In this closing keynote from #mtpcon San Francisco, product discovery coach Teresa Torres shares her insights on how product managers can co-create solutions with stakeholders and better manage expectations.
Teresa starts by pointing out that we all find comfort in getting the right answer. She points out that product managers typically advocate for their own point of view in meetings with stakeholders, and resist suggestions for change. When we’re asked to build something other than what we’ve suggested we complain to whoever will listen. It means that we create the problems we have with stakeholders. By only presenting the final answers we ask stakeholders to give their opinions about our answers, and not about our work, so it shouldn’t be surprising if they don’t agree with us.
It’s therefore critical to provide data, return on investment, and business cases with your answers. But the increased stakeholder engagement that comes with this means there is also an increased likelihood that you run into the trap of “mine vs yours” ideas, says Teresa. How do you engage in high-stakes conversations with stakeholders when there is “not one best idea”?
Co-Creating with Stakeholders
Teresa advises that product managers should share their thinking early on and evaluate options with stakeholders in order to learn, receive feedback, and leverage their expertise. This approach will allow for the co-creation of your best product ideas and buy-in from the beginning. In her 20 years in product management, she’s found that the biggest failing of product managers is their inability to bring stakeholders along because they want to show their solution is right the first time.
Opportunity Solution Tree
Teresa recommends a visual thinking tool: opportunity solution tree. It focuses on desired outcomes, opportunities and solutions.
- Desired Outcome – When working with stakeholders, start with business outcomes that create value for customers and businesses instead of outputs (features and functionality).
- Opportunities – It is a customer need, pain point, desire or the opportunity to intervene with your customer in a positive way.
- Solutions – As potential solutions are identified, then experiments can be planned.
The tool visually presents all of the options you could take and exposes the best path to reach the desired outcome.
Mistakes in Sharing Research With Stakeholders
Teresa shares four common mistakes that product managers make when involving stakeholders in the results of their customer research.
1. Record Interviews – Product managers email recordings of interviews to stakeholders. No one will listen to these.
2. Send out interview notes – Product managers write up their interview notes. No one will take the time to read them.
3. Prepare a Research Deck – Product managers prepare the perfect research deck. No one comes to their meetings.
4. Limit Research Sharing – Product managers only share research when it supports the argument they’re making. No one believes them, because everyone has their own anecdotal story to the contrary.
In summary, Teresa advises that product managers should align with stakeholders around the mutually desired outcomes by co-creating ideas together. Stop yourself fixating on the “right” answer, show work early on, and leverage valuable stakeholder expertise.