Internal Expectations

By Ryan Montgomery on 30 05 2012

In the previous two posts, I've focused on how you can build a better product by channeling your natural ability to empathize with other people. For the most part, I've focused on empathy with your customer. Hopefully by now, I've communicated how important it is to put yourself in their shoes. However, customers and end-users aren't the only people who have stakes in your product, so you'll need to dust off another pair.

Discovering how to build a better product is only the beginning of the journey. After you've gathered all that valuable intel, you still have months and possibly years to go before completion. During this time you'll require a team of talented people willing to work extensively with you. Many of them will come from different backgrounds, representing different interests, and you'll need their trust to continue. That said, every single person contributing to the life and growth of this product has a vested interest in its market success. With the right communication, techniques and empathic frame of mind, you can wield the full potential of your team to deliver that product or experience on time, on budget, and as intended.

Many projects include a a number of partners, such as a direct team, a contracted design and development shop (like us), and some combination of other vendors, such as manufacturers, industry consultants, researchers or marketing agencies. Apple, for example, owns the iPhone, but they are codependent on an entire supply-chain to get their product out the door. I would challenge you to take the same approach with each of these team members as you have with your customers. If you work for clients, your customer is your client's customer. There is a chain of needs and considerations between you and the customer, and you need to understand every link.

Put yourself in the shoes of the people on your team. Be the kind of leader who understands, first hand, what it's like to make a sales call or respond to an angry customer service email. Know how cold the warehouse is where some employees might work all day, or experience first hand how bad the coffee tastes in the break room. Sometimes, small adjustments are all it takes. People who feel listened to, or who feel like someone has a grasp of their experience, feel more intrinsically like they share in the product's outcome, and rightfully so. But whether someone is accountable to you, you accountable to someone else, or you are equal partners in a product's success, taking steps to understand them empathically can lead to a revelation in your approach.

I touched on some empathy techniques in the previous two articles. I'll review them one last time here.

  1. Understand the difference between sympathy and empathy, including where assumptions are useful and where they fall short.
  2. Physically immerse yourself in the environment of your customer or stakeholder.
  3. Use traditional research and data as a tool in product development, but don't rely on it entirely.

Remember, the path to a successful product is made by people: those who create it and those who use it. If you invest the time and energy into understanding them, it won't guarantee success, but it will vastly improve your chances.