What the heck is Customer Understanding anyway?

When we tell people that Panoptika is focused on Customer Understanding it sometimes seems to confuse them.  I guess that’s normal, as the current practice can be different depending on your organization.  When we talk a bit more a typical response is “Oh, you mean Business or Customer Intelligence?”, or even, “Market Research?”

curious kid

We’re not a big fan of the term Customer Intelligence…it kinda sounds like spying, doesn’t it? Your customer needs to know that you want to understand them so you can deliver products and services they want and need, as opposed to trying to seduce them into buying.

So let’s look at a few of the aspects of Customer Understanding that our clients have needed help with, and see if they resonate with you.

In the first example, do you understand where your product or service fits into your customers’ operations?  How and when they use it? If they use in in conjunction with other companies’ products?  What happens immediately before and after they use your product? If you don’t understand this, you may be missing out on opportunities for line extensions, improved pricing, or other value added services.

How can we help you get a better handle on all of this?  First, we help develop a roadmap you can use to walk the customer through their day, focusing on all their daily or weekly tasks, with them as the star of the story, rather than the product you sell.  The drawback to this is that often it tries to impose a linear sequence in jobs that are more convoluted.  It might be better to use an analogy, such as a Spider Web, to map out the interactions that occur in and around the problems they have to solve, and where your product fits in all of that. In either of these methods, the important part is listening to the story they tell, which will reveal not only the facts, but the emotions they experience.

Another fundamental aspect of Customer Understanding is the ability to deliver the right features for your key customers.  It seems everyone has their own way of trying to determine this, but we recommend getting your customers intimately involved in the discussion. Our friends at Conteneo have developed some great tools we often use, regardless of whether you are able to get your customers together in a room, or they are far away and you need to engage them remotely.

If you have the opportunity to get key customers in one place, at an industry conference or site visit, we can use Buy a Feature, a game where players work collaboratively to purchase the features they feel are most important to them. If your team is together, but neither you nor the customer can afford a face-to-face meeting, then the online version, called Decision Engine, may be a better choice. It’s a powerful graphic interface we use to accomplish the same goals, but using a cloud platform and a chat function. Working in teams of up to 8 people, each player has a limited amount of money to spend on the features they feel are most important.  The key is they don’t have enough to buy everything they want, so they have to negotiate with the other players to successfully get what’s important to them. This lets you hear the “why” – which is more important than the money when it comes to motivating action. It’s the heart-and-mind part of the story.

As in most Customer Understanding discovery work, the ultimate outcome is a clearer picture of why certain things are important to your customers. It helps reveal the pain they experience, they problem they’re encountering, or the need they can’t always articulate (or won’t, because the idea of a possible solution is beyond their imagination).

Last of all, let’s think about developing empathy, or improving your ability to see things from your customers’ perspective.  A tool we’ve found extremely helpful is called an Empathy Map. It’s not a new tool, and you may have seen it before. For our clients, it still always nets some real value. You can use the Empathy Map in a couple of different ways.  The most effective is to actually have your customer map out what they hear, what they say, and what they think in a particular situation.  Again, we can do this in person, or use an online visualization tool.  The second way, which can also be very powerful, is to have you team complete the same exercise, but put themselves in the customer’s shoes. Whether it’s engineering, sales, marketing, or finance, when they start to think about what’s in the customer’s head at the time of interaction – somehow that’s when the magic happens.

If you’d like to learn how to use some of these tools and techniques to strengthen your customer relationships, we’re here to help.

Always sharpening our tools,

Steve and Megann

 

 

 

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Sailing through your next planning session

We’ve been using the Innovation Games® framework Speedboat for many years to help teams evaluate the anchors holding back their product or company, then develop solutions to cut the anchor chain and propel them forward.  It’s a great, easy to understand metaphor.

We adapted it to use the Sailboat analogy so we could add in the positive aspects of the breezes filling the sails, representing the things which are moving the team or product in moving.  This went down especially well in coastal areas.

Recently we’ve been extending the metaphor to more closely align with the elements of SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) that most managers are used to using.

Our approach using anchors and wind, didn’t differentiate between internal and external factors, so anchors could capture both Threats and Weaknesses, and winds could capture Opportunities and Strengths.

