Are You Experiencing Product Manager Insomnia?
As a product manager, what is keeping you awake? In his new article Gopal Shenoy tells you that what should be keeping you awake is what is keeping your customers awake.
It is a good reminder to be market-driven and to focus on the problems that your customers value—and are willing to pay to solve. The greatest problems your customers face are the ones that are the most important to them to solve. So that should be your focus as well.
It is very easy to get caught up in the short term, worrying about meeting delivery deadlines, internal team coordination, sales reps demanding support for an upcoming demo, and prioritizing a list of features to be added to your product in the next release. There is urgency in all of these things, and it is the squeaky wheel that tends to get the grease.
A product manager should be thinking mostly more strategically and explicitly from a market point of view. Who are the right customers? What are their most important problems? How effective is our product as a tool to help them solve those problems?
The best tool I’ve found for a product manager trying to start to get away from the inside-out view of “What should we add next to our product?” and into the outside-in view and ask “What are the most important problems our customers face?” is a customer journey map.
Chris Risdon posted a fantastic presentation last year about experience mapping, which is his preferred term for customer journey mapping. In short, an experience map is an artifact that user experience professionals create to map out the experiences that an end-customer has as they deal with their reality. Within that experience, problems are identified.
The first mindset shift comes from acknowledging that the problems our customers face happen in a context—not with an isolated “I need to solve this problem” focus. While customer journey maps have evolved primarily as a tool for improving experiences, the perspective they force you into is a powerful one for identifying the right problems to solve and being outside-in as a product manager.
An example from the business-to-consumer space—the customer does not start an online shopping experience by searching for the desired product. The customer starts an experience by recognizing the need to purchase a new product because of what they are doing and where that product is needed.
Someone doesn’t just start out saying “I need an ultraportable laptop.” Or even, “I need something that lets me take notes during a lecture.” The journey starts with “I’m going to college and need tools to help me learn more and get better grades.”
If you start with the laptop (an inside-out view), you’ll never consider a pen that digitizes the notes you take on paper while making an audio recording of the lecturer. You’ll give your customer a thing instead of a solution.
There is even more opportunity to differentiate yourself as a product manager if you apply these principles in a business-to-business-to-consumer environment (B2B2C). Focus on your (B) customers, yes, but also focus on their (C) customers. For example, if you sell point-of-sale systems to gas stations, think about the experience for their customers—and how you can make that better.