Continuous Interviewing: The Key to Successful Product Teams

I work as a product discovery coach and I love it.

What that means is that I work with dozens of teams at several companies spanning many industries. I coach each team for three months, working with them virtually week over week.

During that time, we focus on developing their research and critical thinking skills to connect their research activities to their product decisions. The goal is to find the quickest path to driving measurable product outcomes. Some of the activities we work on together include conducting customer interviews, running sound product experiments, and building rapid prototypes.

It’s a lot of fun. I enjoy what I do and the teams that I work with get a lot out of it.

In my time as a coach, I’ve noticed an interesting pattern amongst the teams that I work with. There’s a habit that once teams develop it, the rest of their continuous discovery practices fall into place.

If you aren’t familiar with the concept of a keystone habit, it comes from Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.

Duhigg argues, “Keystone habits start a process, that over time, transforms everything.”

They are habits that, once adopted, drive the adoption of other habits.

For most people, exercise is a keystone habit. When we exercise regularly, we naturally tend to eat better, we have more energy, and so we are more productive at work.

I’ve noticed this exact pattern emerge amongst many of the teams that I coach.

When a product team develops a weekly habit of customer interviews, they don’t just get the benefit of interviewing more often, they also start rapid prototyping and experimenting more often. They do a better job of connecting what they are learning from their research activities with the product decisions they are making.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and writing about the topic of continuous interviewing, and I’d like to share some of the highlights here. If any topic catches your interest, I’d encourage you to click on the link to read the full version of the original blog post.

Overall interview best practices

  • Are you just getting started with customer interviewing? Or perhaps you’ve done it for a while and haven’t been very satisfied with the results? “How to Talk to Your Customers Despite Henry Ford and Steve Jobs” covers some common customer interview pitfalls and offers advice on how to approach and frame customer interviews for maximum success.
  • You can ask the best set of interview questions in the world, but it won’t mean anything until you learn how to listen. Active listening is a skill that doesn’t come naturally to many of us. The good news is it can be taught. Check out “How to Develop Your Active Listening Skills” to learn more.
  • Your interview subjects may not realize it, but they’re deceiving you. It’s not intentional, it’s just that certain types of questions let people answer with their ideal version of themselves rather than a realistic portrayal of their everyday behavior. The best way to get to the bottom of this? You’ll find out in “Ask About the Past Rather Than the Future.”

Specific interviewing skills

Advanced approaches to interviewing

  • As product people, we need to balance our need for gathering information with the time we have available to conduct interviews and synthesize what we learn from them. This is why I’m a proponent of the “ladder of evidence” technique. It helps you ensure that you’re maximizing the value you get from your interviews in the time you have available to you. Read “The Ladder of Evidence: Get More Value from Your Customer Interviews and Product Experiments” to learn more.
  • If you’d really like to know what it’s like to adopt the continuous product discovery approach (beginning with conducting regular customer interviews), check out these case studies of two very different product managers I worked with at a large insurance company: “3 Best Practices for Adopting Continuous Product Discovery.”

Now that we’ve covered a lot of material related to customer interviews, I’d like to tie it all together by introducing a writer named Anders Ericsson. He studied the differences between experts and novices and summarized what he learned in the book Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise.

Ericsson argues that when it comes to developing skill, doing the skill over and over again only helps to improve your skill until it becomes automatic.

After that, if you want to improve, you need to focus on deliberate practice.

That’s why I’m excited to announce the Continuous Interviewing course that I’m launching this month. This course is designed to help you focus on the deliberate practice of improving your continuous interview skills. It includes short reading and video assignments and practice sessions with your peers. It’s designed to require no more than 90 minutes of your time each week for four weeks.

If you’d like to learn more about the course or sign up, you can do so here.