As this seems like a brilliant idea, it must have been done before, right.  Well…it has.

There are two approaches we like, developed by diverse organizations; Black Swan Farming and Paladin Studios.

Black Swan Farming’s approach, which is most similar to our thinking (as it’s also based on Innovation Games) is:

Sailboat Exercise

So you can see the original elements, but they differentiate Storms, or negative wind events, representing Threats and Anchors, which represent Weaknesses or internal barriers.

The Tradewinds are a positive wind, so represent Opportunities, and the sails are the Strengths, as you can set the proper sails for you market, increasing or decreasing as required.

The Paladin Studios model is a bit different, but also easily understandable. Here is their representation:

The Sailboat Metaphor

In this case they extend the metaphor in, perhaps, an even more appropriate way.  As Threats and Opportunities are meant to focus on external elements, they use an Island to represent Opportunities and a Reef to represent Threats.

Their use of the sailboat with it sails representing Strengths and Anchors representing Weaknesses is consistent with the original Innovation Games® Speedboat game, as modified.

So we encourage you to think about how you might use these tools to help move your product, service, team or organization forward.

As always, you can benefit from having a professional facilitator help you with game design and set-up, playing the game, and then post-processing the results.  We’re always willing to help.

Happy sailing!

Steve and Megann

Did you Win? Or Did you Learn?

Learn to fail. Fail often. FaiSuccess vs Failure.pngl fast. Does this sound familiar? Failure is the current focus in many schools of “entrepreneurial thinking”. We contend that it is of no consequence whether you failed – rather, it’s what you learned that’s important. For us, “You win or you learn” is the key to keeping going when things don’t turn out quite as we had anticipated.

Seeking the “why” of any outcome will build your understanding of the processes, paradigms, or procedures that got you there. That kind of insight will improve your future outcomes, regardless of whether you won – or learned.

Keep asking questions,

Megann and Steve

Our Time is on Your Side

How time flies when you’re busy! Those critical product management tasks you’ve ProductCamp_Atlantic_2015been meaning to tackle just keep slipping lower and lower on the to-do list. So are they not that critical after all? Or are you putting your roadmap in jeopardy?

We’ve all been there. When we sat down with Allan Neil (@allanneil) of Ready Product Radio for this interview, we were busy working with our partners to put on the second annual Atlantic ProductCamp. We were also moving our home office and our business halfway across the country. So we understand that sometimes you need to reach out for help. If you’re looking for a partner to help with customer understanding, mentoring, facilitation, planning, or marketing strategy, we can give you a hand with that. And if you’re a seasoned Product Manager looking to strike out on your own and go freelance, we’ll tell you that it’s not for the faint of heart. But if you’re not afraid of hard work with a side of rejection, it can be the best career move you’ll ever make.

We hope you’ll check out our interview with Allan. And while you’re at Ready Product Radio, check out some of the other Product Management professionals that have been interviewed as well. There’s a goldmine of advice, help, and encouragement inside.

Continued success,

Megann and Steve

Remember the 80’s? These Opportunities for Innovation Still Hold Up

DruckerMegann has been re-reading Peter Drucker’s classic, Innovation and Entrepreneurship. It’s interesting to see the predictions (hmm…in the 80’s, innovation and entrepreneurship were the future that would save the economy – sound familiar?) What Drucker stressed was that innovation and entrepreneurship were not just about new technology, but about a revolution in thinking, in doing, and in performing. In short, innovative would be demanded of every organization. Fast-forward to today, and Drucker’s work really does look like a seminal work – with many of the same messages in “new” (dare we say “innovative”) treatises on innovation and entrepreneurship theory. So it seems worthwhile to revisit Drucker’s Seven Opportunities for Innovation. (For more inspiration, check out the Drucker Institute).

We help our clients explore opportunities to find out which are right for them and their organization. Which one resonates with you?

