Links from this episode:
Jeff's book: User Story Mapping by O'Reilly
Full transcript of our chat with Jeff Patton:
Zack Naylor: Welcome to Aurelius podcast episode 10 and I am Zack Naylor C.E.O. and co-founder here at Aurelius. On today's episode we have the very special privilege of having in person no less, Jeff Patton product consultant, speaker and his business card says chief trouble maker. Jeff welcome to the show.
Jeff Patton: Good to be here
Zack Naylor: …and so this was kind of lucky that we had this we had planned on having Jeff on the show and through serendipity you were in town just around the time that we were ready to actually reach out and start recording and so we had the pleasure having you in person
Jeff Patton: perfect you know I took an Uber down here and I learned that there's free alcohol and that's what caused me to want to attend
Zack Naylor: that is true, that has been I suppose an unspoken secret of the show for a while now and now everybody know
Jeff Patton: want to edit that out?
Zack Naylor: we're going to keep that and we've kept in much worse. Jeff was in town and he was talking a lot about as he does recently product discovery and so I kind of want to jump in there Jeff and just say product discovery what is that you know how do you define that what is product discovery?
What is product discovery?
Jeff Patton: If you're in the product world you do crap to make sure that you're building the right thing. Discovery is a old word and I kind of resisted using any particular word but the sort of needs to be a word I follow behind and somebody of the friend and some have known for a long time is a guy name Marty Cagan and Marty uses the word discovery but it's a word that I've heard used even before meeting Marty. But when I heard people using discovery sometimes they would mean the stuff we do to gather requirements or the stuff that we do to do design work and things like that. Actually when I first heard Marty talking about discovery and I heard other people talking about discovery I kind of heard it as all that stuff, it's taken me a long time and actually Marty's going to beat it through my head that discovery is the stuff we do to really validate we're building the right thing. People in the design world in the product role have a fabulous capability of convincing themselves that they are right.Using lots of heavy research and finding the people who to talk to that will convince them they're right. Sometimes avoiding all that stuff they can feel right enough without talking to anybody. Anyway so discovery gets called a lot of things how I define discovery is the work that we do to build up a strong hypothesis for what we're building and evaluate how risky it is and do deliberate work to validate we're building the right thing before we build it great that's already answered. That’s a long answer huh?
Zack Naylor: You know what will take it so here's the thing, we always beat this war drum especially at Aurelius, it's building the right thing all the time. But something you said in there you product discovery is part of making sure that we're validating that we're building the right thing and you actually made mention of hey we tend to want to do things to convince ourselves that we are right and you actually mention using research to do that so I'm curious do you use research as part of discovery or you know when you mention that is research trying to convince ourselves that you know what you mean by that?
Jeff Patton: There's kind of two sides to it. Research was a word that scared me in the early days. You know I started with being deliberate about UX practice in the early 2000s and you know people used to say research and talk about specific research methods and you know the well they talked about in a way that made it so, a little scary, I got a little scared by that so I went back to just talking to a lot of users like I always used to. It took me a long time before I learned that that kind of counts as research too can be a little bit more rigorous about who you talk to and how you talk to them and how you record we're talking to you and I see a lot of people using the word research to mean, look if we've got an idea will validate that there are people out there that will buy the idea. We may do research that will look at size of markets and look at types of consumers and we'll use that research to predict that there are people that want our stuff over time what I what I mean my research is well there's that and there is actually putting your stuff in front of people and even going one step further actually just putting stuff in front of people and asking them if they like it letting people use the stuff and actually get value out of it and actually see that it's useful. Asking people to predict if they would like something kind of counts as research but it's not. Research covers a lot of things there are lots and lots of kinds of research. More and more I'm finding that there's lots of research that you can use to fool yourself and the closer you can get to actually letting people use something and you something in real life and confirm what works for them that's the kind of research I'm going for. Is that research Zack? Is that what you do? Look dude you're the researcher I mean…
Zack Naylor: I am a researcher you know I don’t want to draw a line in the sand…
Jeff Patton: …you're one of the guys that scare me about it, you know what it really means…
Zack Naylor: …you know so I think I think people would convince you that I do! No I actually completely agree with that as a matter of fact I'm glad that I asked about that and I'm refreshed to hear the answer that you gave here is the reason why and I'm going to tell a short story myself. I have a friend of mine who works at a very large well known consultancy I'll leave the name out of respect. So you know at the end of the day what these what these folks do is they say they make a statement right, they make a very confident statement that here's the thing that should happen with the strategy or the product. And then what they do is they gather as much evidence they can to support their point of view.
