In this interactive AMA session for Prioritised members, C Todd Lombardo, author and VP of Product at Machine Metrics, discusses how performing effective user research can minimise the impact of bad product decisions.
Watch the recording in its entirety or read on for the highlights, including:
- Why we make bad product decisions
- Doing the right product research
- Product research for small, medium, and large companies
- Creating a product solution
- Effective product research whilst remote
Why we make bad product decisions
C Todd begins the session by explaining that product managers make bad product decisions due to a combination of ego and imperfect data. “We [product managers] love our ideas so much that we want to see them come to life,” he says, and explains that it’s common for teams to want an idea to occur based on initial validation “it’s not a bad thing, but product teams often hang onto the emotion of an idea that they overcome the reality of whether it might be successful.”
Doing the right product research
To start with, says C Todd, you must understand the specific issues at play to avoid making bad decisions. Are you seeing a pattern of issues arising among customers? Are they going elsewhere to use a different product to fulfil their needs?
He explains that spending time with customers and understanding their challenges and needs will help you to identify where the opportunities lie, ask the right questions, and narrow the focus on what you need to address. And what if you don’t have all the answers at your disposal? C Todd’s advice – use small findings to spark and stimulate an ongoing conversation with customers.
To understand issues raised, he adds, you will need to look at both the qualitative and quantitative data at your disposal. Typically, product managers tend to be either trained in solely qualitative data or quantitative data and quantitative data alone may not tell you why an issue is arising (although it will help to identify areas to address). Learning and developing an understanding of both forms can help you to utilise the strengths of both data types.
Research collaboration for companies large and small
It’s important to involve as many people as possible in product research. However, some teams don’t understand the value if they haven’t been involved in it before. Understanding teams’ attitude towards research, and tailoring your response to their reasoning is key, C Todd says. “Everyone has a different opinion on the value of research, but simply inviting people along with excitement and enthusiasm goes a long way. The majority of the time, people show up, and sometimes they even ask a question, which is great.”
Overall, showcasing the importance of product research to C-suite board-level members requires changing the mindset in collaboration, C Todd believes. “If your product is at the scaling level, it’s important to ensure that the customer outcome and business impact are always combining to convince CEOs to get on board with customer research,”
Next, C Todd highlights user research issues and solutions for companies small, medium, and large:
Research in small companies
In small teams of two or three individuals working on a product, C Todd explains how collaboration is imperative. “Prioritisation and working together is incredibly important for smaller organisations. You must always be asking and answering direct questions that push initiatives forward. Smaller teams are usually restrained with resources so they need to ensure that they’re working on the right things,” he says.
Moreover, C Todd believes that the shared analysis of research is important. This prevents smaller teams from getting separated in their conclusions and assumptions when they commence user research.
Research in medium companies
For medium-sized companies with marketing and customer success teams, product managers may not receive the most impactful insights from other areas in the business. To solve this, C Todd believes that product teams should work and communicate directly with customers. However, these meetings have to have a goal, “What do you want to get out of those meetings? If you don’t have an objective, then then you won’t accomplish anything,” he says.
Research in large companies
Asked if product managers in large companies should do their separate research, C Todd stresses the importance of an ongoing organisational conversation. Encourage user experience and research teams to focus on bigger picture topics, he says. If there aren’t autonomous cross-functional teams who have insights, then they won’t know what to build. Once they have that ultimate scope, teams can act as coaches for product managers to do their individual research projects.
If teams are working in a cross-functional way, everyone can contribute towards product decision through various areas of research. Doing so will enable a succinct end goal and consequently, more effective solutions.
Creating a product solution
Once you have the right amount of customer research, you then have to articulate what the solution should be. The problem with research is that the customers you interview aren’t trained to know the answer to their issues. C Todd believes you must filter what the customer says to find the best possible solution. He used a late train example to further elaborate on his point:
If you’re worrying about whether a train will arrive on time, there is a board showing its arrival time. Nobody was interviewed and suggested a countdown timer to reduce anxious thoughts,” he says. Train companies served that need of clarity but no one told them to do that. C Todd says, “That’s the kind of insight you should be working towards — synthesising your research into filling a need.”
There is value in understanding that the job of product managers is to bring together the insight that we gain from customer research. Using knowledge and experience to create those solutions is key. But you can’t create that solution if you don’t have continuous conversations with customers and build answers through marketing and effective messaging to users.
Effective product research whilst remote
The Coronavirus pandemic has caused many product teams to rethink their customer research strategies. Many, he says, are now using video and audio software such as Otter.ai to record interviews. For C Todd, this has helped him to codify and closely listen again for things he might have missed.
What’s more, he believes that some people feel more inclined to overshare information because you’re not in the room with them. He says “Being remote can sometimes be advantageous, especially when you can access people across different time zones and locations.”