  1. The unexpected (What happened in your business that surprised you in 2014?)
  2. The incongruity (Is there a gap in your market or your business between the “on paper” reality – and the “real” reality?)
  3. Innovation based on process need (Have you found a new way of doing things that makes you say, “Wow, why didn’t we try this sooner?”)
  4. Changes in industry structure or market structure that catch everyone unawares (How could we have been ready for that tsunami?)
  5. Demographics – (Is your traditional buyer outgrowing your product? Or is someone unusual buying it all of a sudden?)
  6. Changes in Perception – (Do you have customers who are suddenly ready to buy, who weren’t before? Or just the opposite?)
  7. New Knowledge – (Has your team had an aha moment that makes them see a whole new way to offer your service or product?)

All of these opportunities are still valid. If you need a hand exploring them in your business, we’re ready.

Looking at all the angles,

Megann and Steve

The Lucky 100 – How Big Can This Thing Get?

Expanding CircleMaybe you started off as a startup. Or perhaps you joined a venture team in a giant corporation. No matter what kind of founders were in that first circle, if you’ve been successful, you’ve been growing. Congratulations. You’ve surmounted all sorts of challenges by now. So why does it suddenly feel so…difficult?

That exciting, innovative, exploring feeling just doesn’t seem to be there any more. It’s not like the old days, when you could gather all these stakeholders into one small circle (and in fact, some of them were wearing two or more of the hats). Now you can’t seem to get the kind of cohesive idea-making you once did. So maybe you’ve made a few decisions within the inner circle, and you’ve been rewarded with pushback, complaints, or alienation.

Our experience is that the lucky 100 is a time of huge growing pains. Each time you hit that number, whether it’s when your team grows to 100, or your circles total another 100, or you add 100 new customers, something great happens. And yet…you need an adjustment. Not necessarily a reboot, but a new assortment of tools, or how you use the ones you have, to make it easier to learn from each other, communicate, and collaborate.

Fortunately, there are a host of great techniques, tools, and templates that have been developed to make this possible. They work for all sorts of groups, teams, and organizations, be they public, private, or not-for-profit. You’ve heard from us before about how excited we were to be part of making the Conteneo Decision Engine work for Participatory Budgeting. We can put this, and a host of other very useful implements, to work for you as well. As we help you reconnect everyone, you’ll start to recapture that feeling of being on top of it all, when you were still in the small circle. Before you know it, you’ll start to wonder if there’s any limit to just how big the ideas can get.

 

 

 

Collaboration, or the Fine Art of Making Your Own Luck

Collaboration Clover

Where should your product or service go next? What will the next iteration look like? Product managers wrestle with these questions all the time. Sometimes they talk to their colleagues or others within the organization. Perhaps they listen to feedback from channel partners. And if they’re customer-centric, they’re finding ways to listen, observe, and discuss the customer journey. Often these explorations occur separately from one another. It doesn’t have to be that way.

As soon as we disconnect a desired new feature set from real things like production limitations, distribution challenges, or plain old price, we’re only considering part of the story. Taking this approach can mean that you as a product manager are setting each of these groups of stakeholders in opposition, weighing the needs of one against another. Invariably this sets a big weight on your shoulders.

We contend that it’s a weight that doesn’t need to be there. Collaboration is the lucky four-leaf clover that can provide everyone with a solution they can live with – without watering down the final result in some sort of “management by committee” scenario. While this used to involve a lot of expensive, time consuming travel and research, modern collaboration tools and techniques mean it’s much easier to get all these people around the table. Having a chance to explain their rationale, answer the big “why” questions, and see their feedback having an impact during the planning process is much more effective that having to explain why they didn’t get what they want. Moreover, it could even result in an even better approach than any one group had thought of alone.

Imagine investing a little talk time up front to come up with a product that’s truly wanted, efficient to produce, and easier to deliver. If that sounds like the sort of lucky outcome you’ve been looking for, we have the tools that can help.

Collaboration makes it happen,

Megann and Steve

Finding Our Way to “Yes”…

yes-no-maybeYou’re probably familiar with the expression, “Just Say No”. It’s a valid expression, and there are times when it’s exactly the right fit. If you find yourself taking on projects that don’t interest you, or that someone else is foisting off on you because of their own lack of interest, or you’re already overwhelmed, a firm but gentle “no” can come in handy.