Jeff Patton: yeah that's the research that scares me
Zack Naylor: yes I'll tell you Jeff that's what scares me that's what scares me into people making lousy decisions, people making decisions that don't have any rationale or worse rationale that's misleading.
Jeff Patton: You can gather facts to support almost any opinion. Anyway that yes the rationale that's misleading is the hand pick facts.
Zack Naylor: So so here's the interesting thing that I want to ask as a follow up to that. There is there's not….
Jeff Patton: Alternative facts as the word I was looking at
Zack Naylor: Yeah we're actually really against those here really it's alternative facts are. It starts it's the word starts with B and rhymes with bullshit. Anyway. So here's the thing right you were really talking about a secondary research in some way. Reviewing white papers or taking a look at the market and that's OK really that has its place.
Jeff Patton: it’s useful but I think it's not useful as evidence it's useful as inspiration as you're the whole if you're a product thinker product designer those kinds of things may help you but I don't think it's this count as validation.
Zack Naylor: So let's dig into that in validation because we talk about this validating that we're doing the right thing.
Jeff Patton: Actually that's a loaded term. Validation isn't even validation.
Zack Naylor: let's get to more of the core of the point that we violently agree on we should we should validate or we should ensure, have confidence that we're doing the right things…
Jeff Patton: Confidence is the word that I like. Because it's a risk no matter how you do it. A talk I gave last night if I walk into any startup accelerator there are a lot of people that are confident that their product is going to be successful and they're not right. But being confident is better than… I forget the word you used, validate. Validate sounds kind of black and white.
Zack Naylor: Also here's a there's an interesting point a friend of yours actually made this comment. So we had Audrey Crane on an earlier episode and one of the things that she said which I absolutely loved she kind of called me out on it and said I don't think there is a right problem to solve, there are right problems to solve and you choose which one to chase after. And I would actually put another way based on our conversation that perhaps that's confidence.
Jeff Patton: Yeah there is there's a lot of craft in what we do, as science-y as we try and make it. Look we choose our facts we choose the problems to pay attention to we choose solutions to those problems and there's always better problems there's always better solutions. We would have nothing to do if we could just solve it, if this was black and white if there were better ways to do things, if we couldn't keep inventing better ways to do things.
Zack Naylor: Yeah OK so where we started with all this product discovery. Product discovery should help us choose the right problems to solve. We need that confidence, how does product discovery give us that. How does product discovery, in a more tactical sense give us, what does that look like, what does that feel like?
Jeff Patton: That's a big question. Well the way you said it is, look I'm here in Minneapolis because I'm working with a group and we do these long format five day immersive discovery sorts of things where we go through lots of rounds of discovery they talk to lots of customers and users all week long. And I’ll talk about as us building up a two sided hypothesis. There's a problem side solution side so yes part of it is choosing the right problem to solve and then and validating that it is indeed a problem. And I'll find people in the course of a week that well will start out with a solution in mind we'll ask them to back up and so go great if that's the solution let's confirm that there is in fact a problem you're solving. And people find that there is no problem they're solving. Anyway there's a problem side that we're using discovery to validate and solution side.
Zack Naylor: Well you know so we're saying product discovery should give us that confidence that we're going to make the right thing.
When should you do product discovery and user research?
Jeff Patton: That’s right. And that's what you're using rounds of discovery for. Discovery is, there's a bazillion activities any activities are valid in terms of discovery they're all confidence building activities. Everything from interviewing people to putting prototypes in front of people to releasing things as small releases to small audience. Everything you can do, well going to say everything short of building and shipping production quality software to everybody counts as discovery. But even that counts as discovery. If your intention is to learn, it’s discovery. Once you cross a certain threshold you're, confident that you're doing the right thing and then well you keep discovering whether you want to or not but. I'll make a point to people that you release software to earn or learn or both. And if you're going to if your intention is to earn something or get profit or get benefit from something that's where you want the confidence.
