THE BLOG
07/30/2015 03:26 pm ET Updated Jul 28, 2016

Product Management Lessons: Focus on Your Customer in Every Meeting

Over the last few days, I have attended two meetings of more than two hours each. One was a road map planning with other Product Managers, and the other was meeting a customer/partner -- more of a distributor of our product.

In the road map meeting, it was almost 1 hour 50 minutes into the meeting when first concern of customer value was expressed. Well I could have brought it up, but I wanted to silently observe. All the road map items except the one which actually brought in the "customer" mention, were actually already decided by "management" team or an another internal team. To be fair, in all possibility they might have already figured out 'customer value'. Also, to be fair, many of these items are more about growth by expanding regions/customers served, so I can conclude that business expansion is more critical than customer satisfaction/value which apparently we have already achieved, and we are now aiming more for expansion.

But there are problems here - all employees, no matter who, need to be thinking about end consumer. If some other team has already evaluated, it needs to be known to all employees - at least the ones who are implementing. This is about transparency, communication, clarity and about empowerment.

All meetings should talk about end user, no matter how obvious it is. At times it is going to be uncomfortable - but there is no harm in emphasizing the users/customers. It is better than losing the focus.

And finally, during the road map discussion, effort needs to be brought into discussion along with value. Without this one can not accurately prioritize the features. Instead what ended up was a laundry list left to higher management to prioritize - who would prioritize based on the value or strategic importance ( may or may not considering end user value, but definitely not using effort).

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For the sake of simplicity, let's say our "partner" is our customer and end user is their customer, making our partner more of a distributor or middle man.

Second meeting was with one of our partners and was comparatively interesting. Our partnership/relationship/sales team constantly talked about "value" to our customer (partner), who did also bring up customer value or end user discussion couple of times. It was much earlier (around 1 hour mark) that this happened in contrast to earlier internal meeting.

It is easy to note that incentive pays a big role here - sales team is incentivized to create better deals for their clients and the organization. However it is difficult to measure product team's success without clear goals and ability to track them. Tracking a product's success along various angles such as revenue, increase in competitive space, increase in brand, user experience and many others are difficult because not all measures are quantifiable or measurable easily. For the ones that can be measured, it becomes difficult to attribute causes without further analysis or feedback seeking which costs money often times.

On the other hand, my other complaints about how products should be built, did surface in this meeting as well. Most of the product / business ideas were about 'build it they will come attitude' or based on the assumptions and lacked either consumer research or data or experimentation. The confidence boggles me regardless of the size of companies involved.

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And finally, one of my favorite Dilbert strips is found here:

Dilbert: We interviewed hundreds of users and turned all of their suggestions into features. As it turns out, every user we talked to was an idiot, and their dumb suggestions ruined our product. In hindsight, we probably should have talked to people who work outside this building.