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Thinking like a Product Manager

Problems arise and may be apparent to many: They can present themselves cloaked as symptoms like frustration, loss of productivity, time, or joy, stress, etc. But it is not the majority that feel they have a say in the outcome. And of those who feel comfortable voicing a concern, they may present just the symptom of the problem without scratching below the surface to the cause. And even if the causes are identified, even if the perfect solution were conceived, there are still limited resources and competing objectives and priorities to implementing a change.

The Scenario: Large Bank Software

A customer was sold on a new product made available to her based on how she uses the bank, and she was told it would only require a very quick, in-person visit to sign some papers to enact it. So, she walks into the bank branch office expecting to sign a couple papers and walk out with a new interest rate, but that 10 minutes turned into 20 then 45 minutes – eventually, 1 hour and 20 minutes later the job was likely done, and she could go home.

The task required of the bank account manager was to simply “link” two bank accounts, but she ran into trouble when the account titling did not match exactly. The account manager relied on training or prior experience to identify this mismatch and set out to resolve it, and the software allowed her to align the titles mostly but not completely: One of the signatures on the account was designated differently on one account from the other, and policy dictated that the beneficiary’s signature was required in order to grant permission to be removed to make the titling match up.

The next impediment to the process arose when trying to get the signee’s signature: The signee was not in the bank and lived too far to come in in person, and the bank software could not generate a digital request or email the form for his signing. The bank account manager, therefore, attempted to email the form to the signee, but after it was confirmed the form was not received, it was surmised that the bank’s mail router had quietly blocked the outgoing email with attached PDF, because the PDF contained the account holder’s social security number (SSN).

The workaround: This signee was, only by chance, able to be contacted in real time by phone. I will happily tell you the work around, if you ask.

In the end, after ~1.5 hours of helplessly waiting in the office for a 10 minute procedure, the customer was given the verbal assurance that the request to link the accounts would now be able to go through, but that it would be handled by the bank’s back end, far away internal support wizards. The customer went home without the assurance that the bank’s back end would honor this unorthodox maneuver and without certainty that the new product was added to her account: So she was left waiting.

But this is where my mind went.

  • How much time did the customer waste sitting the bank idle with neither realtime feedback and assurance nor any sense of time remaining? What could be done to improve this experience for the customer?
  • What other sorts of scenarios like this arise every day?
  • What parts of this problem where there was a breakdown can be improved?
  • How often does these scenario occur, and is it worth addressing them?
  • Has the bank account manager access and desire to report this sort of issue? Or will she be asked to account for her ~1.5 hours on a 10 minute customer-facing task?
  • Given a chance to share her experience, will she describe it in such a way that a Product Manager can tease out the specific pain points and suss out the root concern?

A dedicated Product Manager resource naturally thinks and operates as an advocate for the customer or end user: We see a symptom and whittle down to root causes. We brainstorm and ideate solutions ranging from utopia to workarounds. We consider what effort would be involved to reach a solution to determine its feasibility. Once a solution is determined feasible, we compare its effort, cost, and benefits against other established objectives’ priorities already competing for the same required resources. A Product Manager event sets up experiments to test how well the solution actually addresses the root problem and alleviates or eliminates the symptoms.

For an organization that sees the value of Product Management but is not quite ready to invest in a full-time, dedicated Product Manager resource, a contract Product Manager or contract Product Owner consultant provides a great balance of cost and risk to value. Available for short- or long-term engagements to provide very specific PM tasks like stakeholder engagement, business analysis, product vision boarding, building personas, roadmapping, backlog refinement, setting up experiments like feature flagging and A/B testing, etc, can help a business dip its toes in the water at a fraction of the cost and with far less risk than committing to hiring a full time Product Manager.