Zack Naylor: I see, would it be fair to say the product discovery is, a process that takes many forms but never truly ends in product management or product development?
Jeff Patton: No it doesn’t. The products don't and that's the that's the reason discovery doesn't either. The difference between a product and a project is that the projects have a nice start stop date. You can celebrate when a project ends and you can kind of call it successful, but the product is what you're left with when the project ends. And when a project ends you can celebrate when a product ends you don't celebrate that's usually a bad sign. That's not good you want that product to live forever. Basically when a product ends you have a wake that's a different thing. And but products, especially digital products, we want to live forever because they're digital we can keep upgrading them and changing them and improving them. They're malleable, will they behave a lot more like services and yeah especially the life of a digital product a technology product, we can keep, changing it improving it and pushing up there we can give it, you know we can make it almost immortal. And that's a product managers job and that's what the discovery thing is for.
Zack Naylor: yeah awesome, I completely agree. Actually so I want to share a story because we're kind of drawing this analogy of a product and a life. A friend of mine, I have no idea if he listens to the show, with a guy by the name of Ix. He's a former Adaptive Path designer and at other places. Very sharp guy and he used to live here one of the conversations we had he said the analogy I often use with people is that building a product is like having a baby. And so for nine months you you go to the visits you read up about how to how to raise a human you take the vitamins you eat better you probably exercise. All of these things to make sure that you're in optimal shape for the day and then you have a baby. And then you have a baby! That's when the work actually starts right! So to your point the project is those nine months to its launch hurry but you have a baby to keep alive.
Jeff Patton: In business that's right it's not over you can't celebrate the end of thing of that project and have a party and yeah and leave. One of the things that I do, I'm a consultant, I used to be a product manager at a company and for whatever reason I became consultant. I focus on product companies but more and more of the last year especially I get calls from I.T. organizations asking me you know for help doing things. I tell them I work with product companies and you're more of an IT centric organization and that this is the way I teach stuff it just is not going to jive with your culture of the way that you guys do things. And they say no no no we're calling you because we want to do we want to engage in a product centric culture and this is a long preamble to, there's a lot that needs to change in a culture to do that. I remember working with a bank in Australia and the way that they work is they do projects they release something. And then they give it a short warranty period like thirty days and they release it to the BAU group, short for business as usual. And we started referring to that as the product orphanage. We spend nine months on a project to, we release it, we make sure it's given a little bit of care and then we dump it off in a place with lots of other products where there's one person to every ten to twenty products and we let it, you know no wonder so many products end up in jail.
Zack Naylor: And that's obviously not a place we want to be and so if we're talking about product discovery to we would say that the cultural problem there too was that they they lost the appetite or desire for learning. Maybe saw it as the product was launched and will celebrate and walk away. I want to actually I want to take a step back and go into another place that we were saying. So we were talking about doing the right things. If I were to ask you what is an example of a decision you would make or a recommendation that is not doing the right thing. What does that look like? Sure so we're doing product discovery to try to mitigate these risks as you've actually referred to them. But so let's imagine you know we want to know what that looks like. Let's use the alternative and see what is not and not look like yeah.
Jeff Patton: That's a pretty good question. To think about it. It looks like what most people do. Let's do a rigorous form of not doing discovery the rigorous not doing discovery you know starts with someone, usually a highly paid person who comes up with a fabulous idea. Turns it over to someone else usually a designer, and the designer not doing discovery goes to their cubicle and moves very quickly through to doing user interface design and visual design and crafts beautiful, beautiful Photoshop documents that are fabulous. They'll usually spend a few weeks arguing back and forth with lots of other people in the organization about color and style and things like that. The organization will seek input from stakeholders and others in the organization who will critique it and add functionality that was missed and the organization will twist it around and get feedback from everybody will finally come up with something that the organization loves sort of because it has a lot of tradeoffs in it. The designer will put his foot down and insist on some specific things that are fabulous to make it super sexy and they will release it and the market will throw a W.T.F. exception. And say what the hell is this and will try to pretend none of it happened. Is that an example of not discovery?
