Excerpt from “A Beginner’s Guide to Lean Practices and Lean Startup Methodology”

Here’s an excerpt from an article I wrote for General Assembly on skills needed for lean teams.


Skills for Lean Teams

Not all teams are able to function in a lean environment. Some companies have a lot of necessary risk they need to mitigate that generates a need for more process, documentation, and predictability. But for those who are able to cut out unnecessary process, there are a few skills that can be beneficial.

Be comfortable with change.

Since the idea of lean is to adjust based on learning, teams can only function leanly if they aren’t married to their ideas or dogmatic in their processes. This is why lean practitioners love simple tools like whiteboards and sticky notes — what they write or draw on them only takes a few moments to create, and that content is so easy to erase or throw away that it helps keep emotional distance from the idea. That way, they can determine honestly whether they’ve proven or disproved their hypothesis.


Read the rest on General Assembly’s site: https://generalassemb.ly/business/product-management/lean-methodology-and-lean-startup

When Customer Feedback Leads, Positive Metrics Follow

It’s an inarguable fact: Metrics are useful. But they’re missing something—they don’t tell you the whole story. Quantitative metrics can tell you that a problem exists, but they can’t tell you what exactly the problem is or why it exists. Product managers are often tasked with increasing KPIs on their products, but they can’t do that by simply analyzing numeric data on its own.

To uncover the full story, it’s up to product managers to gather and interpret customer feedback and reveal what the metrics can’t—why the KPIs are changing (or not). In other words, you have to gather qualitative data.

Peel Back the Layers of Customer Feedback

Customer feedback has several layers. As I’ve learned over time in talking to customers, it’s often not about what people say, but rather what they don’t say. For example, when customers are struggling to accomplish their goals in your product, they will often come to you with specific solutions as how to solve the problem. It would be easy to take that one piece of feedback, add it to the roadmap and implement it directly as described. But it’s important to understand that people’s solutions are often based on their own personal preference or point of view, and that may not align with your entire customer base.

If you implement only one new tactic this year, make it this: Get out of the office and observe your customers using your product. That is the only way you will truly be able to figure out the true nature of your customers’ problems, why they exist, and how to solve them. Schedule an interview or user test with a new customer once a week (or at least every two to three weeks), and dig deep into the issues you discovered while reviewing your metrics.

It’s in these user tests that you are able to see problems occur in their natural environment. Your customers will show you their workarounds. They will tell you stories about how they “make do” using other products. You will observe their frustration as they try to do something your product doesn’t allow, or as they get confused about what to do next.

Proving That the Problem is Real

Since customers tend to start out by telling you the solutions they want, getting to the bottom of the problem is not always as straightforward as we’d like. Thankfully, there are three rules that can help you navigate the conversation to get you the answers you need.

1. Look to answer the four W’s.

In this case, the four W’s we are referring to are Who, What, Where and Why.

– Who has the problem? Which customer group are you really focused on? Most products have more than one persona. Thus, it’s important that you understand which persona you’re speaking to.

– What is the nature of the problem? You want to get to the point where you can explain the problem simply, preferably in one to two sentences. Additionally, you need to be able to communicate to your team how you know that this particular customer is experiencing this particular problem. So, ask your customer to walk through the product and make note of where they get stuck.

– Where does the problem arise, or in what context do your customers experience the problem? When you work to come up with a solution, you’ll want to make sure you do so in the areas your customers are most negatively affected.

– Why is the problem worth solving? Is this problem affecting a large portion of your customer base? And if so, what does the problem mean for your brand, revenue and trust in your product.

2. Avoid asking leading questions

Leading questions will get you the answers you want, but may not get you the answers you need. They are questions that tell the listener the answer you want them to give you.

Generally speaking, there are two ways to spot leading questions. The first indication is that the question can be answered with a yes or no. These closed questions seem pretty harmless, but they tend to be asked with a tone that puts emphasis on either the ‘yes’ or the ‘no’, thereby giving the listener the indication as to which you want them to say. The second indicator of leading questions is that they tend to have a solution in the question, e.g.“Would you use product X more if it had feature Y?”

