Voice of the Customer – Tip #3 – Five Why’s
June 4, 2007 Leave a comment
It is very typical while talking to customers that they ask you for a very specific enhancement. As a product manager, you should make sure you do not fall into this trap of accepting that the solution proposed by the customer is what they want. Customers are good at what they do, but cannot be considered as the best people to design your product. As a product manager, it is your job to do a deep dive and find the real pain point for which the customer has proposed the said solution.
This is where the concept of Five why’s come in. I believe this concept has its roots in the six sigma philosophy (though I am not sure about this). Nevertheless, the trick is to ask the customer why he is proposing a solution. Keep asking why’s until you really arrive at the root of the problem. It is not necessary that you may have to ask five why’s or that you have to stop at five, but the idea is to make sure that you keep probing until you fully understand the customer’s real problem that needs to be solved. Some simple examples on 5 why’s can be found on the isixsigma site.
Before you do this, I have found that it is important that you let the customer at the start of your interview that you would be asking some basic questions (or the why’s) during the interview. Let them know that this is only to make sure that you fully understand their problem. The last thing you want the customer to think is that you are questioning his/her judgement or that you getting defensive based on their input. So I always make it a point to tell this to the customer right at the outset (lay the ground rules first to make sure everyone is on the same page).
Once you truly understand the problem, you can engage the smart people in your development team to come up with the best possible solution to solve the problem. Be ready to be surprised that in some cases, the solution proposed by the customer has nothing to do with the real problem. In fact, in some cases it may even make the customer’s problem worse. You are the expert in your product and it is up to you to figure out how to solve the customer’s problems in the best way.