Blog :

Biggest Mistake that Product Managers Make

Biggest Mistake that Product Managers Make

Entrepreneurs can be considered the ultimate product managers, taking an idea from just a concept, and building out a product without the help of existing brand recognition and boundless resources. In many ways, product mangers within companies can learn a lot about how to develop a successful product by examining what successful entrepreneurs have done in building their own products/businesses. In practice, there are several things that overlap, such as, iterating the design, prioritizing features, measuring performance, etc.; however, a key missing element for product managers in established organizations versus entrepreneurial product mangers is actually talking to the customer.

 

Whenever an investor is looking at an entrepreneurial venture, they often evaluate the potential success by understanding how the founders have gone out and validated their idea with potential customers. They want to know that the idea has pivoted based on real information from real people. Of course too they want traction, but numbers can also be deceiving and they often invest in the team over the idea. In the end, seeking out what your customer needs, experiences, feels goes beyond all the market research one can conduct and can add qualitative validation that put the numbers in perspective.

A Second-Hand Account

If we look at how organizations evaluate the success metrics of a product owner, we’ll see a wide-range including number of products released, level of engagement across products, market penetration and post-launch sales. Whether these are the right metrics and how to measure them is a separate issue, but to meet these goals product managers employ all sorts of research and tools.

 

When it comes to hearing from the consumer, the sad truth is that it is often that they are consuming second-hand information. For example, customer service tells them that so-and-so is the issue, or a third-party vendor has conducted some research and say X is really what people will pay for. How many product managers have you known to actually call or step out of the building and talk to the customer? Why is this not the standard?

 

In the startup realm, you just won’t make it very far not stepping out of the building. Almost every entrepreneurial guide (or success story) tells you — you must talk to people, evolve your idea, get other people’s perspectives. When you consider that significant product development is often a year plus investment, it’s incredible to think that a small portion of that time is not taken to really speak to (and listen to) the very people to whom we plan to sell.

What About Traditional Research?

Traditional research certainly helps to provide information about consumer perspectives and it is not to say that these should not be done. However, let’s consider the power of the first-hand account. I’ve met several marketers who have watched focus groups and said things like ‘wow, I didn’t know that kind of perspective existed’ or ‘I had no idea that this was a problem’ or the list goes on. In the same way that user experience professionals insist on doing testing as the product evolves — you don’t know what you don’t know! Without speaking to people and constantly seeking their thoughts, how do we know we’re on the right path.

 

Also, let’s consider how often traditional research is done. It’s never cheap and waiting for traditional research to occur at various spread out times in the development cycle is really missing the opportunity to get some first-hand accounts. Doing so allows you to continually adjust your product roadmap and keep you in touch with your customer in ways that could even build more loyalty.

 

But It’s Unreasonable to Keep Talking to People!

Well, is it? Consider the entrepreneur who surrounds himself with early adopters and creates panels of early testers who feel involved in building the product. How can it be that such enthusiasts can be built from zero, but established brands can’t do the same. Making these panels accessible to real product managers who make the decision could be extremely worthwhile! The insights are there waiting to be harnessed as customers like to be involved (and those that don’t will opt out). More and more companies are building these bases, but often under-utilizing them with impersonalized surveys that show no results to the participants. This is setting up a takers-only relationship when a conversation and follow up on ideas could be much more mutually-beneficial.

 

So, what are you waiting for.. get out there and start talking to your customer. You may be amazed by what you find out and how happy they may be to speak with you!

Customer Journey Mapping

Customer Journey Mapping

Customer journey mapping is not just a technique for big-budget projects or companies, but a critical step in understanding your customers’ needs, desires and pain points. They allow you to stay focused on the consumer, and to identify the ways that you can better serve them.

So what are customer journey maps anyway?

A customer journey map is an illustration of a customer’s experience engaging with a company and its product or service. The map can tell the full story covering the entire customer lifecycle from initial contact to activation, engagement, and beyond or focus on only a part of the story that lays out interactions or touchpoints critical to part of the customer’s experience. What makes these maps unique to traditional funnels is that it focuses on the customer and the questions and motivations behind his/her behavior. This helps to humanize the problems and thus put the consumer at the forefront of a company’s mind and strategies.