3. Seek to disprove your assumptions

When building products, we make assumptions regarding what we believe to be true about our product and our customers. It’s appealing to try and confirm that we’re right, but when going out and talking to customers, you’ll actually get to the bottom of problems (whether or not they are real and worth solving) much more easily if you try to prove yourself wrong. Ultimately, this will help you avoid trying to solve the wrong, or less important, problems.

In your interviews, the first step is to avoid bias in your questions. Particularly Confirmation Bias, which happens when you (possibly unconsciously) interpret what your customer says and does in a way that confirms your preconceptions. This also shows up when you only ask questions based on what you expect to see. Additionally, you should watch out for Diagnosis Bias, which is when you form an initial impression and are then not open to other possibilities, either based on your initial assumptions or based on something that happens early on in the user test.

Secondly, ask questions to get an opposite answer than what you think to be true. So, if you believe a feature is good, ask your question in a way that will help you to determine how it could be bad. “If feature X fails, what are your workarounds?”

Back to the Beginning—Turning Feedback Into Metrics

As I said in the beginning, quantitative metrics can tell you that there is a problem, but they won’t tell you what that problem is or why it exists; qualitative data is how we get real understanding. But when it comes to measuring whether or not we truly solved the problem we set out to solve, it’s important that we bring it back to numbers. So as you decide on product changes based on what you learned,ensure that those changes are measurable by the KPIs you set out to change.

As your customers experience your solution, your metrics will adjust to reflect the impact of your changes. If you’ve made changes that truly solve the problem, you’ll see a positive impact in your metrics. If you missed the mark, as sometimes happens, your numbers will show that too. Either way, this step is really just taking you back to the beginning, as this is an ongoing feedback loop.

As product managers, we need to constantly evaluate our product and repeat this cycle over and over: Review metrics to discover where to focus our time, talk to customers to understand the true nature of their problems, and then measure whether or not our changes had a positive or negative impact (and by how much).

Metrics are the beginning and end of the story. They indicate to you that you need to change something, and they tell you when you can move your focus to something else. But in the middle, getting quality customer feedback is essential to making decisions that will move your metrics in the direction that will positively impact your customers and business. More importantly, those conversations lead to solid understanding of your customer. And understanding your customer and their needs is what leads to increased metrics all-around, no matter what conversion metric you measure.

 

So while metrics are incredibly important, don’t forget that you have humans using your product. In the words of Harvard Professor Youngme Moon, “If we pay attention to things that we can measure, we will only pay attention to the things that are easily measurable. And in the process we will miss a lot.” We miss the human experience.

 

So, what customer will you interview this week?

 

Article originally published in Mind the Product

Random Musings From the Road – Leg 7

LEG 7: PORTLAND TO SEATTLE

1. I was kind of disappointed. There was no “Welcome to Washington” sign. On the bridge on I-5, it just said “Entering Washington” on a small green sign. I wanted to be welcomed!

2. Two days ago, I mentioned that I’d be curious to see what littering signs work best. Washington’s is kind of funny: Litter and it will hurt.  I read that one as “Litter and I will END YOU”.

3. There are Three Copper Monuments on the side of the road. They were pretty random. Apparently they are paying tribute to Mother Theresa, victims of the Holocaust, and American Indians.

4. This is the first leg where I didn’t worry about running out of gas because I couldn’t find a gas station. I was in some pretty remote areas on this trip, but the journey from Portland to Seattle was very urban. So there were gas stations along the whole trip. Less stressful.

5. A couple of times there was this sign that said “Entering to away zone. No parking next [number] miles.” So… you can park on an interstate in Washington? Cars are always towed if they are left on the interstate and not claimed in a three days. I don’t get it.

6. I saw them in one other state too, but today on I-5 I saw “Speedometer Check” sections. I was curious as to how these would work, so I looked up the directions. Okay, so it’s Yahoo Answers, but the response makes sense. That being said, it seems like a lot of work. And yet, states are worried about texting while driving.

7. West coast states like to use “city center” rather than downtown.

8. I-5 rest stops are interesting. Charities work with DOT to schedule time where they bring donated goods including coffee, brownies, granola, and tea and then give those treats to visitors for free. But then they ask for donations in return. I asked if they come out ahead and it seems that because all of the goods are donated and then they keep the donated cash, they do. Like I said, interesting.

