The Cranky Product Manager flew many miles, suffering through innumerable connections, delays, malnourishing food, and indignities heaped upon her by TSA officials. All to interview this fantastic new customer that just spent a huge wad of cash to buy DysfunctoCrank. Even better, this new customer represented a new and potentially very lucrative market segment. With a bit of product work, perhaps DysfunctoSoft could make Big New Customer blissfully happy plus have legions of new prospects beat a path to its door.
So the Cranky Product Manager had big plans. She was going to LEARN this customer, Ninja Style. All its sundry business problems. All its hopes and dreams. All its political quagmires.
She was going to LISTEN LISTEN LISTEN and identify those key use cases, capturing their very essence, and distilling them to succinct, beautiful user stories that were perfect in proportion and packed more punch than a Long Island Iced Tea.
The CPM would get to know those users better than their own mothers and spouses, and then — like Steinbeck, Hemmingway, and Shakespeare before her — she would create personas. But not just ANY persona. No, the Cranky Product Manager could never abide by that. Her personas would NOT be lousy one-dimensional cartoons, ala Joe the Plumber. Never! Instead,the CPM’s personas would be fully realized characters that spring to life on the page and burrow deep into the developers’ psyches — making those Code Boyz and Grrls not only better coders/artistes, but also more empathic, more grounded, and better people.
And so the Cranky Product Manager prepared. A lot. She made lists of questions and topics. Unearthed her voice recorder. Thought of fun games and exercises she could do with the customers. Practiced active listening and open-ended questioning with her Cranky Kid (“So tell me, Cranky Toddler, what do you think about Elmo? Does he help you? How? What is the value of Elmo completely solving this problem for you? How would you compare the value of Elmo’s help to Thomas the Tank Engine’s?”).
The Cranky PM got the Sales Droids to line up a full schedule of in-depth one-on-one interviews with representatives of all the main stakeholders. She even sent ahead her favorite handout on Persona interviewing, so the customer would understand why the CPM was asking such detailed questions about each user’s overall job responsibilities and motivations.
And then. Of course. It all got screwed up.
While the CPM was flying 40,000 feet above some square red state, a Veep on the customer side decided it was a big waste of time for “her people” to spend so much time meeting with the Cranky Product Manager. Instead of the six one-on-one interviews, the Veep decreed there be just one 60 minute meeting of the group. Never mind that everyone was still “wasting” the same amount of time, exactly 1 hour. No, that didn’t matter. Because the Veep’s whole point was about flexing her power over a software vendor, and NOT about being logical or rational.
As expected, the one hour group meeting did not go well.
Strike One: The room was overflowing with 30 people, 75% of whom were completely unfamiliar with the product and had no idea how they would ever use it. They were told there was going to be a product demo and food. But alas, neither was planned.
Strike Two: The Cranky Product Manager gave her introductory spiel about how important it was for her to understand Big New Customer’s actual business problems, all to ensure that future product changes lined up with their needs. Well, despite all the nodding heads in the room, the Veep laid down the law. “I don’t think we need to go into all that. Let’s stop wasting time. Your Tech Support already has the list of all the enhancements we need.” Great. Nothing like a list of enhancements with no context to guide product development.
Strike Three: The Veep insisted the Cranky Product Manager give a demo and then a roadmap presentation. Neither of which was originally planned. Fortunately, the CPM was always ready to give either at any moment. But damn if the roadmap preso wouldn’t have gone better if she had understood this customer’s problems better and was able to speak specifically to their pain.
And so the entire customer visit was (mostly) for naught. Despite the CPM’s attempts to turn the audience’s roadmap questions into learning opportunities (“You’re asking if we’ll have feature X. Is that important to you? Why?”), very little was learned. Not enough to create personas. Not enough to identify key use cases and write user stories. The best she got was a few business cards. Maybe she’d be able to contact these people for interviews later, but probably not since their Veep made it clear she thought their communicating with a vendor was wasteful.
Naturally, the tale ends woefully.
The next release was NOT what Big New Customer wanted, nor what they thought they outlined so clearly in that list of 37 enhancements submitted to Tech Support. The Cranky Product Manager had every intention of making major revs to the product to meet this customer’s needs, but instead Big New Customer sabotaged the Cranky Product Manager’s information gathering efforts, thereby unwittingly sabotaging themselves as well.
Stupid dumbass customer.