Zack Naylor: I can't imagine anybody listening to this show has ever had that happen!
How to create insights from user research and product discovery
Jeff Patton: Happens all the time. But for better or worse I’m gonna start to say some controversial things it starts to be an agency style process. If you work for an agency and a client brings you a project you learn pretty quickly that it isn't the customers or users that you're making happy. Well first off when we say customer we mean the guy that hired us the agency and it is our job to make that person happy. Then we start to get good at the pitch we start to get good at selling our design and we start to get ,if we do we need to sell our design with the research we start to get good at hand picking research that we're selling with the design. Anyway.
Zack Naylor: There seems like a lot of psychological biases. You know so that's a great point and even go back to your story of what he said what is bad product discovery look like I hear a good handful of points of failure. So point number one that I heard you say if someone inside your organization had an idea.
Jeff Patton: …and of course I'll ideas spring from insights. From somewhere which could have come from out side. Another point of failure is someone inside your organization brings in an idea that our most, biggest customer has asked for. That's another great source of bad ideas.
Zack Naylor: Yes and yes. Well so anyway I think I think the salient point to that is the idea sprung up without any supporting insight from outside of your building about what customers need in supporting any kind of behavior they have.
Jeff Patton: Insight is a good word. What's interesting is people often mistake people asking for things for insight. Certainly people will ask for things and people, the executive, who comes with a great idea recognizes a problem comes up with a great idea and imagines a perfect universe. The customer user who comes with a great idea thinks of something and imagines a perfect universe and we get to work building the thing they thought of but the insight, it’s a good word usually for me insight isn't about a thing, it's about a problem to solve. Now we're coming back full circle to the finding the right problems thing. You know there's a lot of right problems I agree with Audrey on that. The insights have to be a little stronger, a little more powerful and they're more about problems to solve than things.
Zack Naylor: Great. Next question I'm going to have to ask you then, how do we get to those insights? And we can't say product discovery because we already know that’s true.
Jeff Patton: Product discovery is such a vague term, I've been talking about product discovery without saying anything specific tactic wise about what goes in it. People listening to this podcast they're going to say what the hell is he talking about.
Zack Naylor: So before we lose that person, he's going to close our podcast, but I'll just ask you flat out if somebody were to ask you to write a click-bait blog post article headline that says, the 4 steps or the four elements of product discovery, what would it be?
4 steps of product discovery
Jeff Patton: Ironically I have four steps. The big step is first be clear about what your hypothesis is. Be clear about what problem you're solving and for who. What your solution is, what you believe is true or what you believe they will do with that product when they get it. Think it through. What will happen after things come out. If you can tell a clean story about that then we can move on and I'll call that whole thing framing to keep that short and simple and crisp. Just pull what's out of your head and frame it. If it fails in framing then push it aside. Do something else. Then, my next step is to build a deeper problem hypothesis. Tools for that are things like simple proto-personas or journey maps. Then the next step for me is building a simple solution hypothesis on anything from a sketch to a prototype to other models that explain it and for me a last step is to look back at the framing, look back at the problem, look back at the solution and say OK great we got a fabulous problem, a good idea the problem, a good idea of the solution. What is the very least that I think could be a product. The smallest nugget of the problem to solve, the smallest nugget of the solution to deliver and then look back at that. And then my next step from there is to, well ask yourself the confidence question we talked about earlier. What would you bet that you’re right? Would you bet me lunch you're right? That your hypothesis is going to work out? Would you bet me lunch you’re right, would you bet me a day's pay you’re right, your next vacation or would you bet me your car you’re right? Would you bet your house that you're right? And look your bets. The problem is most entrepreneurs would bet their house, in fact do bet their house they’re right. I've. Look if you're not confident you're right, build up a list of what scares you, assumptions that scare you, risks that scare you, questions you haven't answered. And then get to work going through some simple validated learning cycle where your pick off a list what your biggest fear, what the least you could do to test it. And then test it and then use what you learned from that test to rebuild your hypothesis. It's frame and understand the problem, understand the solution, minimize it to what you think a good product is, assess your risks and then build, measure, learn your way through that. I lost count that may be eight or nine. Or ten. Then when you're confident move forward. So that's the thumbnail of discovery. That’s how I summarize it.
