Tips for creating customer use cases – for product managers
Today we are talking about how to create and use customer use cases to guide product design.
Our guest is Dr. Lilac Muller, VP of Product Management at Kymeta Corporation. She oversees product strategy, definition, and launch activities for Kymeta’s mobile satellite communications product line, which is making mobile broadband connectivity around the world ubiquitous.
Lilac has over 20 years of product development experience in the telecommunications, consumer electronics, and medical devices industries where she has led cradle-to-grave product development efforts, and she holds 19 US patents.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[6:35] What is a customer use case?
A use case is how customers use your product or service to derive value of some kind. That value makes the customer purchase the product and recommend it to their friends. How the customer uses the product drives the requirements we as product managers write for engineers to develop the product.
Defining use cases has a few challenges. First, everybody thinks it is easy, but there’s a lot of nuance. Second, not all users are the same, so creating a common use case across a market segment or sub-segment is a lot harder than one thinks. The engineers can’t design to every possible use case. That creates complexity we are trying to avoid. We’re looking for simplicity, which is derived from a very clear use case defined by product management.
[8:36] How do we create a customer use case?
The use case starts from the business plan—the target market vertical that the product fits the best. Narrow down the scope to the type of customers you’re going after. Then learn about those customers. We have a habit of thinking we know the answer or asking our friends, who are in the same geography and socioeconomic standard as us. For use cases, you should broaden that. When I derive use cases, there are three ways that I pursue in parallel.
First, I do internet research. YouTube videos of how to do things are a great forum. What people say and what they think are different, and what they think and what they do are different yet. So you need to observe people.
Second, I interview customers. I go out into the field with customers and see what solutions they’re using today and what problems they’re facing. We put an MVP (minimum viable product) into the marketplace, learn, and refine the product.
Third, I use customer surrogates. In an organization, there are people who touch customers on a regular basis, and they often know customers better than the customers know themselves. When I joined Kymeta, we had just launched our first-generation product called u7. It was a technological marvel. We sold it in the market place and started getting feedback. As the head of product management, I pulled all our customer-facing teams into a conference room. These are the customer surrogates. We had a session in which they told us what customers say, answering “What do you see? If you had a magic wand, what would you change?” I had everybody write 10 things on sticky notes, and then we bucketized them and talked about them. I can trace the origins of our current product to that session.
[14:32] What are the differences between defining a use case for a product that is new to customers versus for a product that competitors already sell?
The hardest use case to define is when you’re trying to invent a brand new category and your competition is non-use. You’re asking a consumer to change how they do something and use a solution the didn’t even realized they needed. To generate a use case, you can use rapid prototyping, nonfunction mockups, and storyboards. Put those in front of customers or customer surrogates without any supportive information and ask, “What would you do here? How would you use this? How do you feel about this? If you had a magic wand, what would you do?” Compile all of that information. Watch their body language and emotional response. Purchasing decisions are made on emotions, so getting to that emotional response is key in defining the use case you are going after.
When you are developing a use case for an existing product, you need to present a your product as a better solution. Talk about how it will improve your customers’ lives and give them more value.
The toughest thing to do is ask the right question.
[18:41] How does the use case impact product vision and decision-making?
The use case is like a magnifying glass that bring the product vision into focus. Product vision is high-level goals matched with market expectations and opportunity. The use case refines that vision and brings it into focus to a point where we can write clear requirements for the development team. It’s an iterative process because it may revise the vision depending on what we find out in investigating the use cases.
[21:03] What format do you use for use cases?
I define use cases in a number of different ways depending on the team. At Kymeta, we have written use cases. We have a clearly defined description for the engineering team that we supplement with white papers. We tell a short narrative in a couple of paragraphs, tie that into specific product requirements, and evolve into systems and technical requirements.
[24:10] What are some other benefits of use cases?
The use case provides focus for the whole organization. It forces us to focus on the right use cases and get data to validate internal assumptions. It forces the product team to do a normalization exercise—take pieces of data that may not all be consistent and create a unified use case. The use case ensures we’re focused on the right customer and the right segment, and we use it as a tool to write requirements for engineering.
The use case is complementary to UI and UX activities. For example, at Kymeta when we developed the u8, we had some clear use cases at the beginning. When we launched the first variant, we brought in an independent third party to do a usability audit because we wanted a fresh set of eyes. They provided a report that we used to improve our product.
[27:12] How do you validate information that goes into your use case?
I validate it by talking with customers and working with customers. I also validate it with salespeople, support people and other functions within the organization. I ask customers and newbies. Sometimes I try to get a third party who isn’t from the industry to get me out of my box. What am I missing here?
Action Guide: Put the information Lilac shared into action now. Click here to download the Action Guide.
“You need to understand that informed intuition, rather than analytical reason, is the most trustworthy decision-making tool to use.” – Geoffrey Moore
Thank you for taking the journey to product mastery 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.