ProdPod with Adrienne Tan

Ben Crothers ‘People not pixels’

John Carter
October 4, 2019
Join our CIRCLE Community to discuss this episode

Connect with other ethically driven change makers from all over the world.

Learn more
ProdPod with Adrienne Tan
October 4, 2019

Ben Crothers ‘People not pixels’

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Pretium est ipsum dictum lectus mauris netus. Diam sed sit quisque facilisi luctus feugiat.

Episode shownotes

Episode Transcript

This transcript was created using the awesome, Descript. It may contain minor errors.
Note: This is an affiliate link, where This is HCD make a small commission if you sign up a Descript account.

Hello and welcome to ProdPod. We’re a part of This is HCD. We’re bringing all human centred practitioners real and honest conversations about product management.

My name is Adrienne Tan and I’m the co-founder of Brainmates. Today I have Ben Crothers from Atlassian. He is the principal designer and has been at Atlassian for how many years, Ben?.

Hi Adrienne. Thanks for having me on. About five years now actually. Yeah.

Excellent. Tell us a little bit more about what you do at Atlassian.

Yeah sure. Most of the time what I do is I train and I coach in design practice so I do a lots of training classes and group coaching workshops. I also facilitate a lot of sessions anything from design sprints to strategic discussions. And I typically kind of helicopter into teams to help unblock them if they need unblocking. If they’re kind of stuck on a problem I helped to get them unstuck so I don’t really work on one particular product at Atlassian. I work across a lot of different products. I like to say I design with people more than pixels. Yeah.

Excellent. And so how do the teams that Atlassian get a hold of you. Just for interest really.

Oh this grabbed me in the hole really I know. I think look everything happens over slack at Atlassian. And although I’m part of a team of coaches people tend to find out about me through the training classes that I do I’ll do a training class in problem framing for example and then someone says Hey that was really awesome. Can you come and help my team with our particular problem. So that tends to be my engagement model. So I’m a bit of an internal consultant that way.

That’s awesome. That’s awesome that the people at Atlassian have access to you as a resource really. Look today is a really interesting discussion because you’re not a product manager and we’re on the prod pod podcast.

That’s right. I feel like I might have wandered into the wrong room I thought resisted podcast design. Oh no it’s product.

I think it’s excellent. I think we need to have more of these discussions I think designers and product managers need to really unpick and re stitch the way that we build products.

Yeah. And if I’m honest if I can look back on my own career I can see at the core of it all is definitely human centred practice. Like I like that. Absolutely. Before and so much of what I do is at a I guess the strategy level so I’m often in there with product managers trying to articulate success and what that is and how to measure success and what metrics and targets we’re going to use and so often I find myself in the sort of sphere of product management. And if I think back to some other jobs I’ve had a lot of that work has been doing the work of Product Manager I guess you could say excellent.

Well we’ve always said that the role of Product Managers accidental. You don’t really know that you’re doing it until you you know discover that there’s this whole kind of profession called Product Management then you go hey I’m a product manager looks like on a minute.

Yeah exactly. But today I really want to talk about how we build product and how we nurture and grow products. And I think that kind of nurturing growing aspect of product is essentially not well performed is ignored. And so what is it that we have to do to shift essentially the focus now. Michael Eckhard who works with the chasm Institute often says that organisations and product people spend a lot of their time and energy and resources and really intellectual capacity figuring out what new products to build and then subsequently building it. And it’s at that point with you know it’s mainly an investment situation because we’re investing money and time and effort and we’re not recuperating anything at that point when the product is in market. What tends to happen at lots of different companies is that they forget to kind of nurture that product when actually that’s the most critical time to nurture the product because it is actually trying to make a return for you. And so I wonder really what your thoughts are around that and how we can kind of unpick this this funny weird behaviour.

