Okay, I’ll be upfront. The short answer is “Neither.” Both customer feedback and product strategy are equally important and should be used together to inform product decisions.
However, it seems a lot of Product managers feel they need to choose a side. They believe that listening to customers means ignoring your product strategy, or that following your strategy means you don’t listen to your customers.
The good news is that’s simply not true. You can, and should, use both.
The bad news is you’re going to have to read an awful analogy to help you understand how.
All Hands On Deck
Imagine, if you will, that you’re the captain of a ship. Let’s say it’s a pirate ship, because pirates are cooler than your average sailor.
Now, you’ve been tasked with sailing your ship across the treacherous seas in search of treasure. You have a treasure map, and an experienced crew. You’re good to go.
So, what’s your approach?
Here’s what I’d do. I’d take a look at the treasure map and work out where we need to go. Huh, there’s a big X on that island that looks suspiciously like a skull. That seems like a good place to start.
Then I’d consult my crew. “Ahoy mateys! There be treasure over on Skull Island! What say ye?”
My crew are the ones who’ll be sailing the ship, so it stands to reason that they’ll have their opinions.
They point out that upgrading the sails will get us there much faster. They also recommend adding a few more cannons in case you run into other pirates.
So you listen to your crew, make those improvements, and then proceed onward to the treasure.
What Was All That About?
If this was a TED talk, I’d probably be looking out at a sea of blank, expressionless faces. Some of you would probably be getting up to leave.
You didn’t come for a lecture on pirates, you wanted to learn about balancing customer feedback with your product strategy.
So, let me explain my rationale for waffling on about pirates.
The captain was you, the Product Owner, or Product Manager, or Head of Product, or whatever your job title is.
The ship is your product.
The treasure map is your product strategy, showing you where you need to go.
The crew is your customers. They use the ship/product and have an understanding of how to make it better.
The captain can use both the treasure map and the crew’s expertise to find the treasure.
The treasure, in case you haven’t worked that out, is the ultimate goal for your product.
How to Balance Customer Feedback and Product Strategy
Let’s stop talking about pirates, now, and move on to the real stuff.
I’m going to assume that you already have a product strategy, and that you’re collecting customer feedback.
If you don’t have a product strategy, then our free guide will help you out. You can find it here.
If you aren’t collecting customer feedback, then why not Learn more about Receptive and get collecting?
The first step should always be to check your product strategy. This should ultimately dictate the direction you choose to head in.
Let’s say that you look at your product strategy and decide that your big project for the upcoming quarter is to redesign and improve your UI.
Great! Looks like you have a direction to follow. The only trouble is, this now raises more questions. What should it look like? Is there any important functionality we need to include? What colour should that button be?
This is where the customer feedback you’ve been collecting comes in. You can now search through your feedback for anything relevant to what you’re working on. For our example, this would be requests relating to your UI.
If you find these relevant requests you’ll be able to use them to figure out the sort of improvements and functionality you should be building.
A Balancing Act
Hopefully now my random spiel about pirates makes a little more sense. If not, at least you got to imagine yourself as the captain of a pirate ship.
It turns out that your product strategy and customer feedback are two sides of the same coin. Both are equally important, and both are needed to ensure you work on the right things.
Start with your strategy and use it to determine which part of your product you should be working on. Then use your customer feedback to learn what your customers want for that product area.
It’s a balancing act, sure, but it’s a guaranteed way of making sure you’re actually building a better product.
Now set sail and find that treasure…