What one product manager learned about understanding customers
Today we are talking about the journey from software developer to product manager and some key challenges encountered as a product manager.
This journey was made by our guest, Liron Lifshitz-Yadin. She is the VP of Product at Tel Aviv-based Lightrun. She enjoys being a mentor to new product managers and has gained vast product management experience.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[1:41] Please tell us about your journey from software developer to product manager.
I started as a software developer in an intelligence unit in the Israeli army. The army was a very collaborative, connected environment, both empowering and humbling. I did software development for many years but eventually realized I wanted to work more with people and be engaged with customers and the community. I slowly transitioned from development to innovation teams. I saw the beauty of focusing on the problem space and moved to the entrepreneurial space and then to product management.
[8:02] What took you from developing code to wanting to understand customers?
It was a process as I matured, but one important moment was when I was working at an innovative Israeli startup. I worked there for two and a half years until it closed. We were trying to reinvent the mobile phone, and it didn’t work, but we had amazing people, and it was one of the most hyped-up companies in the country. I was privileged to work there. On the R&D team, we felt like we had a lot of questions about how the product would be validated in the market, where it is going, and why we were doing what we were doing. I wanted to better understand how we did research and how customers would approach our product. I wanted to do innovation, so the next job I took was on an innovation team.
[10:57] On the innovation team, where did you get ideas?
We tried a lot of products and sent them to conferences. Our customers validated all our concepts, and were in close contact with specific customers.
[13:58] How do you get information from customers?
The most important way to get ideas is talking to customers. You need to understand their underlying needs, their workflows, and the tools they use. Know how they do things before offering a solution.
The specific method of talking with customer varies by company and includes:
- Phone calls or web meetings
- Slack channel: At a previous company I worked at, we had a Slack channel with our customers to interact daily, and they felt very free to state observations about our products.
- Customer interviews
- Sales calls: In other companies, I’ve gone on sales calls as a product manager, to hear from existing customers and prospects.
- Design partners: We work with customers as we’re developing products, and they become our design partners. This open relationship gives us tons of ideas.
[17:21] Sometimes customers share their own solutions that might not be best way for solving their problems. How do you approach that?
Often, you can solve a customer’s pain by doing something very simple. Build in stages—deliver a quick win for the customers, then take time to explore the best solution. You will have to make trade-offs between requests from customers, executives, developers, and other stakeholders. Sometimes you may have to make the tough decision to not pursue a feature customers are asking for because it doesn’t really solve their problems in the best way.
[24:23] How do you prioritize ideas and features?
We build our strategic roadmap each year and revisit it every six months, making sure it’s aligned with the company’s goals. Then we do a top-down analysis to lay out how we’ll accomplish our goals. Include all your stakeholders—management, executives, sales, and customer feedback. The roadmap will help you make sure every feature aligns with the basic goal of the company.
However, you’ll still have customers or management suggesting new features that are off the roadmap. Evaluate them using data, customer feedback, and a transparent conversation throughout your company. You can also use frameworks and models like Value vs. Effort, the Kano Model, the RICE model (reach, impact, confidence, effort), or your own scoring system, which can be validated with surveys, customer interviews, and NPR scores.
If an executive makes a request that isn’t on the roadmap, be prepared to discuss their thought process and show your research, data, and validation. Show them if their goals clash with the company goals and what the company will lose by fulfilling their request. If you choose to follow their request, have a clear plan for how you’ll validate it and minimize loss. If you’re saying yes to some features you’re saying no to others.
Action Guide: Put the information Liron shared into action now. Click here to download the Action Guide.
- Connect with Liron on LinkedIn
“Any damn fool can make something complex, it takes a genius to make something simple.” – Pete Seeger, Product Director at Docusign
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.