This week on Product Love, I talked to Maggie Crowley, the director of product management at Drift. Drift is a conversational marketing and sales platform that is trailblazing a new way for businesses to buy from businesses. Fun fact: Maggie is an Olympian.

Maggie discovered product management during an internship at Google. Although she didn’t directly work with the product team, the product management career interested her because it touched so many different fields. Product managers think about users, solve their issues, and work with a variety of teams to build a solution.

So, what brings an Olympic speed skater to product management at one of the tech’s top start-ups? Olympic sports and PM have more in common than you might think. Olympic athletes get the stage every four years, but there’s so much training and sacrifice that goes on behind the scenes. Product managers ship a feature and get praise from the team on release day. However, the real work goes on long before and after the ship, often without any public recognition. 

Maggie enjoys practicing and getting better at something incrementally. It’s about perfecting a skill every day. That experience has carried over to everything in her life, including her role as a PM. 

This week on Product Love, we talk about confusing ourselves with our users, then discuss why comparing problems might be better than comparing features.

You Are Not Your Users

We talked briefly about the worst feature Maggie’s ever shipped. Back when she was at Tripadvisor, her team conducted extensive research and completed all of the accompanying work to improve user engagement. When they finally launched the feature, they saw overwhelmingly positive results.

Maggie’s team ran customer interviews to check if their hypotheses were correct and that their research was accurate. But instead of feedback that validated their work, they got, “Oh, yeah. You put in a big orange button, so I clicked on it!”

It’s a painfully funny but all too common occurrence among product teams. We have all of these hypotheses and in-depth research around the motivations of our users. But sometimes, all it really takes is a shiny button. Maggie concludes that it’s hard to predict what a user is going to do — assuming you truly know is a recipe for failure. And while their feature reached their desired goal, Maggie labeled it as a failure because they didn’t understand the reasoning behind it.

So how do we avoid things like this? Maggie believes all the mistakes she’s made have come down to trying to short-circuit a critical part of the process. When you conduct too little research, avoid getting in front of the customer, and worst of all, find yourself saying, “Oh yeah, customers” like an afterthought, you’ve hurt your chances for success.

A Favorite Problem to Solve

Sprints might be filled with conversations about which features are most interesting to build, but perhaps those conversations should be reframed as, “What problems can we solve?” Maggie believes comparing features A and B won’t be as beneficial as comparing problems to be fixed. 

The same question applies when we try to figure out which feature is more valuable. Determining value has always been a difficult step for product managers. However, if we think about making our personas more successful, we might find a more useful rallying point. For instance, what can Drift do to make marketers have the greatest impact on their job? Maggie thinks that the answer to that question makes it easier to figure out what to build next.

Check out this week’s episode of Product Love to hear the funny story of how Maggie got hired at Drift (persistence is key here), and what she looks for in product managers. As a director of product management, she’s definitely got some valuable experience in this area.

 

About the Author

Eric Boduch is the Chief Evangelist for Pendo. Previously, he served as the CEO of Brainstorm SMS Technologies LLC (dba SMaSh, Inc.) and was the co-founder and CEO of several other companies. Eric holds a Bachelor of Science from The School of Computer Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in Electrical and Computer Engineering and is a graduate of its Executive Management Program.