These are fairly easy to construct (depending on the level of sophistication you use), and require you to do something you should be doing anyway: observing your customers and talking to them!

There are several forms of journey maps to be aware of, based on the scope of the visualization:

  • User Experience Journey Maps: to chart the digital experience
  • Sales Journey Maps: to chart the path through the sales funnel (awareness to purchase)
  • Customer Journey Maps: to holistically examine the full experience

We will focus on the last of these as it is the most expansive, most used, and often the most impactful in identifying big impact areas, and understanding your consumer’s full experience (which is what they will remember).

Another set of customer journey maps depends on the stage of the product. They can be either:

  • Retrospective Maps: in the case of existing products and with actual users where we map existing behavior OR
  • Prospective Maps: in the case of new products where we map how expect a consumer will behave

Here we will be focusing on retrospective maps.

Read More

The Future of Interaction

In his article A Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction, Bret Victor counters the status quo and a recent video from Microsoft projecting the future of interaction. Victor argues that, while the future does encapsulate using our hands, the future is tactile and not touching glass or ‘Pictures Under Glass.’

Images of the Future of Interaction

He summarizes his argument as:

In this rant, I’m not going to talk about human needs. Everyone talks about that; it’s the single most popular conversation topic in history.

And I’m not going to talk about about technology. That’s the easy part, in a sense, because we control it. Technology can be invented; human nature is something we’re stuck with.

I’m going to talk about that neglected third factor, human capabilities. What people can do. Because if a tool isn’t designed to be used by a person, it can’t be a very good tool, right?

Read More

UX Design and Business

A few months ago, I received an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management. As a UX designer, it seemed a strange choice to many I spoke to about the decision, but I’ve been a long-believer in the convergence of design and business. Furthermore, the need for collaboration between all the roles in the product development cycle has been a recurring theme both on this blog and in the wider community. Collaboration is greatly improved with mutual understanding, and thus the MBA serves as a great linkage between an engineering and design background to the business disciplines, including product strategy, marketing, and business management.

Signs of Convergence

Evidence of the mingling of design and business abounds. The convergence can be either very concrete, such as merged managerial-design roles, or less so through collaboration.

Don Norman, the father of user experience design stated in 2008 that UX professionals need to “learn to speak the language of business,” including using numbers to sell  ideas. In his 1998 keynote address to the Human Factors society, he mentioned that “four equal legs [of product development] are required for good product design, all sitting on the foundation of the business case.” In a Nielsen Norman Group report, Norman gets into either further detail by describing the organizational design that supports these principles of effective product development and collaboration. It has been a common drawback of each of the elements of product development to struggle for power and overlook the essential contributions of each “leg.” A recent article from this year at UXMatters nicely addresses the issues of power vs collaboration for the UX leader.

Obviously one of the big companies that has highlighted the integral importance of design in business is that of Apple. In 2005, in the wake of the iPod’s success, Bill Breen of Fast Company wrote about the Business of Design and the “design-based economy,” which has clearly gained even more momentum over the past decade. Design and business complement each other in so many ways that the field of  ‘Business Design’ is spreading in schools and companies alike, most notable of the latter is human-centered innovation consulting firm, IDEO.

What the MBA provides

Beyond a broader perspective to apply the user-centered approach, I have gained a better understanding of cost-benefit analysis, marketing process, techniques, and goals, competitive strategy, organizational dynamics, team building and incentives, and executive managerial issues. These fundamentals allow me to think beyond delighting users now, and thinking about long-term success for the company and the user alike. Compromises in the development cycle are necessary and it’s making the right compromises that can make or break a company or product. Furthermore effective collaboration across disciplines requires understanding each side with an appreciation for what each brings. Irreconcilable differences that can often happen between marketing, engineering and designers can end up surfacing in a product’s experience.

The more strategically we can think as designers, the more effective our recommendations can be within the businesses in which we work, and as a result the better the final experience can be.

Please share your comments and other articles on this issue as I’m constantly trying to track the convergence/intermingling of these disciplines.