9. Just over a hill approaching exit 156 was when the city first appeared in my sights. It was amazing!! Yay!!

Random Musings From the Road – Leg 6

LEG 6: PENDLETON, OR TO PORTLAND

1. I drove along the Columbia River from Pendleton to Portland. I am so glad I stopped last night rather than driving straight through. I would have been so disappointed if I had missed the sights along the river. Seriously awesome. There was a lot of brown, but I wonder what it would look like if it was spring/summer and it was all green? I really can’t say it strongly enough, the drive was amazing. Congrats Oregon, you win.

2. There’s also a tree farm along the interstate. It was interesting to me to see all of these trees lined up perfectly in straight lines and all the same heights. Especially since it went on for about ten miles. Hey, I’m easily intrigued.

3. Falling Rocks, Fallen Rocks and Rocks. Three different signs to talk about the danger of rocks. It made me wonder, how do they choose which one to use? Also, if they choose Fallen Rocks, how do they know that rocks will fall in future to install this permanent street sign written in the past tense? Seems like the sign installers have some psychic abilities.

4. Also, for the first time in all the times I’ve seen those types of signs, I actually saw rocks falling.

5. I passed three dams in the journey. All of them are very patriotic. I had no idea that intercontinental dams represented our country so proudly.

6. There’s a part of WB I-84 around mile marker 95 where there is water on both sides of the roadway. It’s kind of like you’re driving in the river.

7. Diverting onto Historic US-Highway 30 to see the waterfalls was totally worth it.

8. Deschutes Brewery in Portland has a very tasty selection right now. And their food was really good. I’d recommend.

Random Musings From the Road – Leg 5

LEG 5: SALT LAKE CITY TO PENDLETON, OR

1. Idaho smells. Seriously. The entire state smells like animals. I noticed the stench before I even saw an animal. And it lasted through the entire drive.

2. I noticed when I got to Idaho a sign that says “Idaho is too great to litter.” All the other states just listed a fine for littering. The economist in me really wants to do or see if there is a study that reveals whether the statements about fines or the statement appealing to state beauty is more effective.

3. I stopped in Twin Falls to grab lunch and see a famous bridge. Apparently its a very popular bridge to BASE jump off of. I was actually pretty disappointed when I didn’t see any BASE jumpers. The bridge is over a canyon and Snake River. Very pretty. Also, the people of Twin Falls decided to put a golf course at the bottom of the canyon and a strip mall at the top of it. Take that, Arizona. Your canyon doesn’t have a golf course and a strip mall. #justsayin

4. I saw a traveler from Michigan. Someone else making a long cross country trip too!

5. Apparently all of Oregon is full service gas stations. Personally, I find full service gas stations annoying. Especially when they leave your car and forget about you.

6. Oregon has a rest area attached to Deadman Pass. I didn’t stop at that one. Would you?

7. I-84 mostly follows the Oregon Trail. So, which do you want to do? Ford the river or caulk the wagon and float?

Random Musings From the Road – Leg 4

LEG 4: DENVER TO SALT LAKE CITY

1. Decided to visit Great Divide Brewing while in Denver. Good beer. Not so good neighborhood. I was actually more nervous walking to this brewery than I was walking in Detroit. Needless to say, I didn’t walk back.

2. Visited Root Down for dinner. Had the Butternut Squash Risotto and a complete foodgasm. Seriously, it was a spectacular blend of flavors and was cooked absolutely perfectly. I really wish they could ship me some on a weekly basis.

3. Upon returning to my hotel room, I discovered that it smelled of pot. Way to make the most of your trip fellow travelers.

4. Episode #10 of Serial dropped!

5. The drive through Wyoming was absolutely beautiful. Seeing that scenery is one of the reasons I love road tripping so much.

6. Wyoming gas is expensive. So are their oil changes. And why is regular unleaded grade 85 out here and plus is 87? On the east, regular unleaded is always 87.

7. One of the rest stops warned me to beware of rattlesnakes. Thinking they should have told me that before I stopped there.

8. Utah. Can’t say I ever thought I would visit. But here I am. I stopped at a rest stop to walk around for awhile (sitting was starting to get to me). And a nice man saw me pacing and texting and asked if I was alright. Thank you nice man for checking on me!

