The World is Colorful, so why Shouldn’t our Users be? by Mirja Bester

BY Petra Wille ON NOVEMBER 19, 2018

Modern corporate culture is slowly coming to understand the benefits of highly diverse teams, stretching from gender to personality types. But where does product management stand with embracing that same diversity and complexity in our users?

At this year’s MTP Engage, product director at Xing, Mirja Bester, shared how she thinks that by taking the subject of diversity more seriously, product managers can help to increase their company’s business value.

Mirja introduced the “four layers of diversity” to the audience:

  • The outer layer describes organisational dimensions and is outside the scope of Mirja’s presentation
  • The second layer deals with external dimensions such as income, religion, personal habits, location, educational background.
  • Next comes internal dimensions like age, physical ability, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation.
  • In the center are personality dimensions – which can overwrite all other criteria. We can, for example, be completely like-minded with someone who grew up on the other side of the world, even if they score very differently on the other dimensions.

Mirja explained that product managers should be mindful of diversity for two reasons: they have a responsibility to include as many customers as possible and they have the opportunity to drive customer value through products that more people are likely to use because they fit their needs. Which, if done right, will mean more revenue.

To illustrate what could happen of you ignore diversity factors, Mirja introduced the “demographic twin” example of Prince Charles and Ozzy Osbourne. They could look the same to a product manager: both are white males, turning 70 this year, married with kids, and a high income. But would they really be drawn to the same product or would they use a product in the same way? If companies have a diversity blind spot, then their products may not be as successful as they have the potential to be.

For a product person then, there are good reasons to keep diversity in mind. But how to do so? Mirja walked the audience through her personal suggestions:

  1. Foster a diversity mindset in your team, because it’s easier for diverse teams to “think diversity” in their daily work:
    • Include Marketing or Sales more often in your day-to-day work. These colleagues can bring a broader view to the table.
    • Look at your team’s personalities and try to create diversity here.
    • Find people in your company that are different from those in your product/development team if you’re looking for new inputs.
  2. Initially dive deep:
    • Look at all layers of diversity while you are in discovery mode. It’s even possible to do personality tests with your customer base.
    • Talk to your customers and really have a wide-ranging conversation: You want to understand their backgrounds!
  3. Leave your home turf: Don’t just interview family/friends, look further than your company, industry, city – make an effort to go outside of that.
  4. Go incognito for a bit: Don’t reveal your brand – because customers will have bias towards your brand. You’ll get much more open feedback if you don’t let them know who is interviewing them.
  5. Quantify early: Whatever you think you’ll find out… don´t think you’ve got it all. Make sure you verify your findings with quantitative research and check if your research covers a diverse set of users.

Mirja wrapped up with the appeal that product managers must play a role in the diversity debate. We need to create diverse teams because that makes it easier to understand what divides and unites our customers.

About

Petra Wille

Petra Wille is an independent product management consultant and product discovery coach. She loves to help her customers build products and teams from scratch. Alongside her freelance work, Petra co-organizes and curates MTP Engage Hamburg and is always waiting for some windy days: she's a huge kite-surfing enthusiast.

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