Zack Naylor: Awesome. So this is actually a good place to point out that we are working on Aurelius version 2, which is going to be the smartest user research and insights platform for design and products teams. You can actually go to our website and sign up for updates on our progress and get on the wait list for beta access to check it out whenever we release that, but let's get back to the episode.
Zack Naylor: So to bring it back to you is it fair to say have an understanding of what you're trying to do, have an understanding of your customers and in what you're trying to solve for them, make good decisions that are in support of both, and then understand a metric or have some indicators of whether or not those were good decisions.
Jeff Patton: Let's bookmark measurement, I should let you finish that but…
Zack Naylor: I want to actually want to go one more place, tell me if I'm crazy on what I just said. Is that fair to summarize?
How to measure the success of design and product management
Jeff Patton: That does. So there's a one of the things I'll ask people to do is to say how they'd measure success. Yet as part of building a hypothesis, a strong hypothesis is being clear on, look if we build this this is what we expected change in the world and this is how we will measure it. But those measurements are outcomes they're what happens when you ship. They aren’t the measurements to use doing discovery.
Zack Naylor: I actually believe there are two parts to an effective measurement. But the one thing that I want to…
Jeff Patton: Do you say measurement or metric? I’ve gone rounds with people on this. Is it a measure? People told me measure is a verb, metric is the thing…
Zack Naylor: …the interesting thing is, I actually refer to it as both because I think it is a two pronged approach. But the one thing that you dove into that, you know, I actually haven't heard before that I think is a brilliant…
Jeff Patton: …I said something you haven't heard before?
Zack Naylor: yeah you said, OK now if we're going to cosign with that summary, have an understanding of what you're trying to do, goals, have an understanding of your customers and what they are trying to achieve, their research insights, insights about your customers, make a decision that support those things. We can do all that, we can be as you mentioned, relatively scientific about that. But when we get to that point a decision the thing that I took from what you just shared was the confidence then in that decision and that I believe actually separates the science-y to the scientific in a way because, Like you said, are you confident enough to bet me lunch? Are you confident enough to bet me a week's pay, are you confident enough to bet me your house. And to your point it could be dependent on the person.
Jeff Patton: I’m more backing away from the metaphor or the usage of that because foolish people can be confident with very little evidence so we all have anecdotal evidence of that. Confidence may be wrong.
Zack Naylor: Yes but how do I say, the underpinnings, I think are so resoundingly just to say would are you willing to bet what degree of something that is important to you. Even the most foolish people have things that are important to them. So I guess the point is to say is that level one or two or three or four. Because of its level one that decision sucks, we shouldn't do that despite your evidence.
Jeff Patton: Well this is where if your confidence isn't high, this is where the discovery thing comes in. Look if you’re a product manager at a product company you know you get asked to build a lot of shit your confidence isn't high, it won't work. This is one of the arts we were using that the baby metaphor before. Product managers are asked to adopt other people's babies always. We get tossed babies from everywhere. And we have to learn to fall in love with them
Zack Naylor: It’s a lot like a daycare actually.
Jeff Patton: And so if we get ta someone's baby and we're not confident that baby is going to grow up to be a scientist, our confidence is kind of low. It doesn't mean we say let's give up on that, it means OK well why is our confidence low. When I talk about building list of questions, assumptions, risks, so what's the thing that makes me unconfident in that in that particular baby. And then let's talk, that's where the discovery work comes in that's where we actually start looking to say OK am I right or wrong about that. Is my assumption wrong, is the risk or the thing that worries me, is not really a risk is the question or hole in the information. That's where the work comes and that's the discovery work.
Zack Naylor: Makes perfect sense.
Jeff Patton: So little confidence doesn't mean don't do it.
Zack Naylor: It means a lack of information
Jeff Patton: Yes
Zack Naylor: And a lack of information or a lack of insight, leads to a lack of confidence
Jeff Patton: that's right
Zack Naylor: now that rots product development
Jeff Patton: yea, say that again?
