Bottom line: product management is all about the customer
Do you lead a product team or are you part of a team that should improve performance? I’ve been helping product teams and groups of product managers accomplish that — get higher performance. When I ask them why they need to improve performance, I typically hear one of four answers, with the most common being to create more of a customer focus.
I also wanted to hear from product VPs and Directors that I haven’t worked with yet. So, I contacted several and received answers from 91 product leaders.
You’ll find the results not only interesting but also valuable, as you will hear how other product professionals think about improving their teams and what is most important to your performance. For example, should you focus on revenue or customer value?
To help me share the information, I am joined by our guest from episode 174, Colleen Knuff, a Senior Director of Product Management. But this time she is interviewing me, taking the role of host. In addition to the reasons product leaders give for improving team performance, we also discussed:
- why this podcast is named The Everyday Innovator,
- where I developed my passion for helping product managers and teams improve their performance, and
- the value of personality assessments.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[2:24] Why did you name the podcast The Everyday Innovator?
There are a lot of us who are wired to identify a problem and create a solution for it. We all want to build great products that customers love and have more influence in their organization. This notion sums up the everyday innovator mindset — people who look at the world from a problem-solving perspective and want to build great things. Those people are Everyday Innovators and I wanted to make a podcast for them.
[4:54] How did you become so passionate about product management and leadership?
I studied electrical engineering in college and joined a small system engineering company after graduation. I was the fourth person hired in the company, which meant I wore a lot of hats. We started creating prototypes for customers. This was the perfect job for me. A pivotal point came when I was asked to demonstrate another company’s software product prototype at a special event in Washington, D.C. It was an incredible experience — really doing user observations before I had any understanding of what ethnographic research was. I found out what they needed the product to do.
The demonstration was a success and in a short time I was leading a product development team with a few million dollar budget. It was an amazing experience but it was followed with other product experiences where I thought I was following similar processes, and not all the products were as successful. I got a little obsessed about that inconsistency, which led me to earn a Ph.D. in innovation so I could study the problem more deeply.
That team that came about from the D.C. demonstration became a truly high-performing product team. It was amazing. All of us didn’t realize just how amazing it was until it ended. And it ending was incredibly sad. Being part of a high performing team that is developing products customers love is an extraordinary experience and wanting that for everyone involved in product is what fuels my passion and why I have created training and experiences to enable product managers and product teams to also be extraordinary.
[11:20] How are you continuing to pursue those questions of innovation and problem solving?
I’ve been working with groups of product managers and also product teams in different companies to help them improve their performance. It is a system I developed called the Rapid Product Mastery Experience, or the RPM Experience for short. I started asking some of the leaders in the companies that were using the RPM Experience why they chose it — what problem they were wanting to solve. I wondered what other product leaders would say if I asked them a similar question. So, I’m connected to a few hundred product VPs and directors on LinkedIn and I sent them one question and asked for their answer. I received responses from 91 product leaders.
[12:41] Why do product teams want to improve performance?
In preparation for a potential podcast episode, I’ve been asking product leaders WHY they need their product team to improve performance. The top responses from your peers have been:
- develop a customer focus
- meet a project deadline
- increase collaboration in the team
- build foundational skills to get everyone on the same page
What would be your response to that question if you could only choose one? Or, is there something I’ve left off the list?
[13:27] What were the overall results?
I received more than a 100 responses, with about 91 of them interpreting the question in the way I expected them to. The others looked to the bigger picture of product management or went in a different direction. The results were:
- develop a customer focus: 41%
- meet a project deadline (increase speed): 10%
- increase collaboration in the team: 4%
- build foundational skills to get everyone on the same page: 14%
Others said that all of those things were important, while a few said that customer focus and vision were important. About two percent said that the “why” was important, which relates back to what I’m trying to do in the RPM Experience. The remaining responses identified a specific objective, with revenue being the most common.
[17:05] Why did people say that customers were most important?
Personally, I was happy to see this at the top of the list because it relates directly to the everyday innovator mindset and the fundamental goals of product management. Some pointed to looking beyond specific customers to focus on larger market needs. Others said they wanted to meet or exceed customer expectations. The main idea was that it’s always about the customer, not just what they say they want but what the problem actually is.
[18:45] What did you learn about deadlines and speed to market?
The focus was on getting products into market faster utilizing high-performance teams. Some people pointed to velocity and making sure that the project pipeline was always full. Speed is pain point I hear most often. People are facing more pressure to get things done faster.
[21:09] What’s on people’s minds regarding team collaboration?
Collaboration is about helping people work together and sharing information across the organization and beyond. People on the team need to share information they have, whether it’s a best practice or market research. The other aspect is extending into the rest of the organization. What can everyone else learn from the way a product team works?
[22:25] What responses did you get on “foundational?”
Some people said there are knowledge and skills that everyone needs to have to be on the same page before the team can move forward. This also includes building a team of effective people. Others pointed to the fact that a product team’s work does not stop once a product goes to market. People also discussed the relationship between accomplishment, confidence, and innovation.
[29:46] What did you learn about “the why?”
Only two people said this, but it’s really important. One said we need to understand why people do things the way they do them. Understanding the bigger why should always be framed around the customer, not just around doing things the way they’ve always been done.
[32:05] What responses related to a specific objective?
Several people identified a specific metric related to revenue or return on investment. Someone said “build great products,” which also ties into customer focus. Someone shared an active user metric that’s driving everything they do this year. Others talked about quality and building the best product in the market. Over the course of compiling these answers, I realized I could not work at a place where revenue was the number one goal. I need to be focused on customer expectations and know that revenue will follow as my team creates products that are making customers happy.
- The Rapid Product Mastery (RPM) Experience Guide
- Hear Colleen Knuff share her approach to voice-of-the-customer research in episode 174
“It reminds you that you’ve got to pick important stuff, because you only have a limited time.” -Bill Gates reflecting on the death of Steve Jobs
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.