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User Experience and the reason I’m an idiot

User-centered design. UX experts. Design Thinking. All the freaking portfolio… and you still can’t get your stakeholders or your team to walk a mile in the user’s shoes. So what are you doing wrong?

Let’s see what an ideal Lean/MVP/UX approach to a product looks like:

Repeat tweaking + user feedback as needed

Of course you’ll have problems along the way, but in general lines, that is the way an MVP should work.

However, my experience is that people plan to do all of these steps in the MVP process… they have all intention of going through each of these phases… But what happens is this:

Hmmmm… What could go wrong?

Anyone recognize the pattern here?

We keep aiming for gathering user feedback, but end up only gathering the stakeholders’ opinion on the direction the product should take. I’ve seen everything, from full useless features being included as major priority, to epic fights over background color because a stakeholder liked bright blue better than petrol.

Magical, agile, lean, expert, PO. Your wish is my command!

If you are a PO working for a consulting company, you know exactly what I am talking about. You see all these clients coming to you and demanding lean, agile and scrum… only to drop any vague memory of these principles as soon as the first backlog is assembled.

Nonetheless, we must make an effort here to understand what goes on in their heads. Because believe me, these people aren’t crazy. We just like to think they are to justify our disgust at what we feel is irrational behavior. It puts us in a very comfortable position, because saying someone “is crazy” places that person in a distance where they don’t have to make sense, and you don’t need to empathize.

Walking a mile in a client’s shoes

Right know, I just want each of us to remember how frequently we are the crazy ones. To our team, when we say “this feature is priority and we have a deadline”, we are the crazy ones. Whenever we don’t fully communicate the data behind our decisions, we are the crazy ones. Now, how many times did you really gather data to make a decision in the last few months? I’m betting less than half. Why? Because we’ve been making decisions based on our opinion throughout our lives, and that is a very hard habit to shed.

Our goal here is to keep that in mind at all times. It doesn’t mean you’ll be able to make all decisions based on data and user feedback, and you’ll obviously have to take guesses and make bets at some point. But remember, it’s a conscious bet. And when I make a bet in Las Vegas, I’m facing a system I try to understand by studying statistics and probability, but I have no control over the result. My bets can be safer of bolder, but I’m always the idiot that is counting on making the right assumption. And the same goes for product management. As a PO, I must always assume I’m an idiot.

Make conscious bets, and know you can lose.

I’m an idiot because no matter how much I believe I understand my user, nothing will ever replace the moment in which I place a prototype — even if it is a paper prototype — in their hands as I watch and listen to their feedback. So, in terms of judging what is right or wrong for a product, we must all eat a humble pie preemptively, and know that no matter how much our decisions feel right and make sense, they can all be proven wrong in direct contact with the user. Our judgment, however good it may seem, is merely an opinion, albeit an informed opinion.

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