User Empathy

My dad and I visited the bank today. Hardly anyone visits a bank nowadays but some govt process requires that I get a seal from a bank on some documents. Anyways, so we were there. We were waiting in the visitor’s lounge while the paperwork was being processed.

A big room, with a row of visitor’s chairs with the wall behind, facing a row of cubicles of office employees with their monitors positioned so as to keep it away from the prying eyes of the visitors. On the left was the teller’s counter and on the right was the ‘may I help you’ desk which is usually for the office boys to chat around.

As we sat in our chairs, my dad (ex-banker) looked around and made some very valid observations about where some things should have been placed and that one of the framed posters was hanging in a very precarious manner. He called the security guard and told him that it should be fixed lest some mishap occurs.

I was impressed with his powers of observation and attention to detail. I told him as much. That’s when he told me that in the early days of his career as a bank manager, he had a superior who gave him the following advice:

As per the bank policy the office has to serve the first customer at 10 AM. That means the tellers and clerks have to be in office at 9:45 AM, so that they can ready their place and be ready to attend to customers. But managers should try to come at 9:30 and should sit at the customer’s lounge. Managers need to sit there for 5 minutes, look around, see what the customer sees, feel what the customer feels and make changes so that customer’s waiting experience is also enriched.

This was 30 years ago. Isn’t that the simple, meaningful version of the much glorified, less understood ‘user empathy’!

Product Manager. Who is this.

product manager

Recently I had a conversation with a friend of mine and he asked me what I do. I said I am a product manager and he wanted to know what exactly I do. That is when I started pondering on the question. Leaving aside the many definitions that already exist, I wanted to write my own, derived from what I do.

When it comes to product, he is responsible for the product that is, the product that will be and draws insights from the product that was. He keeps a close watch on what is being developed now, prioritizing and clarifying any doubts developers or designers might have with current tasks. He sets the vision for the product and breaks them down to short-term goals. He ships, iterates, ships, iterates…

When it comes to users, the product manager is an advocate of the user. He has to know what is best for the user and not just act on the user’s requests. As DHH recently wrote “acting on customers’ requests, rather than on their behalf, is generally a bad idea.” He can only act on the user’s behalf if he truly understands the user and that comes by going through support queries, through user interaction and through data. Asking “why” helps.

When it comes to writing a spec/PRD, he ensures that he covers majority of the use cases and willingly adds (of course, after some thought) new use cases when suggested by someone else. He writes in a way that developers easily understand, defining any new terms that is not in their lexicon. He defines metrics to be tracked for each of the features or enhancements. He points out the dependency, if any, with other teams or developers.

When it comes to stakeholders, he keeps them posted on the progress his team has achieved. He becomes the single point of contact because stakeholders trust him and are comfortable talking to him. He shares metrics to show progress or success of features launched.

When it comes to roles, he juggles between being a mentor, problem-solver, manual tester, story teller and user advocate.

When it comes to sharing knowledge, he is generous.

When it comes to credits, he channels them to his team. When it comes to failures, he takes responsibility, learns from them and gets to work immediately to correct the wrongs.

As a person, he is persuasive and not manipulative. He is able to back his ideas and suggestions with reason & data. He is curious and willing to learn.