Absolutely. I think I might be getting this stat wrong but I remember reading some stat that it costs three times as much to get a new customer as it does to retain an existing customer. So if one of the main power metrics we need to follow is customer acquisition cost we want to keep that as low as possible. And so yeah I think you’re right there’s such a strong narrative around the new you know like it’s always about the new and the kind of rock star element is in the new. And yet if you think about it most of us are engaged with the existing and I like what you said around it’s about nurturing. What is there. I mean I’ve always had the view that a product is simply the instrument that a business is putting out into the world to affect its vision. Now there could well be a bunch of services that they could do to effect that vision instead of the product or they could very well be multitudes of products that they could put out but it’s really just a lever that they have in the market to effect their vision and anything like that needs nurturing like it needs to be there for the long haul. And I think I don’t know whether it’s like a Silicon Valley thing here. Like I don’t know. Talk out of school here. But there’s such a strong narrative around trying to put something new out get noticed get funding get v C’s attention and then sell out and then blog about it and go on the speaking circuit for the rest of your life you know.

Yeah. And if you think about it and I’m I’m sure a lot of your listeners like there they’re in it for the long haul. And so many of what we think of as products and what we speak of is products like their products within banks financial institutions insurance and government agencies and a lot of time we’re kind of using the word product as this kind of portmanteau for the actual thing that we work on like. I think an IBM innovation Pensacola offering managers because they’re designing and putting out offerings to their enterprise clients and maybe year we just need to be a bit more real in our language about that offering that we are putting out like that thing that we are trying to grow for our customers and their customers and not get so hung up on the kind of Rockstar element but instead see the great value in the long game.

So how do we convince them though to not think about the brand you know shiny new product. How do we shift people’s focus and attention to something more important that there’s something kind of organic living breathing in the market. How do we say hey pay attention to this thing because inevitably most people and it’s also in the literature it’s in everything that we see isn’t it. Yeah.

And in our nomenclature it’s everywhere. Brand new MVP all those terms it seems to be all about the shiny brand new. How do we shift people’s attention. What is it that we should do as practitioners to say hey don’t neglect your product in market has such a good question.

I think it’s got to have something to do with the equity that we are building up for ourselves in the market. And I like that reputation that we build up and the relationships that we build up between us businesses and our customers and their customers in their communities.

And I think actually if I was listening to a previous episode about NPR there’s a fairly robust discussion that was a funny time was awesome.

That was awesome and so much of that narrative around NPR says it’s like saying hey enough about me. What do you think about me you know. And I think one thing is to move away from vanity metrics toward impact metrics and look at a pathway of impact metrics and by pathway I mean rather than only thinking about your product and how much of it you’re selling and how many customers perhaps we can really have a proper discussion about ongoing impact and say well what about those customers customers. Are we actually helping them in their business. Are we making them the hero in their business. Because we know that if you look at any kind of product particularly SAS products that have a tiered offering say you know you’re free your standard your premium and there’s often some kind of value metric that you can see going through those offerings and a lot of them if they’re designed right. If the product strategy is doing his job you can see that there is a larger offering waiting for them. Yes at a higher price but when they are ready to grow into that space as a customer. And so I think having a great value metric for customer growth as well as your own business growth I think there’s something in that. And there’s also something about telling stories internally in your business about how you are actually bringing success to your customers.

I should say one thing that Atlassian has done well is I’ve noticed particularly over in the offices in San Francisco they’ve got these fantastic posters on the wall that really speak to the success that we have helped customers with. And it’s not done in a egotistical way. It’s done in a way to say hey this is how business is scale this is how they grow.

This is how these customers are making their dent in the universe. And I think if we can start crafting a few more metrics and targets around that then we can see how our product is just one part of the product set that each of those customers yes. I think that’s quite inspiring. Yeah.

People. Absolutely. As I said there’s a lot of literature lots of processes and frameworks and every kind of tool and Ken was known to man and women.

And so these kinds of tools don’t really teach us how to nurture our product and grow it scale it or whatever it might be that we want to achieve for it. But there’s nothing there to kind of support the product person when they are managing and nurturing our product and market. What would you suggest. Yeah what is with that. I don’t know. I need to write something but that’s less.

Let’s go let’s go grab a whiteboard and jam on this. Yes I know. But before that there’s the value proposition canvas.

I think that’s a nice example of how we can really be real about being customer centered trying to create something that is genuinely valuable to a particular kind of human with a particular kind of problem.

But something I’ve always noticed about that is it’s kind of outside of time. It’s kind of speaking to there and then value not value over time. So I wonder if there’s something about saying well what does progress look like. Yeah what we would like a value. Progress. Yes look life. Yeah. Because I daresay it’s going to change over time.

