Fundamental Humility

“What you need is a fundamental humility – the belief that you can learn from anyone.” – Clay Christensen

Customers have a hard enough time overcoming their challenges. They don’t have the time to review your product manuals or reinvent how they do their business functions to use your product. The fact of the matter is that they simply won’t.

If you have been in the software industry long enough, then you have encountered the following dynamic:

The users are using a much older version of the product and refuse to upgrade to the latest & greatest version of the product. As a result, many years of development effort are waiting in the pre-production environment. Meanwhile, the product development team continually releases patches & bug fixes on the older version to the users. This is order-taking behavior.

When customers tell you that your product is broken, you should listen. It does not mean that you should then simply take their input as an order and go fix it. As the Product Owner, you then have to learn what job your customer is trying to do. What outcome does your customer desire?

For example, In one case the user feedback was about increasing the performance of the inventory search results. The users were complaining that the performance of the page was very slow.

A typical order-taking Product Owner would have created this user story –

“As a user, I want to load inventory search results faster so that I do not have to wait a long time.”


But in this case, the product owner was not your typical order taker. They learned about the job that the user wanted to accomplish. She learned that the users wanted faster performance because they can then export all the search results in a single excel file.  So she created a different user story –

“As a user, I want to download search results directly to an excel file so I do not have to do it in two steps via the search display screen”

Why do you think some product owners struggle to learn user needs?


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