9. Driving through the Utah mountains is nicer than the West Virginia mountains. However, there are a couple of curious things. First, apparently there is frequent wildlife crossing on the interstate? Seems like the wildlife doesn’t understand that getting hit at 80mph isn’t awesome. Second, the road is between the side of a mountain and a concrete barrier. The barrier is constructed from those triangle shaped blocks that seemed to be used as temporary dividers during construction. I am really hoping that they were permanently attached to the road in some way because it seems like if you were going fast enough and ran into them, they’d easily get pushed over the side of the mountain and then so would you.

10. Utah has the grossest bathrooms.

11. Park City, Utah looks like an REI on the side of a mountain.

12. Seriously, can someone please send me some of that risotto?

Random Musings From the Road – Leg 3

LEG 3: KANSAS CITY TO DENVER

1. Why do gas stations have stickers on the pumps saying they don’t take checks? Is there really a demand for people paying with checks? I mean, even in the last ten years has there been a demand for people paying for gas with checks?

2. Between you and me, I love turnpikes. Yup, that’s right. I don’t even care that they cost money. I love that they have less traffic, easy on/off services, and no potholes. There are people out there who detest that they are toll roads and thus, refuse to drive on them. I, on the other hand, welcome their overarching hatred. It just leaves more open road for me.

3. Off the expressway in eastern Kansas is Fort Riley, I could actually see all of the tanks and military helicopters and things. I don’t think I’ve ever seen inside of a base before so it was kinda cool to me. Most of the ones I’ve driven past before have high walls around them.

4. Kansas is a tease. I went into it thinking that it was going to very boring and flat and a struggle to get through. Like Ohio. But then I started out on the eastern side with the turnpike (yay!) and transitioned into some not-so-flat landscapes. It all looked like a very promising day. I was excited thinking Kansas was going to surprise me. But no, then it went unbelievably flat and utterly boring.

5. The World’s Largest Ball of Twine is in Kansas. I saw it. It was the highlight of that stretch of driving. #sad

6. Driving across the country has made me realize how incredibly unoriginal we are with city names. Manhattan, Kansas anyone? How about Minneapolis, Kansas?

7. What’s with all the Pizza Huts in Kansas?

8. The wind farms in eastern Colorado are prettier than all the oil drills in Kansas.

9. I finished listening to Think Like a Freak on this leg and the authors economically confirmed my saying “Quit if its not any fun“. Happy I now have validation. Thanks guys.

10. 75 mph interstates. Yay!

Final thoughts… Avoid driving the width of Kansas if possible. If not possible, drive 75 mph and hurry through.

Random Musings From The Road – Leg 2

LEG 2: NASHVILLE TO KANSAS CITY

1. There was a traffic jam on I-24 in Nashville, so I detoured up US-431 out of the city. Super cute little town. I stand by my previous post: Get off the expressway when you can. You never know what you will see.

2. I have previously suggested to Apple that they need to add a feature to Maps that lets you have a start and end point, but where you can detour off of the route if you want to go to Starbucks or something. Basically, it would search for Starbucks’ along the route. Well, they haven’t added that feature yet, but I did find an app that was made just for this purpose. It’s called TripStop. It’s a fairly nice app that I think accomplishes the job well. My only constructive feedback would be that I think the input boxes could be made bigger so they are more easily tappable while driving. Also, if no results return, it would be nice if it let you know how far you would have to go to find the thing you are looking for.

3. There’s a road in Paducah, TN called Husband Road. I wonder what happens on that road that someone came up with that name?

4. Whatever happened to The Dave Matthews Band? One of their songs came on and I realized I haven’t heard about them in a little while.

5. Holy shit its cold up north. I did not plan well for this.

6. Panera Bread is known as St. Louis Bread Company in St. Louis. Other than people who live there, I suppose, who knew?

7. Rest stops can be a bit creepy when they are empty except for some truckers and it’s dark outside. I almost locked both doors while I was in there. But then I remembered I kickbox. I could take ’em, right?

8. Facebook recently updated their app and it’s killing my battery. Ugh.

9. St. Louis is quite a sleepy town. But they have a really big arch.

 

All in all, a pretty uneventful day.

