Are Product Management Frameworks, User Experience The Secrets To Success?

Yesterday, we recapped the Josie & The Pussycats adventure “Memory Melody Mix-Up“… in 10 Panels Or Less™.

Today, we’re going to use that story summary as a springboard into a discussion on new approaches to discovering unique requirements that lead to better products.


This user experience? Memorable. But I don’t know that you’d call it “good”.

Five Great Experiences to Nurture

Last week, jyamasaki pointed me to this thought-provoking presentation…


… which, naturally, started me thinking about that episode of Josie & The Pussycats where the villainous Hawk captures Melody and tries to extract the secret “force field” formula embedded in her brain by a desperate scientist.

Sometimes it feels like we’re all chasing after that secret formula — that One Big Thing — that will reveal that single, secret unique requirement that will lead to a better, beloved product.

Depending on whom you talk with, the secret to finding the secret is to:

  • Talk with customers!
  • Analyze market trends!
  • Adhere to a framework!
  • Look at emerging technologies!

Two drivers are sadly overlooked in all the excitement…

Overlooked Driver #1: User Experience

One argument that particularly resonated with me in the AdaptivePath presentation was this:

When is the last time you heard someone say how they love visiting the nursing home? Nursing homes, hospital wards, homeless shelters, funeral homes, prisons: Though the residents may long for company, no one wants to visit.

My own grandmother is in a nursing home. Nice facility, staff seems friendly. But you know — you know — this place reeks of death. These are old people who can’t live on their own; never will again; and are inches from death’s door.

Could a better design experience — one centered around the visitors, the friends and families of the patients — actually encourage visitors to visit more? Honestly, I don’t know.

But could a better design experience benefit your non-death-and-sadness-oriented product? Yes.

Look at Amazon.com, Dell, and Nordstrom. These are very different companies who understand one thing: Positive customer experience design can create positive returns in revenue and loyalty.

Customer design is not a one-time process. It’s an ongoing, evolutionary experiment in creating a pleasant, consistent, understandable experience.

Put it this way: If your product has all the features your market needs, has a terrific design, but is confusing and painful to use, your product is doomed because no one will want to use it.

Overlooked Driver #2: Gut Instinct

Billionaire Richard Branson once famously said, “I rely far more on gut instinct than researching huge amounts of statistics.”

That idea flies in the face of much of what we’re taught about product management: That it’s not about opinions, it’s about reading the market; it’s not about you and your ideas, it’s about your customers and their needs.

Except, it’s not. At least, not 100% of the time.

Many consultants push product management frameworks on PMs because we’re all looking for that secret formula, that repeatable process that means we don’t need to re-create the wheel every time we want to launch a new product or feature.

Frameworks have their place. But so do your instincts.

Both Malcolm Gladwell and Dan Ariely have cited or conducted credible research showing that snap decisions stand up better than decisions made after careful analytical considerations.

I’m not suggesting we abandon reason, or stop testing business concepts, or stop listening to the market.

I am saying we need to broaden our repertoires to include gut instinct. Not personal opinion or conjecture, but that almost indefinable “pattern recognition” based on experience which Jack Welch credited for helping to reinvent GE decades ago.

What does your gut say?

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Christopher Cummings

Blogs about product management. Loves Jesus, his family, comic books, video games, and giant robots. Occasionally crawls through mud and leaps over fire.

4 thoughts on “Are Product Management Frameworks, User Experience The Secrets To Success?

  1. Gut or snap decisions sometimes feel outside my comfort zone. I prefer data-driven models. But there’s value in quickly deciding and moving to the next challenge — especially on the web, where you can adjust your product so quickly.

  2. Funny you should say this – at PCamp ’09 last weekend, I heard multiple people disdaining “gut instinct” – a terrible thing, that should be banished in favor of market research, interviewing subject matter experts, and ethnographic observations – the “real”, REPEATABLE ways to build products.

    But I’d say: those things are the building blocks of commoditization. Follow those processes and you have a good chance of assembling an okay product – but you need some leaps of faith to build a great one.

    There’s NOTHING wrong with gut instinct, unless you treat it as a divine inspiration and don’t question it. Got an instinct/hunch about something? Treat it as a hypothesis. Design an experiment to validate or disprove it.

    Identify the risk (i.e. wasting 4 months dev time, losing a big deal, spending $) and figure out how to minimize that risk while testing your hypothesis. And guess what? The way you do that testing and risk minimizing is going to vary. Sometimes your methods won’t be pretty. But some of the greatest innovations came from ugly upbringings.

  3. @ Josh – Maybe the key is moderation? It’s crazy to ignore the numbers, but the don’t always give the entire (or correct) story. And relying only on your gut instincts, in every situation, is just as flighty.

    @ Cindy – I’m hearing a lot of that same sort of talk… and it’s actually starting to make me a little worried. Testing those hunches is a great idea–even just modeling it out could help validate (or not) the gut instinct. I know everyone is feeling pressured by the economy to not make mistakes and try to repeat success. And I’m not going to argue against repeating success! But, at the same time, if we cut back on innovation and experimentation, what are you left with when the economy rebounds?

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