Should You Listen to Your Users?

There is a lot of chatter going on about the new Facebook interface.  Michael Arrington posted on TechCrunch the following piece:

No! Never Surrender To Your Users, Facebook.

He argues that listening to your users or customers creates vanilla products and that it takes a “dictator to create the iPhone and change the course of an entire industry. Imagine if Steve Jobs let other people add features to that device.”

This topic is something we constantly debated at Community Connect’s product management team.  Were we going to be member driven or were we going to dictate what we believed to be the best experience by our own gut and instincts.   A lot of traditional product management practices preach that your product strategy should be driven by market research.  And then you have a company like Apple who doesn’t believe in doing any market research and being dictated by customer requests.  Their belief is that the key to their success and innovation is they are driven by the gut of their product managers/designers.  So what do you value more in a person that is responsible for product strategy – great market research or great gut?

The ideal product manager (at least for Internet media) to me is 80% great gut and 20% great market research.  I agree with Michael Arrington that innovation can often be stifled by just building features that are requested by your customers.  We build products in order to delight our customers but sometimes they really don’t know what they want to be truly delighted.  It’s not always about getting what you ask for but getting what you didn’t ask for.  However, there are also features that are asked for that you absolutely should provide to your customers or they will turn on you no matter what else you give them.  This is best described in the Kano model of customer satisfaction.  The Kano model defines 3 type of quality attributes that determine customer satisfaction.

Basic Factors – these are the must haves.  If you don’t have it, it will lead to great dissatisfaction.  For example, in a car if you don’t have brakes or even cup holders you will be incredibly dissatisfied.

Excitement Factors – these are the surprise features that when provided cause a lot of satisfaction.  However, if you did not provide them they will not cause dissatisfaction because they were not expected .  This is the surprise “delight” that is the basis of innovation.  For cars, these are features like automactic parrallel parking or real time traffic data navigation.

Performance Factors – these are factors that depending on the degree (more or less) that will influence the amount of satisfaction.  For example, the speed of the car (fast = more satisfaction, slow = less).

So when I think of great product managers, they have the ability conduct good market resarch because they can effectively determine Basic and Performance factors.   The gut will produce Excitement Factors.  I think the best product managers are made up of more great gut than market research abilities because creating Excitement Factors gives you the edge.  However, if you can’t do market research and determing the Basic and Performance factors you are doomed.  So that is how I came up with the 80/20 blend.  Also known as the bionic product manager.

What do you think Zuckerberg’s make up is?

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