Our question is this: if you’re in the latter group, and you’re saying “no” because you’re overwhelmed with other responsibilities, we’d like to ask you to reconsider. You may still say “no”, but before you do, make sure what you’re rejecting isn’t a more important opportunity than one of those current over-commitments.

This month our theme has been all about fresh starts and new beginnings. We’ve set some great goals for ourselves and our business, and we’re focused on delivering more facilitation, which our customers say they need, and coaching, which we’re also asked to do with increasing frequency. What that means is that opportunities sometimes come along that are just where we’d like them to be. But we’re busy. Or they’ll stretch us. Or we’re tired. You understand, we’re sure. So how can we deal with that?

We’re practicing finding our way to “yes”. In fact, to “YES!” or “YES, PLEASE!” There are several actions and behaviours we’ve taken on to make that happen. Hint: we’re a partnership, so we always have someone to help keep to the path we’ve set, so first, do this:

Find yourself an accountability buddy.

Here are some of the things we’ve held each other accountable for, this January, with a few links to help nudge you in the right direction:

  1. If one of us says “no” to an opportunity simply because we’re feeling a bit overloaded with responsibility, the partner helps us decide whether there isn’t something less important we can drop.
  2. When “no” is the answer because the thing is a stretch, we look for pieces or parts of the work that we’ve done before, or similar situations where we’ve already been successful. And remember it’s supposed to be hard if you’re upleveling.
  3. In cases where we’re leaning to “no” because there’s too much uncertainty, we err on the side of “tell me more” before rejecting what might be a big chance, out of hand.
  4. On the occasion when a networking or exploring event presents itself, and we have nothing else scheduled in that timeslot, we default to “yes”.
  5. Given a chance to do something fun that might lead to an opportunity, although we can’t yet see how, “yes” is now our answer.

January’s nearly over, and we hope you’re moving toward those big goals you set for yourself over the eggnog and fruitcake. We encourage you to find your way to “yes”. And if you need an accountability coach to help you do that, give us a call. Sometimes an investment in yourself is just what you need.

Moving you and your business in the right direction,

Megann and Steve

 

Never Look Back?

Start of 2015

A lot can happen in a year, and while we’re all for a certain amount of nostalgia, spending too much time looking back can hinder our ability to move forward. Still, a little stock-taking is worth it, before moving on.

Look at that deck. That’s where we were around this time last year. Buried. We were surrounded by beautiful countryside but frankly, the environment was better suited to retirement than the active life we really want. In 12 months, we made a decision to relocate our business, sold a house, bought a condo, and moved halfway across the country. Now, high about ground level, the chances of us having snow up over our windows is pretty remote.

How did we figure out that this was the right move? And moreover, how did we figure out how to get here? We used the same tools we would have used with clients facing the same sort of life and business challenges. From goal-setting to action plans, we thought very carefully about where we wanted to go.

Step one was to establish the future state, or as we sometimes say, “where we wanted to be when we grew up.” Lists and discussions – how do we like to live? What kind of work do we need to do? Where are the clients? What’s our purpose? Having established a picture that included those things, we needed to figure out how to get there. One tool that helped here was to look backwards…sort of. We played a game called “Remember the Future.” Our friend Luke Hohmann came up with it – seeing yourself, your product, or your company in a future state and then working backwards to determine the milestones that will get you there. His company, Conteneo, has a host of great tools that facilitators like us, use to help people and companies navigate the sometimes winding and branching paths to where they need to be.

Before we knew it, we had a roadmap of key tasks that needed to happen. Sell the house. Find a new space. Organize the move. Fit it all around our current commitments. And we did it. Step two: just get started. Put one foot in front of the other and start moving toward the milestones. Some took longer, some were easy, some were a challenge. But here we are. Join us on our journey – and if you or your company need help getting where you want to go, get in touch. It would be our pleasure to help.

Eyes to the future, with nowhere to go but up…

Megann and Steve

225 Sackville Street from the Ground

A few reminders about getting there

  1. Figure out your purpose.
  2. Set a big goal.
  3. Determine a time you want to arrive.
  4. Look back and see the steps it took to get there.
  5. Start moving.

Good luck, and here’s to a purpose-filled, prosperous and productive 2016.