At the Edge of a Tangled Forest
And what product managers can do to clear the path for the customer.
Sometime ago, a new customer of our division (I’ll call her Sue) pinged me and asked if I had time for a quick chat. I said, “Sure,” and she sent me a calendar invitation with the rather damning subject line “Confused.”
Sue and I didn’t work together directly, but I knew her in a different capacity, and I figured this was going to be a friendly chat (it was). But I felt a mixture of both eagerness to help and, well, a smidgen of defensiveness. Even as a tiny cog in a big wheel, I still represented IT, and our division within IT in particular, so I was sensitive to how our division was viewed by customers. But perhaps I could help answer a question or two.
So I got on a call with her, and it turned out that she wasn’t confused about a couple of things.
She was confused about a lot of things.
“What’s a product owner?”
“Why do I have to attend these 15-minute daily meetings?”
“I’m supposed to fill out this security assessment and quite frankly I don’t understand half the words.”
Sue had more eye-opening questions for me, and she confessed towards the end of the call that she felt really lost throughout the process.
And why shouldn’t she be bewildered? The world of Information Technology already has a vocabulary and a process both equally abstruse to laypersons. DevOps? Backlog grooming? Story points? Pair that with a tossed salad of abbreviations (CI/C-what?) and — well, it wasn’t the sort of meal to go down easy. Sure, I wouldn’t have been expected to understand the language of her division either. But that’s no excuse for the lack of a clear onboarding process, or a confused customer. Especially potential customers.
And confusion — well, that’s a stone-cold deal-killer.
It’s a little useless to have a roadmap for your customer if the road itself is strewn with boulders and fallen branches. Below, I’ll discuss what we can do to clear that path. In particular, I write about the primary role we product managers should take on to ensure customer success, and a metaphorical scenario to illustrate this role.