Blog : Business Design

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.

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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.