Random Musings From The Road – Leg 1

LEG 1: CHARLOTTE TO NASHVILLE

I’m road tripping by myself again and a new friend suggested that I blog about it. I, of course, said no as I’m not a writer. But as Day 1 of my trip went on, I had random thoughts about things I was seeing but no one to share them with. Since I’ve been doing fairly okay with these list posts as of late, I decided to note my random thoughts and scribe them for you all at the end of each leg of my trip.

So, on my journey from Charlotte to Nashville, here’s what popped up:

1. I drove through the Smoky Mountains and they were actually smoking. Since the name really comes from the fact that they have a lot of fog, it was funny to me when I came upon actual smoke in the mountains. Someone must have been burning something. Still funny.

2. New Mexico has a very bright yellow license plate.

3. There’s a river that I passed three times called French Broad River. The first time I saw it I read it as French Bread River. My version was tastier.

4. Harriman, Tennessee encountered it’s very first traffic accident today. I know this to be true because I made a pit stop there and came upon the one car fender bender. On the shoulder. On the other side of the road. Meaning out the flow of traffic. Since all of the cars in front of me were completely debilitated and refused to drive, I’ve concluded that they were clearly in awe of this accident and it must be the first they’ve ever seen.

5. I’m listening to an audiobook that is based in Australia and focuses heavily on elementary school. It brings up their school year and the fact that they break in December. So I looked it up and Australia’s summer break is mid-December through January. Thus, it includes Christmas and New Years. Obviously it completely makes sense since their seasons are opposite that of the U.S., it just hadn’t occurred to me.

6. If I had lots of money I would buy billboard advertising like the “God” ones that have more generic inspirational quotes. Like: “Be kind. Seriously. Just be kind.”

7. I really should do a better job at contributing to online reviews. I use them often and should really give back.

8. There are, in fact, official road signs that tell you you’re entering a new time zone. Always wondered about that.

What Facebook got wrong with the Messenger switch

I read an article recently where Mark Zuckerberg explained why Facebook made the switch to two separate apps. His reasoning was that the best apps are singularly focused and splitting the apps in two allows Facebook to build a better experience for users. By having both News Feed and Messenger together, there was friction for users; to quickly respond to a message they had to first wait for News Feed to load. Personally, I think these are reasonable reasons to make the switch. But even so, I have yet to download Messenger. The problem with the launch was not that Facebook split the apps, it was how they went about it. After thinking about it a bit, I feel like they really made three clear failures.

1. Facebook thought their competitors in this case were other messaging apps. Facebook believed that they were competing here with SMS, SnapChat, WhatsApp and others. But really, their biggest competition was themselves. Users were used to a product being one way and didn’t complain about it. Messenger has been out for several years and was barely a blip in the messaging app pool. Users didn’t have a need for it. Facebook provided the feature in their main app and did so in a way that met user needs. So to make the switch, users are now being asked to do more work than they did previously for something they didn’t ask for nor want. And the ask was done without providing any additional value.

2. Messages wasn’t removed from the main Facebook app. Facebook wants users to use Messenger. They have big monitization plans for it. Because of this, they left the tab in the app to remind everyone, “Messenger exists! Go download it!” But again, it’s a negative message because when a friend messages you, the badge sits there and taunts and reminds you that Facebook is making you do more work.

3. Messages is a required feature in Facebook the service. So friends can message you there whether you want them to or not. You can turn off chat on desktop, but it doesn’t actually stop friends from messaging you. Because of this, you can’t choose to not take part in this service. So again, we’re back to that taunting badge.

 

I think Facebook has the right idea and downloading a second focused app is not that big of a deal. Additionally, I think Facebook can fix this. Here’s what I would recommend.

1. Make Facebook messaging a separate opt-in feature that uses Facebook login and friends lists. That way, friends can be warned, “Hey, you can’t message this person. They haven’t opted-in.” This should not just apply to mobile, but across all of Facebook. If friends are using it, there will be enough peer pressure to opt-in. There is a real life example that shows this tactic works. It’s called Facebook.

2. Provide real value with messaging that can’t be found in all of the competition. It’s not just about chatting. What makes Facebook messaging different? What need is not being met that Facebook can provide? It might be as simple as connecting with your friend list, but it may also be more complicated like the ability to share files, group chat, or send money.

3. Remove the messages tab from the Facebook app. Seriously, it’s just taunting users. And for the ones who are mad about the change, it just makes us more mad and resolute.