Empowering product teams to create an agile culture with a customer focus.
This podcast is named The Everyday Innovator and I call the people who listen Everyday Innovators. That has meaning. Everyday Innovators see the world a little bit differently. We actively look for problems and unmet needs, recognizing that those are opportunities to create value for customers. Our mental wheels are constantly spinning, thinking about how we can make existing products better and create new products that wow customers. In short, where we find our most energy and satisfaction is creating products that customers love.
So, when I saw a new book titled, Deliver Great Products That Customers Love, I knew I had found a kindred Everyday Innovator and I asked him to talk with us.
The author of the book is Valerio Zanini. He has created products and led product teams for Fortune 500 companies including Cisco and Capital One, advised several small and medium businesses, and founded a Product Innovation, Design Thinking and Agile coaching practice called 5D Vision. He also has an awesome Italian accent, which you’ll hear in a moment.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[2:46] Why did you write this book?
Great product managers need to be innovators, leaders, and entrepreneurs. People with that mentality create great products and customer experiences, even if they don’t have the formal title of product manager.
[5:38] What does it mean to build great products?
There are common elements in great products. One of them is the customer experience and building a product customers care about. The book lists the three pillars of great products: customer focus, cultural agility, and an empowered team. You need all three of these things to drive innovation.
[6:55] How do you develop a customer focus?
It comes down to understanding who your customers really are. I’m an adviser to young startups and I hear all the time from businesses who have a product ready to launch and do not know who their customers are. It’s also important to know what problem the product is trying to solve, and whether the customers really care about solving that problem.
[11:35] Can you give us an example of putting these principles into action?
When I was at Capital One, I was responsible for digital innovation at branches. We did a lot of research with customers and bankers about how we could make their lives easier. We interviewed one woman who said the only reason she went to a branch was to go to an ATM, but she was scared to go to the ATM closest to her at night. That led to Capital One developing an app that allowed people to request the money ahead of time through an app, then walk in and tap their phone on the ATM to pick it up in a matter of seconds. This innovation came directly from the conversation we had with that customer.
[14:09] What does agility mean to you?
I think about development agility and building products in smaller increments that you validate with customers along the way. More important is having an agile mindset. I often see the difference between doing agile and being agile. I see a lot of teams who go through the motions of agile project management without understanding why they are doing them. I also see leaders who don’t understand this mindset and demand long-term plans from a team working in a more agile environment.
[23:50] How do you empower a team?
I was working with a product manager who was very new and kept coming to me with a lot of questions about what he should or shouldn’t do. I told him that he was empowered to make decisions on the product as long as he kept me informed. I immediately saw the light in his eyes and the product took off once he felt ownership of the decision making. If someone else is calling all the shots, progress stops when that person is not available.
[26:07] Can you give an example of what this empowerment looks like?
A few years ago I read that Citibank had just opened a new branch in New York that utilized tablets. I went to the branch and couldn’t find them. I talked to the banker and found out that they were keeping them in the safe because they were afraid of people stealing them. I returned a year later and still didn’t see them. I asked another banker and found out that they were all stolen after the branch decided to put them out. This speaks to a lack of empowerment. The team was penalized if the iPads were stolen so they couldn’t really test them. It’s a loss for the business. The company talked about promoting innovation, but didn’t set up its processes in a way to make it happen.
- The book, Deliver Great Products That Customers Love
- Valerio’s coaching website, 5D Vision
- Mentioned during the discussion, TEI 149: How to effectively lead innovators – with Mike Mitchell, PhD
“Uber demands passion for the customer, great technical depth, principle thinking, well-honed product judgment, a stubborn refusal to settle, bold innovation, a high design bar, and the mentality of starting with the customer first.” -Uber product management statement
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.