As I write this, I’m thinking about leading two upcoming discussions on how to move into product management leadership. I’ve promoted dozens of people into senior management roles, and I’ve been thinking about what made them standout as potential managers, and what made them successful. The good news is that being a great product manager trains you already with so many of the skills to move into a management role –  being the face of the team, working with many groups, influencing to get the job done etc. So, what does it take to standout from a bunch of standouts? I want to share some interesting patterns of behavior that we implicitly look for when we have those closed room discussions with HR about who’s going to get that precious manager role. I’m going to assume all the basics are already in place: right tenure, consistent high performer, track record of delivery. If you’ve got all that, then there are some intangible ingredients that I want to shed some light on:

  1. Communicating like you’re already a manager. Often, being a great product manager means that you can communicate really clearly to your teams, and to your customers. This is table stakes. You have to be able to break down a vision into a clear roadmap, and then into workable chunks, and then into specific user stories. Product managers have this down – they know how to communicate what they want their teams to build. They’re also great at talking to customers – listening well, asking great questions, translating what they hear into needs. But being a people manager, and working with other senior leaders, entails taking all those skills and creating a different picture. Often PMs go into a ton of detail, they want to explain the work they’ve done, after all it was a ton of effort. But leaders don’t want to hear those – they want someone who can connect the business goals to the work being done in a way that makes sense. To be promotable, you have to be able to do this – it’s not a skill that execs are patient to see you grow into. If you can’t succinctly explain what you do and why it’s important for the business, you can’t get the right resources for your teams, and you can’t succeed. So spend less time explaining all the details, and more about telling a story, and connecting the dots.
  2. Working the strategy Say/Do. This shows up as how you make decisions, and how much time you spend talking strategy and actually backing up what you do with the bigger picture in mind. Product managers are expected to understand the big picture – it should reflect in their roadmaps and customer documents. But how much do you actually follow this? Someone who has “leader” written all over them is the person who asks great questions about prioritization based on strategy. Who constantly starts backlog meetings (yes, backlog!) with the bigger picture in mind. It’s not just a question of knowing the company strategy & goals, it’s how you bring them to life in the way that you work every-day. Knowing that the person you’re about to promote already “gets it” goes a long way in setting them up for a manager role.
  3. Feedback loops.  People who are going to be good managers ask for feedback. A lot. They ask after meetings, they follow-up with senior leaders, they make a point of understanding how they show up. And then they take that feedback, try something new, and then ask for more feedback. You’d be surprised how little people do this. They wait passively for 1-1’s or monthly meetings – or even, worse, their annual performance reviews. When you can see someone is actively understanding how they show up, and are genuinely interested in improving themselves – you know that they will help others do the same – which is what you want in a people manager.

Do you still want to be a manager? Are you doing these things? We want to hear – write to us and share your stories of promotion, or trying to get promoted.

Defining the PM job

We see this picture of PM  in the middle of UX, Tech and Business a lot:

From Mind The Product (https://www.mindtheproduct.com/2011/10/what-exactly-is-a-product-manager/)

We use this graphic as well – it’s been a nice, introductory way to speak at a high-level about the product management function, and it highlights the importance of partnering with these three important peer functions. Product management works with business leaders/marketing teams, engineering teams and UX teams. They sit in the middle often translating from one to the other. But we’ve found this picture hasn’t been sufficient to talk about what the actual day-day job of a product manager should be. When you introduce a graphic that describes the function as this small overlap of a venn diagram – it discounts the sheer amount of work and knowledge that’s required to actually do the job.

So, we came up with a new graphic:

 

This may not be the best drawn diagram, but we want to introduce it as a better way to talk about how a product manager should approach their job. We think this is far more representative of the actual  work that we all do on a year-round basis.

The outer circle goes to business. The product manager has to start with a broad and deep understanding and translating company vision, strategy and business objectives. These are the guardrails of our thinking – and we always need to go back to making sure that the decisions and tradeoffs we make are the right call for the business, industry and environment that we work in. We’ve seen lots of features go into products that customers ignore because they don’t make sense with what the business and the customer is trying to achieve.

The next inner circle is technology. This goes beyond partnering with the engineering or development team. The product manager doesn’t (often) code, but they (should) understand what the technology can/cannot do, understand the technical architecture and be able to ask the right questions, and have an engaged and knowledgeable discussion about alternatives. Without getting deep into the technology, the product manager is at the mercy of whatever technical recommendation is made. We’ve seen far too many product leaders and teams fail because they didn’t ask the right technical questions, because they weren’t prepared and didn’t dig deep enough. Technology is a core part of the job – better get used to getting into the details.

The core of the job is customer. Every part of the job is customer-driven. Whether that’s considering the product roadmap (what’s important to the customer), writing user stories (customer needs), doing customer research (talking to customers) – we could go on and on. Every single piece of work that’s produced is with the customer at heart. The product manager represents the customer at the table – they advocate for the customer, deeply understand their needs and ultimately make product decisions with the customer first, with the optimal technology and meeting business objectives.

When you look at product management this way – we believe you get a sense of how the pieces fit together and a better understanding of the expectations of the job. This isn’t a job for sissies!