Market Research and the Primitive Urges of the Consumer

“The trouble with market research is that people don’t think how they feel, they don’t say what they think and they don’t do what they say.”

ThirdSight Software on a Smartphone Decoding Expression

The BBC reports on an upcoming breakthrough for market research, currently being developed. Dr Roberto Valenti of the University of Amsterdam and Dr Theo Gevers.

The two have established a company, ThirdSight, to take advantage of computerized emotion recognition (decoding emotions from facial expressions). ThirdSight has successfully run its software on a smartphone, but the team acknowledges that results are not yet perfect, requiring a researcher to oversee the software, because it cannot decode context or hidden meanings. For instance, it considers both a happy smile and a bewildered smile as ‘positive’.

This technology poses some promising power in the future of market research.

Read full BBC article »

Design Research and Innovation: An Interview with Don Norman

Great words of insight (as usual) from Don Norman in an interview with Jeroen van Geel on Johnny Holland Magazine. He talks about the gaps between academic research, design studies, and design as well as topics on innovation, emotional design and design thinking. In regards to design thinking, he refers to a previous article that he wrote (which I re-read recently and highly recommend): Design Thinking a Useful Myth. Highlight quotes from the interview and link below:

On the difference between researchers and practitioners:

One wants deep understanding, the other wants to know what to do next. One is happy as soon as an idea has been demonstrated, even if it is held together only by tape, string and mirrors–that is, even if it only works on special cases and requires careful attendance and repair by the research group. The practitioner wants something complete, robust, and reliable. Researchers are incapable of delivering this; they are too curious, too driven to learn new knowledge. The practitioner is too practical.

On emotional design and websites:

Everything has a personality: everything sends an emotional signal. Even where this was not the intention of the designer, the people who view the website infer personalities and experience emotions

On getting inspiration:

Stay curious. Always be learning new topics […] And I talk mostly with my critics.

Read the full Don Norman interview on Design Research and Innovation.

The Real Life Social Network

I loved this presentation by Paul Adams of the Google UX team. He explores designing for real social networks by examining relationships, influence, identity and privacy.

The entire presentation is extremely well done, and the discussion around relationships and our online versus offline social network truly illuminates important factors in social design.

Read More

Content Strategy and UX Design

In “Fusing Content Strategy with Design”, David Gillis gives a very good summary of content strategy and its interplay with the overall user experience strategy and information architecture. The leading advocate for the field, Kristina Halvorson defines the field as such:

Content strategy plans for the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content.

Necessarily, the content strategist must work to define not only which content will be published, but why we’re publishing it in the first place.

I particularly like the way he discusses the importance of setting contexts, using context maps, to better integrate content with the overall experience (see example map below).

Example context map from "Fusing Content Strategy with Design"
Example context map from "Fusing Content Strategy with Design"

Such discussions all point to the importance of a fully integrated product experience process where content certainly plays a very big (and often overlooked) role.

Social Brands and People

Consumer behavior has certainly changed in recent times, and the way we interact with brands in increasingly becoming more intimate and familiar. I’m sure a few years ago we would not have thought that we would be “friends” with (or fans receiving daily updates from) our favorite soda or restaurant.

Read More

Montparnas Helps Design TiVo’s Revolutionary UI

To much fanfare and critical acclaim, TiVo announced last week its new Premiere DVR that features a ground-breaking user interface. I’m very happy to say that we had the privilege to work alongside TiVo’s talented design team to define and design the novel user experience that extends TiVo’s high interaction standards. TiVo, Inc. is featuring the new release on its home page and the device, with its complete redefined HD interface, has already received fantastic reviews from the likes of CNET, TechCrunch, and Gizmodo.

Gizmodo’s Mark Wilson highlights the user experience improvements as:

Despite the redesign, you’ll find the experience is remarkably familiar. The basic fonts and menus are unchanged, with a few key differences. Most importantly, instead of seeing one page at a time (like being in Now Playing, then clicking to a new screen with a particular show), you see two pages at a time—a logical design update to the widescreen format that speeds up navigation enormously.

Check out the screen shots below:

TiVo Central
TiVo Central
My Shows
My Shows

Browse TV & Movies

Browse Collections
Browse Collections