Get out of your own way to get better information from your users to make products they love.
Creating products customers love. If you are like most product managers and innovators, that is your motivation to do great work — the work of product management. It is our common thread and a distinguishing characteristic of Everyday Innovators. Every day we are looking for problems we can solve in ways that create more value for customers.
That means we have to understand customers’ problems, what they want to accomplish, what they want to avoid, and how they want to feel. When we are doing our job really well, we know our customers better than they know themselves.
Part of that job is asking customers questions – the right questions that help us discover information that ultimately leads to products they will love. This is an area Rachel Wynn knows a good deal about. She is a product manager and communication expert I met at Rocky Mountain ProductCamp in Denver, Colorado. She joins us to share her guidelines for asking great questions, which are organized into a framework of three areas, which she calls:
- Bias, and
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[7:26] How does having a sense of grace help when interviewing users?
Grace is a pretty way of saying “get out of your own way.” We’re all really good at getting in our own ways. We often do this by bringing negative emotions into our conversations. I learned this in my work as a speech therapist; I was absorbing my patients’ emotions. Before I walked into a patient’s room, I would let the emotion from the last session wash away and walk into the next room with a clean slate. I do the same thing between customer calls now as a product manager. You should also resist the urge to fact check your customers as the interview is happening. In the end, their perception is what matters, not necessarily what’s accurate.
[13:26] Where does bias come into play during interviews?
Bias is about the art of asking questions. You should ask questions in a way that sets yourself up to listen well — questions that do not have bias. If you think you know what someone is going to say, you should not ask the question. Leading questions force people to answer in a specific way and double barrel questions ask people to answer two things at once.
[15:10] How can someone ask good questions?
The best tip for asking questions is to stop talking and be okay with a little silence. It’s a little awkward, but if you can embrace it, the person you’re talking to will want to fill the space so they’ll keep talking. They might need time to complete their cognitive processing and will benefit from a little extra time to share deeper insights and specific examples.
[19:33] How can pivots make for better conversations?
Pivot is about letting the user lead. If you are talking to a user, you want them to feel like it was a positive experience, regardless of whether or not it was directly useful to you. You never know when you might need to call on that user again, and they are much more likely to talk with you the next time if they felt like you valued their input. If you find that the user is taking the conversation in a different direction than you planned, make sure you acknowledge what they’re saying and then segue. Asking for advice is another way to get a conversation back on track. You can also keep the conversation going by utilizing “yes and” communication to build on what they say while shifting the discussion where you want it to go.
[26:53] Do you have any go-to questions?
I work for a data analytics company that allows people to manage their data and gain insights on it. At the start of every call, I ask people how long they have used the product and what problems they use the product to solve. I let the user lead as much as possible; I don’t have a bank of questions I typically go to. I paraphrase and ask clarifying questions a lot to make sure I understand what they are saying. Writing questions ahead of time is a good way to practice avoiding bias, but don’t feel bound to ask those questions as a script in an interview.
“Proceed as if success is inevitable.” – Unknown
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it on your favorite social network.