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

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

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

Take Time to Save Time

A schedule change in the morning can throw off your whole day. That’s why prioTime Management Listritizing what’s important is a vital part of our “winding down” time at the office. We’re pretty sure you’ve experienced one of those days that have gone from manageable to jam-packed in a heartbeat. So can do you manage?

One of the best tools we use is to identify our lifeboat task. What’s that, you ask? If everything goes awry, right out of the gate, and you can only save one task to bring in the lifeboat with you, which task is absolutely vital? That’s your lifeboat task.

How do we use it in practice?

  1. First, at the end of your day, make the list of all the things you need to get done for tomorrow.
  2. Rearrange in order of importance.
  3. At the top of the list, write your lifeboat task. Think carefully about the task. It should be a task that takes you toward your most important objective. (Remember important is not the same as urgent – it’s likely your lifeboat task is both. Check out Stephen Covey’s Urgent-Important Time Matrix.)
  4. In the morning, remind yourself of your lifeboat task. If that’s the only thing you do, other than go to meetings, fight fires, and herd cats, commit to getting it done.
  5. Do whatever’s necessary to make it happen.
  6. Forgive yourself if you have to let go of some of the the other things on your list.

It might seem counter-intuitive to use time to save time, but in the long run, this will help keep you from getting distracted by tasks that get you nowhere.

Throwing you a lifeline,

Megann and Steve

Why time with dear old Dad may be time well spent…

Time Management
Success-oriented managers are often telling us they wish they had more time. Or they tell us they wish they knew how to get more time. All that equates to wishing they could cram more into their day. And usually, that means their work day. No matter how much time they save on one task, we frequently see them trying to simply fit in another. We were reminded by an article we read in HBR today, that it’s really energy, and not hours, that is important to being super-productive. So while you are trying to find a way to schedule one more task here and another obligation there, it’s vital to think about what is really important in your life. Where’s your joy? What gives you energy?

One way lots of winners recharge is by spending time with their families. So although Father’s Day is just around the corner, perhaps it’s a good idea to make a point of prioritizing family time, all the time. The authors of the HBR article, Tom Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy say it can be good for your career health and a real source of energy. It’s tempting to use every new captured moment to do more work. The great Harry Chapin’s song, Cat’s in the Cradle, is a good reminder why spending a little of that hard-earned time on yourself and your family might be the best plan. So whether you’re a father, or you have a father, invest in your family, and have a more productive day because of it.

Fully recharged,

Megann and Steve