Probably, you have already conducted or been part of an internal workshop where people were asked to use or experiment with product features and provide feedback on that experience.

I find those experiments to be extremely risky.

It is easy to assume you know what your users want or think. Here are some examples of common thoughts:

  • “If I find this thing not intuitive, most likely our users will think the same.”
  • “I don’t like how data is displayed; we should reorganize it in the UI.”
  • “I am sure customers will value an export to CSV of this table.”

I believe most people do this in good faith. They are trying to help their most educated guest with a specific problem. They may know better than you how our customers work. But ultimately, they are the end users.

If you are a product manager and want to collect feedback about how you can test your product, beware of this bias.

Your CEO is not your customer

The CEO spends more time talking to customers and understanding the business landscape than anyone else. They want to ensure you are working on the most important thing.

Leaders must guide and inspire their teams with a clear vision. Not with specific requests.

A leader should articulate what needs to be done and why, and then let the team decide how best to do it.

Avid Larizadeh Duggan, OBE

Your stakeholders are not your customers

Product management is about creating solutions for your business. Stakeholders will inform you the second. They will help you understand the business goals, constraints, and possible impacts on other parts of the company.

If your stakeholders dictate how your product evolves, you are in a culture of mercenaries.

We need a team of missionaries, not a team of mercenaries.

John Doerr, Chairman at Kleiner Perkins

Sales are not your customer

They can provide you with critical insights into the wants and needs of prospects. What kind of things the buyer persona is looking for, and what things do they value? But sales are not your customer.

So many companies spend their time reacting – reacting to new sales opportunities, reacting to competitor’s offerings, reacting to customer requests, and reacting to price pressure. Yet in strong product companies, while they care about these factors, they are not driven by them.

Marty Cagan, Partner at Silicon Valley Product Group

Your teammates are not your customers

It is excellent to quickly validate some hypotheses with the people most accessible to you (only a slack message away). They probably know the technology much better than you. Also, they have combined years of domain knowledge. But ultimately, they are not your customers.

You are not your customer

Product Managers often have to make quick decisions on what is worth doing versus what’s not. Or what’s worth discovering; or investing in. It may take several years to get a deep business understanding to make those split-second decisions accurately. But, you must remember that you are not your customer.

Only your users use your product. Only they truly experience it frequently. They may have different constraints and priorities you don’t know. As much as you can, test your hypothesis and ideas with them. Some suggestions:

  • Qualitative feedback:
    • Spend time in person with them. Social interactions are a great source of feedback.
    • Interview them (remote zoom calls). Get them thinking out loud.
    • Leverage user research as much as possible
  • Quantitative feedback:
    • Product usage data; A/B testing; Fake doors
    • Surveys (offer them a gift card or a donation to a charity)

You are not your customer.