Zack Naylor: it rots product development from the very core
Jeff Patton: Well you know what's interesting is what rots product development sometimes is, over confidence with little information. That's the scary part… the people that are wildly confident with nearly no insight or no information or no past experience those those are the things that, I can say this with extreme confidence because I'm guilty of twenty years of it, because I've done stupid shit for the first ten years of my career. I've been wildly confident things are going to be successful. Many times it's taken me a lot of stumbling before I realize that’s stupid to be so confident without any kind of evidence
Zack Naylor: Yeah you know it is interesting thing too because we were talking about agencies and kind of consultancies at the start of this in some way and we, yes we took a jab at their process you know what I would even fall on the sword of saying so. But here's the thing here's what I've told people. When you present a problem, regardless of how well that problem is defined, when you present somebody a problem anybody, who immediately answers to you that they have the solution to your problem, you should run as far in fast away as possible.
Jeff Patton: Or hang with them and see what happens
Zack Naylor: that can be an expensive comedy show
Jeff Patton: yeah so long as your not the one that have to suffer with them but. If you work for the same company they do that could be a problem.
Zack Naylor: Exactly right and so…
Jeff Patton: Yes yes sometimes it's nice to sometimes stay on the train, you can see a train wreck coming and you know if you stay on the train to see if it happens
Zack Naylor: What are the signs of a train wreck coming? I mean when you hear about this, like you've been around, you've seen this…
Jeff Patton: Right it’s something that comes with getting old Zack, you're not that old… how old are you? To personal for a podcast?
Zack Naylor: Oh please, how do you think I am? I want to ask this, somebody asked me how old I am I would be offended if there's very little that would offend me
Jeff Patton: You're probably 57, no I don't know
Zack Naylor: In my heart I'm actually 57
Jeff Patton: no no, I was trying to offend you but but no I… probably early 30s
Zack Naylor: that's correct
Jeff Patton: OK. I've been to a lot of carnivals and if I guess your age I usually get a stuffed animal
Zack Naylor: I’m sorry to say we're not actually in the business of building stuffed animals.. that as it turns out Jeff does not solve our customer's problem so we've done relatively effective product discovery there
Jeff Patton: Anyway, we’ve digressed a couple stages, what were you talking about?
Signs that you're building a bad product
Zack Naylor: so you said you know you said sometimes you stay on the train, even though you know a train wreck is coming, and my question simply all what are the signs that a train wreck is coming? There's a lot of us that wouldn’t want to stay on that train.
Jeff Patton: I mean I say the truth is if it's my own company I don't stay on the train. As a consultant I allow small train wrecks to occur often because that's the only way to let people understand that, you know in a way you can't warn somebody about the warning signs when they're confident. There's that confidence word again if they're confident and you tell them about the reasons they shouldn't be they won't trust you. So you have to let that occur so long as it's not going to kill them or hurt them. Not a bad thing but one of the signs, I don't know is that we're probably going back to the other stuff they're doing, you know the signs are always you know, in fact maybe the biggest sign is over confidence. Oddly. You know actually losing faith in that word confidence, I'm unconfident in my use of the word confidence.
Zack Naylor: Which is perhaps a sign that you know exactly what the hell you're doing if you are you are not confident that. This is a good movie Inception at this point
Jeff Patton: Dream with a dream experience here but no… overconfidence is certainly one. Over confidence is one of the most blinding things you can run into. You know you've got to be able to “Black Hat” your own stuff you've got to be able to look at things and there's a point there is a nasty amount of split personality disorder necessary to survive in a product world. This came up in another kind of a presentation.
Zack Naylor: I know you're referring to I can’t remember him…the different colored hats?
Jeff Patton: Yeah yeah. OK good I'm going to remember just a minute. So we have to really shift a lot between yellow hat thinking and black thinking…
Zack Naylor: …just for those unfamiliar yellow hat thinking as opposed to black out thinking is
How do you make a product easy to use or intuitive?
