3 Mistakes Product Teams Tend to Make (And How to Avoid Them) With Zendesk’s SVP Product

It’s no secret there’s a tremendous amount of work that goes into balancing your business and customers. Having a functioning product team will make that balance just a tad easier. 

It can be easy to make mistakes when you’re going really fast and have multiple projects being worked on at the same time.

Here are 3 mistakes Shawna Wolverton, SVP Product @ Zendesk, experienced, and her best learnings on how to avoid them.

Mistake #1 You can’t understand something if you think you already do

Sometimes as business owners and teams we make assumptions. It’s easy to forget that you aren’t the customer. It’s good to feel like you know things and keep things moving within your business but try not to get too lost. 

You can’t understand something if you think you already do. This can give you some major blind spots to what is really going on. 

Solution: Listen, and understand the customer

As product people, we often get in front of customers with a strong agenda. We have prototypes, interview questions, etc. We listen, but only to get to the next question. The time you spend with customers is crucial to zooming out and focusing on the bigger picture. Try to understand what the customer’s life is like. What is their commute like? What is it like to work their job? What do they do when they have a coffee break for 20 minutes?

Mistake #2 Talking to your friends too often 

A huge problem most teams face is homogeny. When searching for people, we tend to look for people who are exactly like us or people we know. We normally hire people we went to school with, knew through other jobs, or from friends of friends. Doing so may lead out to some real diverse conversation that you’d want in the room. 

It’s not just about who’s in the room, but whether the right people in the room are empowered. For example, if your business moves to a new country and you’re based in the USA, how could you possibly know what customers want in Paris if you’ve never been a customer in Paris yourself?

You want to use your internal network to create products that work for each market. 

Solution: Get Out

Obviously, we can no longer physically get out as often as we’d like due to the current state of the world. But getting out virtually can be just as important if not more. It’s crucial to network with people who are outside of your normal “friend group”. Spend this time really broadening your networks. 

Figure out who to talk to, and who to recruit. Now is a great time to rethink relationships, and find a new batch of people to talk to. Having a diverse set of viewpoints makes a product better in the long run. 

Mistake #3 Not knowing when to let go

We spend a LOT of time building new features or products, and we’re invested. Sometimes, it doesn’t work. It can have everything to do with outside factors such as timing, change in the world, budgeting, etc. It’s hard to find out you missed the mark or your product failed, but it isn’t always your fault! Some things are just out of your control. 

Don’t be afraid to step back, reassess, and try again. Stopping is not always forever! It’s possible for your metrics to be wrong. The curve can die off, and if you don’t know when to let go, it can be bad. 

Solution: They don’t call it lifecycle for nothing

The best thing to do when a product isn’t doing too hot is to take a step back, re-evaluate, and re-invent. Have a brand new product launch, celebrate this new and improved product! Don’t dwell on the “failure” of a product just because it didn’t do as hot as you may have thought. Time and the way the world changes are completely out of your control. 

If someone developed a product for concert hosts prior to COVID-19, I can certainly assure you they had to re-invent. Sometimes your first idea doesn’t always work and that is perfectly okay. Don’t lose your stride and head back to the drawing board. 

Key Points:

  • Truly listen to your customer
  • Solicit outside perspectives 
  • Know when it’s time to let go 
Published on October 21, 2020

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