What is the best way to get customers and empowered teams closer so they could understand each other? And keep up with it so it is not a one time thing.
In our organization we have done a few experiments with customers, but we have been struggling to make it a regular and deliberate thing. It can be hard for our teams to pick the idea we want to research, but it has also been hard in the past to find the right customer or user to contact. We often feel this limits us in making this a regular practice. Any tips for what we can do?
This post is part of a blog series where we answer real common questions in organizations that we have come in contact with and want to transition to an empowered product teams model. Each blog post answers one frequently asked question.
For an introduction to what we mean by empowered product teams, watch our free webinar recordings on our Crisp youtube channel – Crisp Academy.
In organizations we help transform to the product model all the conditions needed to have customer collaboration and discovery be a deliberate practice are rarely in place.
First of all, unless you are already working according to this model, just understand this is normal and that it can be changed. If you are a leader in a product organization, here are some things you can do that will allow your product teams to work closer to customers.
Ensure access to customers
First of all, every product team needs to be set up for success. So start by making sure that members of the product team have access to customers and prospects that they can connect with and do product discovery.
If that is not in place in your organization, one pattern you might want to try is to create a customer discovery program. If for example your strategic product focus for the next coming six months is going to be customer problems in a specific targeted market segment, then a customer discovery program would be the effort of recruiting and onboarding candidate customers and prospects that fit the profile of that segment.
The expectations are made clear upfront, that the purpose of participation is to allow product teams to interview them about their customer needs, to test prototypes and solution ideas etc to get direct and honest feedback that will help inform the direction of the product.
In a smaller organization the PM and perhaps some market representatives would work together to set this up. In a larger organization, it might be the job of product directors and design directors in collaboration with market and sales, to support their PMs and product teams by ensuring that this direct access to key customers is consistently in place.
Ensure access to skills
The product model of developing products using empowered teams means commiting to to deliberately build teams capable of solving hard problems. To succeed with that, product teams need access to all competencies necessary to understand customer problems, designing and delivering solutions.
In organizations transforming to the product model it is common that one or a few of these competencies either don’t exist or are underdeveloped in the teams resonsible for building the product.
Good patterns to change this involves both offering training and mentoring in either product management, data science or product discovery. But we see it critically important also to integrate this with opportunity to convert training into actual practice.
A development program that gradually introduces practices over time can work very well. Especially when combined hiring new people with skillsets that complement current strengths and 1on1 mentoring.
We recommend to gradually build and develop each product team’s level of competency in solving problems, so that it barely matches the actual challenges that team is given. This way, there is always some room for creative growth and development.
Establish a rhythm for discovery & delivery
With direct customer access and a plan to develop skills in place, it is about finding many ways to increase the frequency of customer interactions. Some good practices worth trying are to establish a regular rhythm for discovery work and for sharing insights, for example compiling recent learnings into a user experience friday.
Another good pattern is to establish a discovery backlog. Given the customer problems in that specific market segment that we just mentioned, what are some of the key questions we need to learn about? List these by relevance and impact, and for the most interesting ones create some hypotheses about customer problems and solutions. At the appropriate time in your rhythm, pick something new from your discovery backlog, break it down into a discovery plan then start booking customer interviews.
If the work you pick is more about problem discovery, then generative customer interviews might be more appropriate to create a better understanding of customer needs and context. If the work you pick is more about creating a fitting solution to a problem that is already well understood, then the customer interviews might be more about testing multiple prototypes on customers and users, to gauge how well they would fit as a solution in the customer’s context.
When insights gained from this indicates customer demand for your solution ideas, then these go into your delivery backlog. Synchronizing your rhythm for both discovery and delivery will help you take the important step of acting on your insights quickly, while at the same time help you transition into continuous discovery.
Share customer insights
Once you gain insights from these customer interactions, try summarizing your findings and conclusions. Then pitch those customer insights to the whole product team, along with any recommendations of next steps that you may have as a result from these learnings.
A key point here is that briefs like the above, where you share data and insights from interviews and experiments with real prospective customers, are a great opportunity for sales and marketing people to be invited to as well.
As more people in the company start to experience that your product teams are not just well informed about your customer’s goals, challenges and needs, but also actively contribute to generating and disseminating new insights, good things are going to start to happen. You will gain a lot of trust, but also strengthen your reputation regarding what it is going to take to create a successful product. This can be a great tool to also shift your culture into becoming more customer centered.
Proactively building your relationship with senior leaders in sales and marketing can go a long way here.
Establish product focus
The last big piece to the puzzle is to make sure that each product team has a very clear understanding of your product vision, what our strategic focus is and why. Specifically, what are the customer and business problems that are most important to solve and in what order, for us to gain product traction.
Without focus and the necessary understanding of the product context, your product team and specifically the PM will have a very hard time making decisions on what discovery and delivery work to prioritize.
A good product vision and strategy will have the courage to say no to a lot of good opportunities. It will be clear about what product objectives are currently in play, and why. Including progress metrics.
A good test here can be to ask people in your product teams: for the work you are currently working on, what customer or business problem does this help contribute to solving? If they can explain what and also why, you are in a good place.
Another good test can be to talk to your PMs and ask them: to what degree does the product vision and strategy help you make decisions?
Owning and developing a clear understanding of the product vision and strategy is one of the core responsibilities of senior product leadership.
Typically, in organizations that struggle with product focus we often see a lack of market traction, as it is not clear what problems to solve and what customer or business outcomes we want to drive.
In the context of the initial question, it won’t be clear what customers we should interview or test things on, or what customer problems we should be researching or testing solutions for. This might surface as a higher threshold to talk to customers.