Jeff Patton: yellow hat thinking is you know how optimistic, how awesome would this be, how great is this. And black hat thinking is pessimistic thinking. What could go horribly wrong with this and kind of to swing back and forth between this. To champion an idea you have to have yellow hat thinking and this is where the child metaphor comes in pretty good here too. Look at you have to have absolute faith in your child that they can go on to succeed and similarly with your product, but if that's all you have that's starts to be a problem. We started on this where you know one of the signs of the train wreck and it's leadership that only displays yellow hat thinking. Is unable to black hat or isn’t, actually some of the best leaders maybe might not be good at black hats but will include black hats on their teams because they know they need to balance so has to be in there. Other signs of a train wreck are, well this is evidence is the things that we've been talking about before is nothing. Evidence can be anecdotal it can be a little bit if you can just clearly say I believe this is going to succeed for these reasons, OK that's that's something. Better evidence would be actually seeing somebody use your product, and want it and like it and tell other people. Now we started on this thing with signs of a train wreck. Trying to think there are bazillion little process things, I would expect people to do some work to validate, I would expect people to be able to tell strong stories about the problems they're solving and who they're for and things like that. Oh I don't want to pick on people but, trying to figure how to characterize this just working with a team today and they're describing the characteristics their product needs to have things it needs to do. And they're describing it from their perspective. They're trying qualities of their product and I'll ask who wants that and why do they want that. They can tell a good story, they start to realize that they're not thinking about the person who's using this product. If I see easy to use and intuitive on a list one more effing time I'm going to shoot myself. My usual answer for that is, great your users want something that is easy to use and intuitive. That's in contrast to those users who wanted to be hard to use and painful I mean are not obvious. Specs like easy to use and intuitive are surefire signs we're not thinking about who is using this product and why.
Zack Naylor: But when we say easy to use, here's the interesting thing and how I usually work with people to do this is if you started with those very clearly defined goals, what is it we're trying to do, you can say make it easy to use I'm actually completely fine with that statement.
Jeff Patton: really?
Zack Naylor: yes because I call them on the carpet..
Jeff Patton: and I want to hit people with a baseball bat when I hear that… I never have you know, that you know me to say I’m getting older
Zack Naylor: well, I keep the samurai sword on the table I just don’t unsheath it yet. So you say one of our goals is to do X. Make of the article sharing functionality as accessible as possible. What should that help you do? Make it easier use, great how will you know it's easier to use? And so that's when we just dig into that layer deeper of saying what does easier to use mean, how it manifests, what behavior sort of thing…
Jeff Patton: …exactly fair enough. You got to get to a point where you can talk about what it would look like and how to observe it. So the bullshit story that I usually tell is the say easy to use like an A.T.M. or is it use like an F16 cockpit? Because for an F16 pilot the F16 cockpit controls were a lot easier to use than the F15 cockpit controls. Easy to use is relative to the person who's using it and what they're trying to accomplish. Easy to use for your grandma is not easy to use for someone else who’s not your groundma
Zack Naylor: …for Iceman and Maverick. Yeah exactly, we actually completely agree
Jeff Patton: Yeah absolutely, yeah it's just I want to know so, so I agree with your exactly what you're saying and my my shorthand is to say, easy like what? I don't want to hear you say easy, I want to hear you give me a metaphor for easy in the context of your product. Easy like what, give me an example of what is easy is. Easy isn’t, useful fast isn't useful, any thing, any characteristic of a product that you can evaluate, that you can self substitute for, is it useful. Whenever you introduce a subjective term, you, like if I say that tastes good you start to think about what tastes good to you. That's hot, that's cold, that's easy, that's hard, that's painful, it's those are all self-referential terms. If you use those kinds of self-referential adjectives to describe your product well that's a signal that you're not horribly aware of someone else.
Zack Naylor: …and I would boil all that down into the old UX axiom you, are not your user
Jeff Patton: Yeah
Zack Naylor: I think that's over simplified but in reality I mean it’s, you know, it describes that very well right
Jeff Patton: In the spirit of being contradictory to everything, sometimes you are…
Zack Naylor: …and I actually don't disagree with that either which is why I say that old UX axiom, you know I think there are a lot of things hokey, shitty things we like to say…
Jeff Patton: …like all axioms they only have to be true a lot of the time or sound good…
Zack Naylor: …not even a lot of the time
Jeff Patton: or be alliterative…
How to build a great product and strategy
Zack Naylor: …this is true sure. Yeah OK and this is interesting too because it's weaving together a lot of things that we've talked about. We talked about good product discovery is doing this stuff is having a very good understanding of what we're trying to do you know a good definition of that that goes beyond simple statements. Right then we talked about having a really good understanding of the people we're doing this for. Then and then really effective product discovery we can have confidence that we can make a decision that clearly illustrates evidence in both of those things that it's helping us achieve something that we very clearly defined and it's supported by something we understand from the people we're trying to do that for. And at the end of the day that's a strong product strategy yes?