Like change. And it should it should. Different target customers may like your product. They might have discovered it you know it’s like the whole customer lifecycle adoption curve where you’ve got your innovator right up to your laggards.

Yeah. It has to change it has to change.

That’s something that’s often mildly annoyed me. Like if you look at a lot of customer journey maps that try to kind of go into wind that often kind of goes evaluate buy use and get help upgrade and you think no no no no hang on a minute we just change the voice there. It went from something that customers are doing and then back to to our product like upgrade what are they upgrading for. And what is that kind of ladder of progress for the customer. That would be an interesting thing to map I think. Yeah and you’re right. That’s going to look different for different kinds of customers in different kinds of markets.

And I think something that we don’t do well as product people is to try and figure out what exactly do we do on a day to day basis to nurture our product. I think there needs to be kind of some instruction some help and guidance around that.

Yes. So you’ve just you just hit another nerve with me. Oh man on a therapy I’ve got so many like hang ups and I love that.

But the thing around the hyperbole that we use like yes is very you know on point to say where a customer is centered you know who would not want to be customer centered but it’s somehow not enough to be customer centered we have to be customer obsessed. And when people say that I kind of think that they’ve got all these photos of customers up on their bedroom wall with real strength my goodness that’s a horrible image.

It’s not it’s not a pretty image is it.

And sometimes I think we say that because we’re afraid if we make it too much about our product well then it sounds like we’re being egotistical but I don’t think so at all. I think we need to be fans of our own product. We need to still be excited about what our product can do. You know if I think of the most inspiring conversations I’ve had with product managers and others I’ve worked with and they’ll say oh you know I just found it like this new feature in such and such a product of ours. I didn’t even know it was there. It made my day and they fans of their own product not in an egotistical way but in a way that they are genuinely excited about what it can unlock for people. And so maybe there’s something in there around creating product stories and stories that show the sort of potential that products can unleash for customers.

I mean I’m I know I’m kind of reading of the hymn sheet over the last scene there a little bit because a blessing is big into unleashing potential in every team.

Me personally I am genuinely interested in how do productivity software products unleash potential. And I really want to know I want to see that in action. I want to hear more stories of that in action because the more we hear that the more we can spark new connections for you know feature enhancements that really do add value.

And so I like to go back to that concept of product story and having those stories available. How do you see that happening though on a practical sense when your product is in market do you see product managers essentially doing more research speaking to customers and understanding the stories more and understanding how their product solves problems currently and writing that up. What did they do with that kind of product story.

I think it is all about the kind of questions you ask. And by the way like I’m fully okay with product managers interviewing customers and listening to customers. That’s a cool thing.

Yay. You’ll have lots of you. Sorry you exist but sometimes there is a you know there’s a boundary and people get really upset about crossing it and I just think it’s silly.

Yeah. Look no one has the monopoly on tickets to the customer. I’m sorry.

Yes. Oh we need a sticker for that.

But what intrigues me is the kind of questions you can ask like to ask a question for example. Who is this feature for is a very very different question to who should this feature be for.

One is product centric and one is customer century and I think coming back to the product stories. QUESTION I think it’s great if anyone including product managers can be out there asking customers can you tell me about like what has our product done for you lately. Sounds like a song but what has our product done for you lately and just listen to what they say. Listen to the language listen to the mental model that is emerging from their language. Listen to that unspoken need and perhaps the hint at a problem but not so you can stampede toward a problem statement. But just to genuinely immerse yourself in exactly how each customer is using your product because for me I found the most entertaining most rewarding most insightful parts of customer interviews have been around that kind of question. What is it actually doing for you. I remember hearing some great stories coming out of cello customer interviews where people use cello for all sorts of things including organizing their wedding motor home holidays around New Zealand you name it and things like that.

Wow I would never have thought of that. And that’s really exciting. Yeah here again.

And so when you ask these questions What do you do with the information when you come back to the office as a product manager. What do you expect them to do.

