Empathy in Product Management


Swiss Army Knife with too muchI’ve discussed the need for us to use more empathy in our projects. One easy step in is to stop talking about users and remember that people use the solutions we create. There are fellow human beings trying to get things done with what we deploy.

This consideration needs to be taken back another layer. We are people as well. The products we are forced to use, from the standard Content Management System (CMS) to the most complicated Information Governance suite, needs to be easier to use. It shouldn’t take a week of training to just start using a system, much less being productive. Mistakes made in the beginning shouldn’t doom us to years of pain.

Enterprise software User Experience matters.

CMS Nightmare

When I was the Chief Information Officer (CIO) at AIIM, we used Sitecore for the website. It was the right tool for AIIM, but it was complicated to use. While a great platform, Sitecore has tried to be all things to all people. The ability to do things wrong while still publishing a website is phenomenal.

The website was originally deployed by an internal team of developers and designers working with the content authors. There was training, and certifications, but when the team hit a hurdle, everyone returned to their base skills and customized Sitecore.

Bugs Bunny looking at a mapWhen I arrived, there was more training and outside help brought in to redo (aka “fix”) sections of the website. As each section was reworked, it was structured as it should have been in the first time.

As far as I know, this process still continues.

How could Sitecore have been implemented so wrong? The need for experts is understandable when working with a deeper feature set, but how could the basic template-content relationship become so broken?

Like most enterprise software, Sitecore had raced to add features without thinking about the people using the system.

How Product Management Should be Done

It is more than just making products easier to use. Product people need to put themselves in the place of the people who will use the system. Not the managers, not the executives, but the people who will use the system.

Like June in accounting or Byrant in communications.

This means understanding that every day that people are asked to do more with less. Routinely when someone leaves for a new job they aren’t replaced. The work hasn’t gone away. Add in the new technology that is everywhere and the expectation that people will learn it in their spare time.

That time is precious.

Systems and solutions need to save time. If they create more work, they have failed and won’t be used. Software companies have to realize this. They have to realize that they not only have to make work easier but do it better than all these new startups that are taking time to work on the most critical pain points.

Why are newer systems constantly entering the marketplace? Because there is a lot of room to make things better. Why are they taking market share? Because they have focused on making everyone’s job easier, from Linsey in IT to Joseph in public relations.

Advice for Product Managers

Proactively work with partners and customers to learn not what features need to be added, but what current features are too hard. Which ones aren’t ever used? What caused pain in their most recent project? Listen closely.

Don’t stop at the project managers, talk to the people who did the work to implement the system. Scene from Talk to the people who have to use it to complete their jobs. Watch and learn from how they use the system.

Take what you learn and talk to the next organization, and the next, and the next. Find the people who curse your name at night.

If you can’t find them, you aren’t looking.

Then go back to your office and determine what you can do to make your system easier for people. What will make them have to work with the system less and execute on their job more?

Remember to make sure that you consider all the upgrades that will have to happen. If it is too hard, those improvements will not be realized and you will lose those clients eventually as they will just migrate to a new system.

Use your system. Empathized with your clients. Find a way to make your system the one system that people enjoy using.

3 thoughts on “Empathy in Product Management

  1. Or, remove the features people liked and turn your product in a ay that supports your new mission and start pursuing new customers at the expense of the ones you already have. Oh wait, I think someone used that approach…sorry.

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