Jeff Patton: It's a way of working. And the more and more I run into people that I met you know ten years ago… first I hate running into people I met ten years ago because I think I'm ten years older… and secondly I ran into people ten years ago that I met when they were just starting out and now they're very successful what they're doing and especially people that are very successful in a product world. And one of the questions I is ask them in a long conversation about a lot of different things is about all I’ll want to hear how they're doing and what they're doing but, I always asked them if you had to give one piece of advice to someone who is a product manager or going into the product world about how to be successful at this what would it be? And almost always, and by almost always I mean more than half the time, they will say, spend more time with the people who use your products. You know I’m talking about data, talking about empathy I'm talking about understanding, I'm talking about walking in their shoes by actually walking in their shoes, being there with them while they do things and… understanding the people. There's no shortcut around understanding the people that use your product, there is no tidy data or bar chart, pie chart or heat map that will explain your customers to you. It's the one on one contact. So set aside any of the crap that I've said about discovery or product, anything we've talked about process, if there's one thing that you have to do it's that. It's understand the people you're building for. And even saying that I know people that have been wildly successful that don’t. So…
Zack Naylor: …and in that point I will actually jump in and share a quote that I heard, I believe it was actually from Jared Spool, you know what he said people are often very successful in spite of themselves
Jeff Patton: yes…
Zack Naylor: …and so I guess a lot of different ways you can say that but I I want to get back to the more important point, to everything you just said that there is no short cut to the hard work if you want to build a great product. If you want to have a great product, product strategy, you have to do the hard work of actually learning from the people you're trying to serve…
Jeff Patton: …and let me put an asterisk by that and then say unless you're lucky...
Zack Naylor: …unless you're lucky and in the end you're successful in spite of yourself ,in which case I'll put an asterisk in and say that luck will run out at which point you’ll need to adopt that culture and hunger of learning.
Jeff Patton: yea…
Zack Naylor: Jeff Patton, this was an amazing conversation with you. We have covered a great number of topics mostly focused on product discovery talking about doing the right things and the ways that we get there. In summary as most episodes are for those of you who listen to our show regularly have a very good understanding of what we're trying to do as a company, as a business, as a product. Learn from our customers, our users, people… and then make decisions based off of that. If you do that I will go on record and say that you are at least halfway likely to be successful.
Jeff Patton: 46.5%
Zack Naylor: I'm going to go 57%. Jeff Patton thank you so much for joining u,s is there anything that you would like to share with people listening to the show about the work that you're doing?
Jeff Patton: Everybody should go out and buy my book, I have a 15 year old daughter I need to put through college that's important.
Zack Naylor: It is important!
Jeff Patton: Also a thirteen year old daughter but she doesn’t want to go to college, she’ll change her mind on that. I teach classes, you should go to my website, I teach classes on product ownership and as long as they will let me that I teach Scrum Alliance certified classes and I don't teach any Scrum! I teach what we've been talking about. I focus on product ownership and I teach product management. I'm known for story mapping, we didn't say that term even once here and I'm pleasantly refresh by that, but it's a halfway decent book. So you should buy that and review it if you've already got it. And check my website, look for a class, I'd love the love to meet you in person.
Zack Naylor: Awesome OK, so the name of the book is story mapping.
Jeff Patton: Yea, User story mapping by O'Reilly
Zack Naylor: Ok, we’ll have a link to that title in the show notes, go check out Jeff Patton if you guys are trying to do this type of work obviously talk with him, he can help you coaching your teams. Jeff thank you so much for joining the show it's been a great pleasure.
Jeff Patton: Pleasure to be here.