One thing I don’t want him to do is to cherry pick a sexy sounding quote put it on a keynote slide and use it as self aggrandizement. Like I don’t think that’s what it’s about. Yes have some quotes available but going through a whole lot of customer interview results I’d be looking at what the language reveals about the desires of customers and their dreams and their hopes and needs. If that makes sense like what did I aspire to. What are they into. And odds are they’re trying to kind of solve problems for their customers and their communities. So how is your product connected to that. I’d be looking to make those kind of connections. It’s almost like an if this then that story coming out of it like if our product is satisfying that kind of need could it do it better. Or what else could it do. Is there an adjacent need that it could do a better job of. Yeah as well. So I think there is great value in looking at the utility relationship between the user and the product. As I speak I’m kind of waving my finger in the air like this invisible whiteboard I’m drawing a figure and I’m drawing a little box of a product and there’s a line between and that line of relationship of utility we want our products to be is fit for purpose as possible.

Yeah. And you talk a lot about making though and I love that concept about what else cannot product to for you. But that leads down this path of this making remaking the product improving the product. Is there something else do you think. Are there other things that product people should be doing instead of just making when their product is a market. And then in that that whole process of nurturing their product and growing it.

One thing I’m really missing lately in my own work and I hope other people are doing this is having real live human customers in the building and having them make with you. And we can do that in lots of different ways. That can be anything from just getting them to draw boxes and arrows to show them what their day is like whether they’re using your product or not. And how does your product connect with what they’re doing. But you can do some really fun things you can say right written out on all these cards are our features. Let’s say we just blow up our product and you get to put it back together again in a way that makes more sense to you. Go and have a crack. Have a go. And I think there’s some great opportunities if if we got customers back into the building and let them use these prototyping tools a bit and let them speak to us about their needs using prototyping as a language that’d be great.

Yeah. Yep that leads down the path of making something else. But it does. Yeah. Are there other things that you think we should be doing.

I know there are a lot of teams that could probably be spending more time in discovery and I don’t mean that sort of tightly scoped. Hey what is our product doing. But putting aside the product glasses for a moment and just spending time really keenly observing people in their natural habitat going about their daily lives in their daily work and looking how they’re satisfying like looking how they making do. Looking at how like a perfect example one of the products that does just about everything for people is Excel Excel is one of the largest competitors for so many SAS products because it is so versatile and so multi functional and what that means is that people do a million different things with it and I’m always interested to see like what are those kind of hacks and work arounds that people do to get their job done. So it’s things like that. It’s looking at the way people put stickies on the edges of their computer monitors what’s on those D. What are the things that they just satisfy saying just making do with just being able to spend time in honest observation. A lot more of that would be really effective.

Initially when we first started this conversation we talked about product metrics. Do you see product people actually measuring the performance of their products. How do you see that happening. And do they talk about it. What do you expect.

Essentially for me I’m very visual and I really like to be able to see a customer journey map and see kind of magic moments of value happen on a journey map. Whether those moments have anything to do with your product or not. And I like being able to line up those magic moments like those moments where they really realize benefit and value out of a product line that up with exactly what they’re doing in the product and then finding out Hey are we actually instrumented that. And so I mean this is classic goal signals measures framework but can we even measure those moments in a product like those transactions those touch points you feel like in any product or service. And so that’s one thing that is is worth getting on top of. Can we see this pathway of value creation. Because often in value extraction as well.

Yes yes in value extraction. And often it’s not just about one operation in a product it’s many many operations over time. So if you think about the way product usage changes when you go from say 10 users to 100 to 1000 to 10000 users the way we administer products is going to change at that scale. What new value is being unlocked there would wood for example administrators like to know more about what that user base is up to so that they can optimize workflows so that they can load balance and other things that are going to make their job easier and make others jobs easier.

Those kind of moments of value extraction for me a great areas of potential to keep measuring value.

I like that I like using the journey map as a way to latch on your success metrics across that customer experience really.

And of course one of the great things of Journey mapping is this great magic when you get people from different teams in different areas of the business in the room mapping together and particularly if you have the onstage so you have the customer perspective as well as offstage the business perspective particularly when each person like each area of the business has their own swim line and finally they get to see how it all literally stacks up and so they can take a slice through that journey at that magic moment to say Ah okay so here’s where it’s hitting our process what can we track now that I look at it.

