Making decisions on gut feel

I had an interesting discussion recently with a delegate who came on our public training course in London.

Michel Roth is the Senior Director of Product Management at RES Software. His big issue with product management is that too often decision making is based on intuitive feel and limited facts.

“We tend to make too many decision on ‘gut feel’. I’ve worked in 4 companies so far and in all of them we have tended to make decisions based on anecdotal evidence from a few customers. And even that is often out of date.”

He has a point … (by the way the picture above is not of Michel).

When a company is small, the founder is actively involved with the product and customers. Everyone knows everyone else. The senior people are close to the market and doing the product management. Their gut feel is normally right and if it isn’t they will get to know about it very quickly.

As a company grows product managers are appointed. The number of customers increases and things become more complex. No one person knows about all the customers. And information about how customers use the product can be very hard to come by.

With over 200 employees worldwide RES Software now serves more than 2,500 customers. “We have over 3,500 deployments in 27 different countries. No one person knows about all these customers. As product managers we struggle to gather meaningful and representative data on which to base our decisions.”

So what is Michel doing about it?

“We have user groups and customer advisory boards which do give us great input but only from a small number of customers. So we’re now looking at online surveys and other tools that can help create a current baseline on how customers use our products.”

“Although our products can collate data about which functionality is used our customers have to opt-in to provide it to us and it’s difficult to persuade them of the benefits to them of doing this.”

“We also try to visit customers on a regular basis but we find it hard to find the time with all the other product management activities on our plate. When we do – we often get some great insights into how our customers are actually using our products to solve their business problems.”

Michel’s issues sound very familiar to us and in our experience many companies struggle to build a solid understanding of how and why their customers use their products. It’s normally the case that there are many experts on the product in the building but many fewer experts on the market – and to be a market expert you need to get out of the building.

As Michel says…

“The trouble in our business is that there is never a shortage of good ideas! The challenge is being able to say Yes to the right ones and No to the rest. For that we need some facts and data we can rely on. Using our gut feel is not necessarily a bad thing but we should always have other data points that we can check against.”

There are many ways to get insights into your market – how do you get the facts so you don’t have to rely purely on your gut instinct?

Ian Lunn
Director, Product Focus

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