Let us know what you think! We’d love to get your comments here, or send an email to vidya@productrebels.com and tell us how you see the PM job.

You want a resolution that guarantees results?

Now that it’s a few weeks past New Year, and we’re back heads-down hard at work – let’s sneak in a new year’s resolution that will make a real difference. Commit to talking to your customers at least once a month. That might not seem like a lot to those of you who are planning customer interviews weekly, building them into your sprints and calendars. However, for many of you, we know months can go by without reaching out. We’ve worked with a lot of company’s last year – some large and some in very early stages, and we’ve been shocked at how many don’t talk with customers regularly. It doesn’t matter how established the company, the attitude towards interacting with customers, getting their feedback and acting on what you learn is a habit that’s formed and established by the product leader. If the discipline isn’t introduced, then customer interaction doesn’t regularly happen and acting on customer feedback becomes an ad-hoc activity, usually something to consider when things go very wrong. The start of the new year is a great time to hit refresh and think about how you’d like to establish new important habits. For your product and team, there’s nothing that will make more of a difference than creating a new practice around regular customer interaction. Whether you’re testing a new idea, building a prototype, or launching a new feature – make sure that a customer test gets built in. Put it into your planning, write it into your calendar, make this a resolution that you can commit to.

Influence & Talking to Customers

Recently, we gave a talk at a big product conference. We talked about influence – how product managers need to exercise influence more than most. After all, we are usually individual contributors, accountable for a product -needing everyone to align and work together, but not directly managing anyone. This conference was in Eastern Europe so we were particularly interested in hearing the questions – was it the same situation for product managers across the seas, as we’d experienced in the US? Who were they most trying to influence? Our biggest surprise was where the majority of the questions centered – the frustration for product mangers to be “allowed” to talk with customers. The area where product managers most wanted to exercise influence was with their managers trying to getting access to customers!!

This wasn’t a one-off question, the majority of people who asked us questions during the talk, and then after at our booth – was all centered around this critical need. One that we take for granted – the ability and access to connect directly with customers. We wanted to share some of the tips & ideas that came out of these conversations because perhaps more people than we realize are in the same situation. Wanting to follow best practices in iterating and getting customer feedback, but finding themselves unable to do so. Here are a few of the ideas we discussed.

  1. Use a proxy. When your customer is 5,000 miles away, watching what they do is not a readily available option. For one PM, they were building a system for a library and really wanted to understand behavior and interaction with their app. Our suggestion? Find a local library and talk to the people who were working and using library services. After accounting for cultural changes – what are the main questions? What were the surprises? How could you use your findings to show the importance of understanding local behavior.
  2. Start with a Hypotheses: When you can’t get to customers, it’s really helpful to form a strong hypothesis – one that is very specific, measurable, has an outcome that can be tested. Rather than continuing to write user stories in a vacuum, figure out what you believe to be true – force yourself to confront the biggest unknowns you have, and then look for ways that you can quickly and cheaply test your assumptions.
  3. Use remote tools: While we don’t like surveys very much – it’s better than nothing. Can you put together a more comprehensive survey that gets to people’s attitudes and beliefs? Recently, we conducted a large survey that was based on earlier market segmentation. In that, we looked for people who were lapsed members. Adding a question at the end to see if they were open to a quick conversation, is an easy and cheap way to find customers who will talk with you. Then use skype to connect with them – fast, cheap!
  4. Get scrappy. When you can’t find your exact type of customer, in the same industry – getting any feedback is preferable to none. This is where you rely on friends & family to give you their perspective. Still go through the process of writing a learning plan & have your objectives…see what surprises come up. Don’t dismiss their feedback too fast if they don’t “get it” – this could be an indication that there’s an issue or gap in your thinking about your product.
  5. Seek forgiveness not permission. This isn’t an option we readily recommend, and our least favorite…but in some cases, when you are just not given time to do customer research – you may have to resort to some stealth interactions. Go outside your regular working hours to talk to customers – slowly start feeding ideas from customers into your meetings. In particular, share insights that came directly from a customer interaction to show value. Sometimes you need the proof before you get the permission.

Tell us what you’ve done when you’ve struggled with getting customer feedback. We want to hear more tips & methods – what’s worked and what’s not? Leave us a comment now.

Stop the feature madness.

So, your product is out in the wild – and now you have a long list of product features just waiting to be built, and they’re all good ideas. Some of them even great! But that list is overwhelming and depressing – because it’s years and years of work – and your development partner is rolling his eyes. So you prioritize, and then you try and squeeze in that one extra feature, that one extra option that you just know will make a difference. Sound familiar? We all do it – we want the best product that’s possible – and we’re built to maximize our offerings.

So, when is enough? Everyone talks about elegant products – but when do you know it’s right? We want to give you three steps to put into practice today.

  1. Ruthlessly focus. Pick one feature, the top idea and commit. And don’t cheat – don’t combine 2 (or 3…) ideas into one.
  2. Figure out how you’ll test this feature without a single line of code – that means you need to figure out how to communicate your feature effectively.
  3. Talk to your target consumer – and learn what they think of your brilliant idea. Good results? Start building as small as possible, release and test. Surprised by what you hear? Figure out what it means and go back to step 1.

That’s how you stop the feature madness.