As a creative leader you’re bound to reach a point when what you’ve made just gets stuck. This happens to a lot of leaders.
When your product’s stuck, it means people demand more than what you’re delivering, and this can be scary.
It’s like everyone came to the party you started, but as the night goes on, you can feel pressure building. Friends are looking around wondering if they’ve stayed long enough. Others are starting to feel the pull of a second party they planned as yours hits a lull.
You’re wondering, “how do I keep people using my product?” or “how do I keep people from leaving me for the competition?”
Your goal is to create value, solve problems and give people a reason to stick around.
But how do you find that “next thing” that will trigger inspiration or excitement?
When we’re holding your own work up to the microscope, it’s simply impossible to see the bigger picture. Yet when you change your perspective, lift your head from the microscope, many of the problems become obvious. Doing this is not easy. It’s why companies hire consultants, why writers have editors, why artists work in teams.
The size of the strategic consultant market in the US alone hit 30.9 billion dollars in 2016. That is a lot of outside help. And it doesn’t always come cheap. Or rather, it’s very valuable.
So if you’re stuck, use this framework to get a new perspective and get moving. These actions will help you see the bigger picture.
Finding Obvious Problems
Look, listen, experience.
1.) Look: Watch people use your product.
Over the years, I’ve talked with dozens of CEOs, founders, and product owners who were stuck in some area of development. When I ask if they’ve watched people use their product, the answer is often, “no.” Sometimes, we get so hung up on creating tomorrow’s next big thing that we totally overlook the goal — serve people who exists in the real world, now.
In looking to the future for a solution, we forget to look at what we have.
Watching people is a field of study all its own. It sounds a bit creepy, but in science it’s just called observational research, or ethnographic research. But it doesn’t take professional know-how to observe people and gain new insight.
To get started, go find users where they are and watch them in action. Don’t direct them, just watch. If something seems odd or you don’t understand what someone is doing, ask why they did it. “Why” will get you to the root of what people are trying to do quickly without changing how they act.
If you feel like “correcting” what someone is doing while you’re watching them, then you’ve found the hint of a problem. What can you change about your product so people don’t need correcting?
It is also very helpful to take someone with you who is much less indoctrinated in the ways of your product. Fresh eyes will give you insight when you recap what you saw.
Remember that your goal is to help people. Empathy is your biggest asset.
As you watch people, you’ll find problems when:
- People do something you don’t expect.
- Someone asks if they’re “doing it right.”
- You start thinking more training is needed.
- You want to correct someone.
I’d recommend watching 6 to 8 people use your product. After that, the obvious insights diminish and you will likely see the most obvious problems very clearly.
2.) Listen: Converse with people using your product.
If you want to get at the heart of what needs fixing, ask people what’s wrong, and then listen intently to their responses without judgment.
Remember that what people say they want and what they need is often not the same. The goal with listening is not find out what to do, rather, it’s to find out what problems and challenges people are facing.
Here are two great places to find problems by listening:
Support centers. This is where your customers bring their problems. Support basically doubles as research! Take advantage of support’s role in solving problems by listening to people when they are frustrated. Hearing the tone of voice people use and how much they are struggling will reveal how important it is to them that your product works.
In live conversation. Have a conversation after watching someone use your product. You’ll have a fresh set of questions in your mind. The trick is to frame the questions so that the product and process is in question, not the person you’re watching.
As you listen, you’ll find problems when:
- People start asking for features. (They point to problems.)
- People reference what they used to do. (Opportunity for process improvement.)
- People don’t mention key parts of your product. (They’re not using something you spent lots of resources on.)
- People use different words to speak about your product. (Opportunity to orient product to their thinking.)
You may be equally surprised by what they say and what they don’t say. The true problems could be different than you thought, meaning you’ll have to rethink your product, or re-design part of it. You may even discover a new opportunity in the process.
3.) Experience: Use your own product.
If your product is something you can use over a few days or weeks then go for it. The goal of using your own product is to find places where you get hung up, or where you get annoyed. Have a fair amount of self-awareness when you take this approach. If you notice you’re taking short cuts, it’s likely others wish they could as well.
At a minimum, you should try out the key parts of your product. Go through the onboarding or initialization process end-to-end. Go through first time use. Then, figure out how to shut it all down or put it away and get rid of it.
As you experience, you’ll find problems when:
- You start “hacking” or doing little work arounds.
- You stop using the product, because your old way is easier and “you’re not the target user.”
- You get bored or find your mind wandering so you quit using it.
- If you say “I wish” to yourself.
The danger with experiencing the product yourself is that you may start to think that you are your primary customer. It’s true that a number of companies do an amazing job of solving their own problems first and then sharing them with others (37Signals, Zillow, and AirBnB, to name a few), but even these companies eventually grow out of this phase.
See what’s there to know what’s not.
Innovation is found more often in problems than in ideas. The obvious problem holding your “stuck” product back may be simple, but you can’t provide a solution until you find the real problem.
When you look, listen, and experience your product, you’ll receive a wealth of valuable information about what’s missing in your design. What may be elusive to you now may be completely obvious once you know how to look.