How do we get our product management team to be more customer focused than timeline focused?
Covered this a bit in another question. PMM can bring a very strong customer perspective when it comes to product development. To have a seat at the table though, you have to do the work. This is what we do to bring customers perspective to our product teams:
- Visit, shadow, do work at our customers. No research can compare to the insights you get by actually being in the shoes of our customers - in our case, small businesses
- Talk to customer facing teams (Sales, Account Management, Support) and synthesize feedback. They are on the frontline all the time. You will be surprised how much you can learn from them
- Comb through social media (Facebook, Twitter), our own Seller Community forum and syntheszie customer feedback
- Conduct qualitative and quantitative customer research
When you've done all this work, you have a wealth of fact-based customer insights that nobody can ignore.
Product teams can get myopic with mandate from leadership or long term vision. But this is exactly where product marketing can be an excellent value partner to their product peer. Timeline focus assumes at features selected and priorities are spot on and set in stone. But that is often not the case, especially with constantly changing marketscape and customer needs. By presenting a case for change backed by data - customer interviews, sales interviews and pipeline analysis, you can bring new information to your product peer who is now armed to make a case with product leadership.
Another thing to keep in mind is that your customers depend on your roadmap. They themselves may have built their roadmaps around yours. So if there is major impedence mismatch, your customers will find alternative paths. This is how most disruptions begin.
It’s almost a cliche, but a really well-made slide deck can go a long way. Gather insights from all parts of the organization (sales, user operations, customer success, marketing) and from users themselves and distill them into a well-made deck that outlines your segments and target markets and illustrates customer problems and perceptions.
Also, it almost always shows up somewhere in the metrics. It’s important to have a good relationship with product analysts or data analysts. Experiment with the best ways to gather customer sentiment in micro-ways to help you make your case. Whether that’s something like NPS, CSAT, or even small in-line product satisfaction prompts, you may need to do the legwork to expose the disconnect between product and your customers.
I think product and engineering can get out of touch with customers most when they are 1) chasing the quick wins in terms of immediate revenue impact 2) letting technology pipedreams lead things 100% rather than also validating that those ideas have clear and meaningful use cases to customers.
To help combat both of those problems, in a speed-driven organization, you need to meet your product partners where they are. I recommend designing really lightweight user research that can be done quickly and cheaply. If you want to halt everything to do a perfectly robust customer study, you may need to change your approach. Offer to help direct lightweight research throughout the product development cycle and set expectations around how quickly you can turn it around. A lot of times you can parallel path customer research and product development if timelines are tight. You just have to start somewhere and you can prove the impact over time.
My guess is your product team might benefit from PMM partnership earlier on in the product development process. However, that’s easier said than done! In order to move from downstream value addition (what’s the timeline of something that’s supposed to launch, what comms are we developing for the launch, etc.) to upstream influence (what are we building and why), you need to first establish credibility. Someone else asked “how do you establish credibility” in this AMA so check out that response as well. It’s important to demonstrate you know what you’re talking about with respect to the business as well as establishing some base hits with whatever has typically been “in your PMM lane” before trying to get a seat at the table for upstream influence.
Once you’ve established your credibility, I’d recommend trying to establish a rhythm with the product team where PMs and PMMs sit down together during roadmap planning and create a “product on a page” for each new feature/product being considered. People buy stories and solutions to their pain points, they don’t buy features, and we as PMMs can shine by helping get the story right early on in the process. For each of these product on a page exercise, I’d recommend considering:
- Target audience: Who exactly is this for? Be as specific as possible!
- Market problem: What are buyers/customers struggling with that this feature seeks to solve?
- Solution summary: What’s the layman’s terms explanation of how this feature will solve the market problem?
- Value proposition
- Supporting benefits
- Value vs. alternatives: Why is this better/different from solutions and alternatives that already exist in the market?
- Pricing and packaging: What’s the rough plan for how this feature will be distributed?
I find this product on a page framework to be hugely helpful for a number of reasons. By keeping it to a single page, it’s easily digestible as a reference doc and the source of truth for other people trying to understand the direction of this roadmap item. By focusing on the market and customer perspective, you can ensure that the end product that ships is both important and marketable. By co-creating this with your PM counterparts, you develop mutual accountability to your shared vision. It’s important to treat these as living documents since plans evolve based on the business’s needs, but keeping it up to date helps make sure the market/customer focus never gets lost. You can use these docs, too, as a method to stay plugged into the product development process and partner with your PM counterpart on where either the product on a page needs to evolve or the product development process needs to fill in important gaps before you’re in a position to launch the feature.
This feels like an executive level misalignment of goals. I don't know the specifics in your company but if product management / product leadership is being measured by how well they hit their timelines, then that will trickle down to their teams and be what those teams focus on. This is probably feedback you should share when crafting next year's goals and metrics.