The Most Useless Product Management Question That Everyone Asks

The wrong questions stunt innovative thinking and slow down agile development processes

The wrong questions stunt innovative thinking and slow down agile development processes

The traditional roles of marketing professionals have blurred much over the past few years. Public relations professionals are being held accountable for demand generation goals. Lead generation specialists are responsible for sales conversions and product management has been embedded into new agile development processes as product owners.

Product management has always been responsible for gathering requirements, documenting launch steps and coordinating between marketing and development. But now the lines between their role and what used to be called product marketing has blurred. Product management is in every sense of the word the voice of the “user”. Good product managers take this responsibility seriously and work hard to put themselves into the shoes of their buyers. To be effective, that means talking to lots and lots of customers & prospects.

Unfortunately, being technically savvy, passionate and organized, traits of product managers, does not necessarily translate to good at gathering information from “users”. I can’t tell you the number of input calls I’ve participated in where the person being interviewed is asked “What do you want?” Oh the question is often couched with colorful language such as “You’re such a thought leader, what would you like to see us build?” but hyperbole aside it’s still the same general question.

This question is useless for two reasons.

1. We aren’t likely to build what any one person wants, why engage the conversation as if we are headed down that path. It only leads to disappointment.

2. Far more important, no one really knows what they want. It’s too broad a question to garner specific feedback, and most users can’t envision truly innovative features.

Instead of asking “What do you want” make specific queries:

  • What is the one daily task you avoid doing? Why do you avoid it?
  • What are the three features of the current offering which you use every week? Is it easy to teach your colleagues how to use them?
  • How is your performance measured? Do you have the tools within our product to show progress against those goals?
  • If you had to choose between feature X and feature Y what would you chose? Why?
  • Who is your most painful internal client? Why are they difficult to please?

And once you’re ready – demo prototype features and ask for feedback. You’ll be shocked how users will envision using a piece of code in ways you never dreamed. Even better, it’s likely to spur ideas for new features you didn’t even consider.

By all means, please ask your buyers what they want. Just do it in a way that drives data collection you can act upon.