“Customer Centric” and Product Management

In a recent forum on LinkedIn,  Entrepreneur, product and strategy consultant, suggested: “A lot of emphasis is made around the “customer-centric” culture, customer first etc.. I don’t want to be a pariah so I do think that of course the customer is important but when you create a product or a company, if you think more about a problem to solve or a pain to lessen I think that it will be more efficient because there will be less “noise” about the priorities, a customer will sometimes express needs that at the end are not necessarily critical (not a problem or a pain). So my suggestion is to stop writing user-stories and start writing problem-stories.”


SPIN Framework

When I am coaching my Product Managers in this we focus on that old selling technique “SPIN” – situation, problem, implication, need. This is a much better framework for problems we’ve found than the ‘user story’ framework.  Applying this to a trivial ‘problem’ we might have something like:

  • Situation – there are 10% of users who can’t distinguish between red and green, but the system uses color coding for key function buttons
  • Problem – color-blind users sometimes click on the wrong button
  • ImplicationUsability: these users take 25% more time to determine which button to push, Quality: pushing the wrong button causes the world to end
  • Need – a non-color based way to use the system

Perspectives from Pragmatic Marketing

  1. Pragmatic Marketing teaches us that the “Market” is not the same as the “customer/buyer” is not the same as the “End User”. So in general I would try and pick tools which emphasize which level of abstraction you are working on at that time.  I’d say User Stories are just one tool. Because they are (deliberately) so vague, they are probably best used when applied to something quite specific – such as the need to add a search bar to a results page! Product Managers should use other tools such as SPIN, Use Cases, Buyer Personas etc for higher level thinking and don’t be constrained by being (pretentiously) “Agile” by using user stories for everything.
  2. Agile’s so-called ‘customer-focus’ is ripe for subtly encouraging one of the cardinal sins of Pragmatic – that you are building features for whom you’ve already sold the product (‘customers’) (and hence by definition people whose problems you have already solved, and who are not going to get any more money from!!) – focus instead on the ‘Appraisers’ and those in the Market Segment, but not currently looking for a solution.
  3. The internal Business Case (we will sell more product to color blind people) is somewhere as part of the Problem statement (in defining a Market Need that is “urgent, pervasive, and people are ‘willing to pay for'” – but it has no part of the User Story which is about the value to the End User, not to the software company building the solution.

Paul Osborn

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