The Art of Being a Great Product Manager

In a very generic sense, product managers are often considered the liaison between the customers and the engineers.

“I deal with the customers so the engineers don’t have to.”  - Tom Symkowski (Office Space, 1999)

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But, in truth, there is a lot more to being a product manager than being a pass through of customer feedback and requests.

Today, I was hoping to give you insight into one of the many aspects of being a product manager – understanding customer problems. This skill is a bit more difficult to master than you think. The reason is that many tend to immediately jump to solutions or take customer feedback literally rather than spending the time to get to the root cause.

To make this more concrete, I was hoping to share a relevant example related to QuickBooks Online Plus. We have recently been getting feedback on our company snapshot feature that customers want the ability to print it. Almost every customer message reads, “I love the new snapshot feature, but please make it so I can print it.”

Quite honestly, the easiest thing to do is to simply add a print button at the top of the page and be done with it. You would be a good product manager if you did this. And, the customers would be happy, right? You did what they asked for.
But, a great product manager would not be able to do this. A great product manager would need to understand why customers need to be able to print. This sounds lame on the surface, but the findings can actually be very interesting.

You may discover that some customers want to be able to:

  1. Share it with others in and out of the office who don’t have access to QuickBooks Online.
  2. Have access to this data while they are out of the office.
  3. Compile a report to hand to a venture capitalist for funding.

Even by getting to this level of detail, you can see how you could have various solutions:

  1. Share it with others by doing a quick “share” where you can email a link of the static report without giving access to all of your business data.
  2. Get access while you are out of the office with mobile viewing capabilities.
  3. Build the hard copy of a valuation report with a printed copy.

If 80% of customers have one root cause over the other, it is easy to pick a solution. But, what if it is split evenly? Should you opt to print the report since it covers all of the cases?

And, we still don’t know if we need to deal with the entire “report” or if we are talking about the specific report components or “widgets”!

So, being a good product manager is as easy, just have the customers talk to the engineers. Being a great product manager is understanding your customers better than they know themselves.

Judd

I am a Product Manager on QuickBooks Online and I enjoy fine bourbon, rap music, and burritos from La Costena.

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