How are product teams approaching remote work and collaboration in 2021?
As product managers, we’ve all heard the adage that if Henry Ford had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse. And if he’d listened, the Model T might have been designed to gallop in exchange for carrots.
In all seriousness, you can expect that any mention of Ford or horses in product management circles are the opening notes of a clarion call to banish focus groups and user research, break out your black turtleneck and dad jeans, and GO BUILD SOMETHING TRULY GREAT.
PMs who rely solely on gut intuition to make product decisions (just to maintain the self-image of a lone wolf product genius) are setting themselves up to waste thousands of hours developing products and features that no one wants or needs.
The Henry Ford camp peddles a false dichotomy — that either we can go build exactly what our users ask for, or we can lock ourselves in a room with a whiteboard, stack of post-its, a crate of Soylent, and commence innovating.
There’s a third alternative here. We can get out of the building, listen to our users, work to uncover their underlying needs, then assume our responsibility as PMs of guiding our teams toward the best possible solution for the functional and emotional needs we’ve identified.
Get out of the building, listen to users, work to uncover their underlying needs, then assume our responsibility as PMs of guiding our teams toward the best possible solution for the functional and emotional needs we’ve identified.
Why are people asking for a faster horse (solution idea)?
In the short run, some of these needs might best be addressed with an automobile, but others might actually be better addressed with, well… a faster (or fancier) horse.
What’s more, the needs voiced by users dictate what feature set our solution would need to have in the short-term—and long-term—to win new adopters. For example, if a core need of one segment of potential horse owners is to razzle-dazzle others with their skills and status, it might not be such a bad thing if the v1 Model T were extremely expensive and demanded significant expertise to operate. This barrier to entry could actually compel them to adopt the automobile as a way of impressing others.
So in short, asking users what they need does not mean you’ll blindly build whatever solution ideas they offer you. Your primary goal is to sleuth out underlying needs a novice PM would have missed at first glance, and this is where the masterful technique comes in. We’re all pretty bad at identifying our own needs, and even then, might not be willing to admit (even to ourselves) that our core need in horse ownership is to razzle-dazzle others.
It’s hard for PMs to tease out these details, but productboard CEO Hubert Palan has a priceless tip for you. Without further ado, here’s how you can help users lock on to their own needs and willingly explain them to you:
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