Why are the problems customers bring us not the ones we should solve?
Recently someone asked me about a time tracking tool. He argued that his employees were working too slowly and wanted to better control what they spend their time on.
After a few questions, it turned out that people in this company were working on several initiatives simultaneously, switching contexts many times a day.
I realized that in those conditions, it was impossible to focus on deep work.
The problem was not the employees but the organizational culture. Putting pressure on employees would only worsen the situation.
The same is with product management.
Problems our customers bring us are not the ones we should solve
Over the years, people learned to hide their vulnerabilities. The more complex the problem, the less likely they will look beyond the symptoms.
In my experience, an interview with a customer resembles a visit to a doctor. People can quickly tell us what hurts them, but they rarely can make a diagnosis, let alone propose treatment.
To be successful, try the following approach:
1. Do not take simple explanations and solutions at face value
Be skeptical. People rarely reveal their actual problems. They also commonly do not understand the motives for their behavior. They make decisions influenced by emotions and rationalize them later. It is always good to assume that there are hidden layers.
Since customers cannot look at the problem objectively, the proposed solutions usually fail to address the root cause.
2. Do not let customers generalize
Opinions are too biased. When interviewing customers, ask about specific situations and operate on facts.
- Tell me about the last time you had that problem.
- What happened next?
- Did someone help you (there may be a protagonist)?
- Did you solve it? How exactly? What tools, techniques, or workarounds did you use?
3. Keep asking “Why” until you get to the root cause of a problem
Ask why this happened. Don’t be satisfied with the first answer. My favorite technique is 5 Why:
How To Solve Almost Any Problem With Toyota’s 5 Whys Approach?
The simplest solution is almost always the best. Toyota has taught us how to easily get to the bottom of the problems…
4. Focus on your customers
Focus on your customers. It’s about them, not you. Acknowledge their feelings, fears, ambitions, and desires.
- Why is it a problem for you?
- How does it influence your job?
- How does it impact your personal goals, life, and plans?
- How do you feel about that?
- What will the long-term consequences be if that doesn’t change?
- What would change in your life if you solved this?
- Why do you want to solve it now?
- Why do you want to solve this problem, not others?
The bad product teams only care about the requirements. Good product teams ask Why and focus on the problem. Great product teams always assume there are hidden layers. They are obsessed with a thorough understanding of customer pains, needs, and desires. They don’t accept superficial answers.
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