Walk a Mile in Their Shoes by Egan Cheung "Product people - Product managers, product designers, UX designers, UX researchers, Business analysts, developers, makers & entrepreneurs September 09 2020 True Empathy, ProductTank, ProductTank San Francisco, Mind the Product Mind the Product Ltd 509 Egan Cheung speaking at ProductTank San Francisco 2 Product Management 2.036

Walk a Mile in Their Shoes by Egan Cheung


In this ProductTank San Francisco talk, Egan Cheung  – Director of Product at Shopify, shares thoughts on how fostering empathy helps us all build better products and become better leaders.

Watch the video* to see the talk in full, or read on for an overview of his key points:

  • Why empathy is a critical skill
  • Helping users adopt change
  • How empathy can help you become a better leader

*We apologize for the sound issue for the first 1 minute 30 seconds of this video.

Why Empathy Is a Critical Skill

Egan begins by looking at some of the critical skills and related traits that Product Managers need to be successful in their role. For example, as well as a deep understanding of the industry, Product Managers should have deep customer knowledge, business knowledge and be an undisputed Product expert. However, he says it’s important to him when hiring that he can see that candidates have empathy.

Product Managers are often bought into the brand promise of the organization they are part of and are trying to solve problems their customers face today but also committing to solving future problems they are yet to experience.

As a product manager, Egan continues, if you don’t have empathy with your users it is impossible to understand the impact your product decisions will have on them. If you don’t appreciate the context in which your customers are using your product, you will likely not see adoption or engagement.

Helping Users Adopt Change

As much as you might be eager to ship lots of new features, says Egan, your customers might not agree. People are naturally resistant to change so if your product has a large user base who rely on the stability and consistency of your product, suddenly changing the way they experience it could impact their ability to complete the jobs they are trying to do.

With many product organizations switching to continuous delivery workflows and aiming to ship code on a daily basis, Egan explains that it’s important to clearly communicate planned releases whilst understanding the impact these changes have on user experience.

How Empathy Can Help You Become a Better Leader

As well as empathizing with your users it’s important to understand your stakeholders, from finance executives needing to know the ROI of your product decisions, to sales managers wanting to know how your latest release helps them land deals.  When it comes to team leadership, empathy often means having people’s best interests at heart and providing candid feedback.

Key Takeaways

The key things to take away from the talk are that, as a Product Manager, you need to make time to understand your customers and the context in which they are using your product. Suggestions include making site visits, pairing up with your support team regularly and speaking to strangers to help practice fostering empathy.

Building empathy with your stakeholders is just as important as building empathy with users. And, you should be mindful when making changes to your product, no matter how good your intentions are.