Pillars and practices for product managers to deeply understand their customers’ problems
I am changing the name of the podcast to Product Mastery Now. The new name is coming soon. You don’t need to do anything to keep listening, but it will show in your podcast player not as The Everyday Innovator but as Product Mastery Now. The logo will look the same—just the name is changing.
I expect you’ll find this episode very value because it is focused on how you can get better at making products, which is a topic important to all product managers and leaders.
I am joined by Heather Samarin and Vidya Dinamani, the co-founders of Product Rebels, a product management leadership training company. They have enormous experience in product management and delighting customers through product-market fit.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[2:09] How did your time at Intuit help you as product professionals?
We learned how to stand in our customer’s shoes. We performed observational research that allowed us to have customer empathy and understand our customers’ pain and problems. Clayton Christensen introduced a program called Design for Delight, which helped us innovate by observing, experimenting quickly, and getting feedback from customers. Customer learning was infused into all the product decisions we made.
[9:05] What led to your book Groundwork: Get Better at Making Better Products?
We see product teams and leaders hitting the same pitfalls we have hit. Product leaders struggle with an overwhelming set of priorities and struggle to figure out where to put their effort, and investors shy away when they can’t see how you’re going to spend your money. Product teams struggle with making decisions. They argue about features, letting the loudest or highest paid person get their way instead of listening to what the customer wants. These problems lead to unclear value propositions, lack of clarity, and unhappy customers. We kept seeing problems like these over and over again, across all industries and in all sizes of teams. We wanted to get to the root cause of the problems and create tools and tactics to solve them.
[14:53] Your book Groundwork covers two areas—the Pillars and the Practices. What can you tell us about them?
The three pillars are the foundation for good decision making and focus:
- Convergent Problem Statement—defining a problem in a way that drives focus
- Actionable Persona—knowing your ideal customer to allow you to make trade-offs confidently
- Individualized Needs—intimately understanding your customers’ needs
The three practices are daily actions that allow us to consistently get to the pillars:
- Developing a Hypothesis—clearly defining what you want to learn when you talk with customers
- Scrappy Research—researching continually without a ton of money and resources
- Getting Commitment—framing information to lead to an actionable decision
[19:16] Tell us more about the Convergent Problem Statement.
We naturally want to create solutions, but we need to first focus on the customers’ problems. When we observe and really understand the customer, we define multiple different problems. Think broadly about customers’ different problems, then converge on one. A convergent problem statement expresses the difficulty or pain the customer has with no attempt to address a solution. Often, we work on solutions when we think we’re working on problems. Take a look at your work and see if you’re just working on a feature or actually describing the problem.
[21:32] Tell us more about the Actionable Persona.
Once you have a clear problem, you want to know intimately whom you’re solving it for so you can make good decisions about how to design the product and prioritize features. Many teams don’t find personas valuable, but we’re redefining personas and making them actionable, simple, and something everyone can use. We define personas using character trait spectrums that help you understand different aspects of your ideal customer and take action to design the product for them. The more focused you are in targeting your ideal customer, the better you’ll be able to delight them.
[24:49] Tell us more about Individualized Needs.
In an ideal world, you’d solve one problem for one customer, but in reality you’re solving many problems for many customer segments. To create delight, you need to group together a persona and a problem statement. Think in silos. Understand the needs of each segment so you can make decisions about tradeoffs for each persona.
Action Guide: Put the information Heather and Vidya shared into action now. Click here to download the Action Guide.
- Visit Heather and Vidya’s website, Product Rebels
- Check out Groundwork: Get Better at Making Better Products on Amazon
“Innovation comes from saying no to a thousand things.” – Steve Jobs
“People don’t buy a quarter inch drill. They want a quarter inch hole.” – Theodore Levitt
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 using the social media buttons you see below.