Maybe there’s part of our process that’s a bit redundant. That’s kind of holding up the show a little bit. What might I measure at that point to make the customer experience more effective.

For example I love it when those things happen in customer journey mapping workshops.

Yeah but even on a monthly basis as a product manager should be reporting their metrics on a monthly basis. It’d be so nice to see a journey map and the numbers associated with you know as customers move from one part of the journey to the next. And then at that kind of off stage business level what does that kind of mean and how does that translate.

Yes. And oh my word we get so hung up on I like NPA. As I said before and see SAP which is you know a nice way of measuring customer satisfaction like big fantasy set. But there are so many things that a business does to ultimately ladder up to that one number. And as we know it’s very distracting to just anchor on one metric and try to sort of fight for which project is going to move that metric the most. And like it sometimes it really is a weapon of mass destruction. We don’t need that. We don’t need it. But if you think about it there’s that other rung and another rung under it. And another 100 of other metrics that are well and truly within your power to change. And collectively as a business we can see how they can ladder out. Yes to see said or whatever that prime impact metric is that you want to measure. But it’s so much more motivating and exciting to actually see metrics that you do have power over and see the kind of if you like internal grammar of how the lower level metrics the operational metrics the performance metrics ultimately go up to something like say said X son.

I think we’re close to our time and I know where I flew. I know there’s lots more to talk about but are there any kind of final words for product managers and this whole nurturing in your product in market that the whole lifecycle management. Are they final words about how when to go about doing all of.

Look. I’d be remiss of me if I didn’t say how into visualization I am like I write a whole book on this Presto sketching is cool and I really really am all about trying to make people as fluent as possible at the whiteboard as they are at the keyboard. The more that we’re up at the whiteboard helping to structure more effective conversations the better off we’ll all be in the better. Our products will be and the better that ultimately our customers and communities will be. What does that look like. I think for a start think about how you are already visualizing your work so odds are you probably have something like a roadmap which is a set of swim lines of work if you like you may will have a task board or a canvassing board of some sort. These are visualizations of your work. What I’d encourage you to do is look into visualizations of your product and customer so journey maps are great not just as a storm of post it notes across the wall but think of it as that pathway to success. What does that look like for your personas that you are following or your archetypes however you are categorizing the people for whom your product is therefore. Think about visualizing your customers using your product over time and you use that as a framework to then put. Where are the problems. Where are the opportunities and put it on the wall and keep it alive. Keep referring back to it use color. Use red to show where it hurts the most. Celebrate when you get to actually remove the wrinkles and the pain points. Keep using that to navigate what a pathway to success looks like. And look I know I’m the first one to say it can be really daunting to use a whiteboard. It can be really daunting to draw particularly in front of other people particularly when you don’t want to look dumb. No one wants to look dumb but the sort of drawing that I’m talking about is really basic. It’s the neat lines it’s the boxes and arrows. It’s simple little figures and faces things that just can humanize boxes and arrows just a little bit. But something that is conceptually above the roadmap and the task board because real magic happens when we start to visualize customers. It’s a great reminder every day. Who are they for. And the product is for excellent.

Well I think I learnt a lot today. Thank you very much for your time what was the key takeaway really is to have a very different conversation with your customer when they are already a customer and when you already have a product in market.


Yeah there’s far more value that we can unlock there and using tools like the journey map is a very great visualization tool to essentially hinge all your your metrics against.

Yeah. Yeah absolutely. Excellent. Well thank you so much for your time today. Absolute pleasure. Thanks again for having me on.

Adrian thank you for listening to prod pod.

If you want to learn more about the wonderful shows and this is hate D We’ve got others such as the power of ten with Andy plane bringing design closer with Gerry Scullion an ethno pod with Dr John Curran please visit. This is Haiti D dot com where you can sign up to our newsletter. Join us like channel connect with other human centered practitioners around the world. Thank you for listening and speak to you next time.

John Carter
Tech Vlogger & YouTuber

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ipsum blandit at sed a, vulputate eget. Integer in egestas rutrum risus tortor. Augue sed ac magna semper vitae, orci morbi auctor. Diam dui ut ut purus aenean volutpat.