Webinar Series Part 1 of 4: Hey, What’s Your Problem?

In product management, we often get presented with solutions:

Sally wants to take a picture.
John needs to call a cab.

Unfortunately, simply building these solutions means we sometimes miss relieving real pain for our users.

At my current company, Globant, I’ve created a curriculum and workshop series to help clients and internal team members learn a different way of approaching product development. To get the word out, we created a four-part webinar series to illustrate what you might learn in the workshops. The first one, Hey, What’s Your Problem? discusses ways to approach product development by focusing on user problems.


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

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.

Review: Setting up Amazon’s Fire TV

As most people who know me are aware, I am an Apple girl. I love my Apple products, I love that they all connect, and I love that they are so unbelievably easy to use. I have an Apple TV, but Amazon Prime doesn’t have an Apple TV app. And as a cord cutter, I rely on internet television. So I shelled out the $99 to get higher video quality than airplaying from my iPad to Apple TV. It arrived today and I thought I’d go ahead and discuss my experience setting it up.

1. The package has a “hassle free promise” on it. I’d say, for the most part, that’s true. But I still needed a sharp object to slit the seam of the sticker holding it closed. And there was a plastic wrapping that was misleading on how it opened. Beyond that, hassle free.

2. Plugging in and connecting to my television was a breeze.

3. It found my network right away. They totally win with showing your password by default but giving you the option of hiding if you’d like. Good work there.

4. They FORCE YOU to watch a how-to video. This is by far my biggest pet peeve. If you have to tell me how to use it, you didn’t do your job right. Your product should be intuitive by default. Only help me if I need it or ask for it. When trying to skip passed the video by pressing buttons on the remote, I apparently hit the back button and ended up way back at the “set up your network” screen where I had to start all over. Total fail.

5. I didn’t have to set up my Amazon account on it. It already knew who I was. Clearly, because I purchased it through Amazon, they were able to match the serial number (or similar) to me and automatically log me in. BRILLIANT. The teeny bit of criticism I have on this is that they didn’t tell me they logged me in already, so I thought I had to go to settings and set up my account. It was there that I saw they already associated the unit with me. I think it would have been better if they made that obvious to me after setup was complete.

6. Getting a bit nit picky here, but I noticed that in settings, there is a “time” setting. I am in the eastern time zone, Amazon knows that, yet it defaulted to Pacific. It seems like if they set the Fire up just for me, they would have also set these other things according to where I am.

All in all it was very easy and I think Amazon did a good job. But details matter. And paying attention to those is what makes a product not just good, but great. Nonetheless, I’m excited to try it out!



Update 7.06.14: So even though I set up the Fire TV on the 5th, I didn’t actually attempt to use it until that weekend. That is when I found out that it wouldn’t actually play any video. After going back and forth with support for two weeks, they finally sent me another. The replacement did not set up as easily and I thought that I’d have to send the new device back as well, but after sitting plugged into my television for a week, it seemed to fix itself (don’t ask me how). Nonetheless, I am using it now and it works well. The interface is fairly good, but again, some details were forgotten. Overall, I think my $99 was spent well.

No Joy From Facebook’s “Paper”


So I downloaded Paper by Facebook the other day (aside: why they just didn’t name it “Facebook” I have no idea). I watched the icon fill in with anticipation and got really excited when “Loading” changed to “Paper”. Of course a bit of wind went out of my sails when I opened the app and immediately got a tutorial about the app’s features. I did my best to quickly dismiss all of that and get to the app, so I could discover the awesomeness that was supposed to exist within my four inch screen, but they kept following me. Everywhere I went within the app, there were more directions! They didn’t seem to stop. At this point, I’m not even certain if they ever do.

I’ve had a saying since I began building apps which is “If I have to tell you how to use it, I didn’t do my job right.” I love user tests. I love them because when we build products we’ll get feedback (generally on the pain points) but we don’t know all of the experiences people have with our products at every moment. So user tests give us the opportunity to see and hear the reactions in the moment. And the tests that validate why I do what I do are the ones where I get to watch people’s faces light up when they discover something new. It may not be something “innovative” or completely novel, but the feature or action was there when they needed it and the app did what they thought it should do with each interaction.

LukeW has a post about Just In Time Education with mobile design that concludes with “The trick to getting just in time education right is revealing useful information when people actually need it not when they don’t.” And functionally, I think that is spot on. But the thing that I kept thinking when using Paper was that its not any fun. When we talk about UX  we often talk about it from the perspective of helping a user get from one place to the next and complete a task, but I firmly believe we also need to talk about the amount of joy someone feels when they are doing that task. After every action, it seemed like, Paper kept telling me more and more about their features. Why? I ask you, Facebook, is your app so complicated that I wouldn’t be able figure it out? And to make it even worse, these instructions were in the form of a popup. That I had to dismiss. So they stopped me from doing the action I was trying to do, to tell me either how to do it, or how to do something else. I really just wanted to scream at this app “What, do you think I am an idiot, Facebook? Do you think I don’t know how to use my phone? Or that I don’t understand the concepts of Facebook? You’ve been around for ten years now. I think I get it. I read a post. I can like it, comment, or share. You didn’t fundamentally change that. You just changed the packaging around it. If your new app is any good, I’ll figure it out!!!” But if I had yelled that at the app, I suppose the people around me would have thought me insane. So I didn’t. Instead I quietly backgrounded Paper and went to Twitter.

So I guess the point here is that its important that we think about ease of doing tasks when building products, but its equally important to think about how people feel while doing the tasks. Apathy does not create promoters. Joy creates promoters. And as builders of products, we need to think about that with every decision we make – How much joy will this decision give or take away?