What problem are you solving?

Sounds like a pretty easy question right? Should be able to rattle it off fast. Try it now – write it down. Then ask another product manager, or if you’re in a startup, ask a colleague – to do the same thing. Did they write down the same statement that you did? Chances are, you came up with different answers – maybe subtle differences, maybe major ones. We gave a workshop last year to 35 founders. One of these company’s had two co-founders. They wrote completely different problem statements. They had spent the last year assuming they were working towards the same goals. You’ll be amazed at how many product teams and company’s go about never actually stating the exact problem they are working on.

Your problem statement should cover who has the problem and why it’s happening. In one (or two) short sentences. You get bonus points if you explain what the customer is experiencing because of the problem. And the aim of your product (or feature) is to overcome that problem. Simple, right?

If you’re struggling writing your problem statement, and want more guidance, this is one of the first areas we teach in our Customer Foundations course. Step-by-step instructions to get you facing the right direction. Head over and take a look.

Getting your boss to listen

We get asked about influence a lot. Seems like all product managers feel like they’re constantly trying to persuade one person or another. After all, we have all the product responsibility and no direct reports. Trying to persuade your team, your peers and your boss can seem daunting. The one thing that always works? Don’t make it your opinion – use your customer’s voice. Whenever you’re trying to change someone’s mind about priorities, or direction, or market fit (or anything)…it’s way easier when you tell a customer story, show a customer picture, play a customer video. No longer is it about what you want – you represent your customer. What is your customer asking you for? How do you know? Of course, you have to get out there and be talking to your customers all the time. All the time. Don’t rush out just before a key meeting. Make it a regular habit – and start collecting all those great stories. You’ll have exactly the right story at your fingertips just when you need it.

Make it matter to your audience because you’re serving a critical customer need. Your powers of influence will magnify magically. Give it a try.

When all else fails – go talk to a customer.

Having a bad day? Got another twenty powerpoint revisions to make for that big meeting tomorrow? The one that seems to come around every 5 minutes… Well, here’s your first rebel challenge. Block two hours tomorrow (and if that’s really not possible, find a time next week). Put it in your calendar now (that’s right, open up your calendar and book it. We’ll wait). Now search through your customer logs and find a customer who’s given you feedback recently. It doesn’t matter if it’s praise, a complaint, or just a question. Send them an email to request a 15 minute discussion about your product. Now do that again two more times with two more customers. You just booked yourself time to talk to three real people about your product. Excited?

Now all you need to do is put this script into your calendar, and you’re all set:

Hi, I’m <name>, a product manager with <name of product>. I know that you recently used our product, and I’d really appreciate hearing a little about your experience. This won’t take more than 10-12 minutes of your time. I just have three questions:

  1. Can you tell me a little about why you chose the product, and is it meeting your expectations? (why, why not)
  2. What would you recommend about the product? (Why)
  3. If you could change one thing, what would it be? (Why)

Thanks so much for your time. Talking to customers is one of my favorite parts of the day, and I so appreciate your willingness to share your experience with me.

That’s it…go ahead and modify it whatever way you prefer. But if you don’t have time, you still have this waiting in your calendar, ready to go. No excuses! Go on product rebel, make a difference to a single customer, and maybe learn something that will make a big difference for you.