Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Bat Crap Crazy Product Manager: In the Wild

As a part of my responsibilities as a product manager, I’m able to visit customers in their native habitats.  In the past, I’ve gone onsite with a handful of our customers and was able to see a glimpse of my product users in the following cities: Delray Beach, San Diego, Charleston, Miami, and Chattanooga.  OK maybe these places are not exactly a place one would visit on a safari and it may sound like I pick my visits based on location – but the fact that they are all warm and beautiful is just a happy coincidence. 

The primary purpose of my visits is to observe our customers do a portion of their job and learn about their common business problems and challenges.  This helps me as a product manager in several different ways.  It allows me to identify challenges that are not given to me via typical feedback channels.  While on site, a customer may communicate 4-5 different items that are top priorities for them, but what I observe is 20+ different opportunities where we can make their job easier through product improvements. 

Not only that, it gives me context into what our customers days are like and all the different hats that they wear.  Just like in the wild, a users job is filled with the workplace version of mosquitos.  I get insight into what it's like for them to do their job with the constant chime of the Outlook inbox, the ringing of the phone or with a drive-by from their favorite co-worker. These visits allow me to understand underutilized areas of the solution as well as ways we can improve training and service.

On some of my more recent visits I’ve had members of our development team onsite with me.  This gives the team first hand information on the impact of what they deliver to our customers.  Additionally we record the notes from these trips and share it with other team members that are unable to attend.  This connects the folks who are solving the problems with the customers associated with them. Understanding the value of your job helps employees feel more engaged.

I’m fortunate in that I’m supported organizationally, so it makes these customer visits easy to schedule.  This type of interaction is critical to putting people first at my company.

Now back to researching where my next expedition will be…I hear Boston is nice this time of year!

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