One day I was coming back from Church with my grandma and my mom. We pulled up in our driveway. I got out of the driver’s seat and helped my grandma get out of the car. Our house has set of stairs with 8 steps leading to the house. My mother climbed up the set of stairs first to the house to open the door for us.
Walking for my grandma is difficult and she uses a walking cane now. I helped her up the first couple of steps. Then I doubled back to the car to grab the portable breathing cannister that helps with her breathing. I closed the door and then came back to help my grandma up.
My mom came back from the door and told me me something that I’ll never forget:
“Take care of the person and the rest will follow*”.
In my haste to ensure the car was closed and bringing everything in, I had forgotten about my grandma. I had forgotten about the person. What I should have done is helped her into the house, got her seated and made sure she was ok. Then came back to close the door and grab her things.
Its a lesson that I’ll always remember. Its a principle from her nursing experience.
I’ve used this principle in leading teams and building products that customers love. The #1 thing we should do is take care of the people. Because the rest will follow*.
Take care of the people in your team
When leading a team that builds products, never forget about the people. Take care of your team. You need to build an awesome relationship both within the team and with you. My experience is that when working with developers and designers (or any role), deeply care about them as people. Build a relationship with them. A genuine and real relationship. It can’t be forced.
Its the little things. Its knowing that their brother is a chef that makes amazing rhubarb pie. Talking to them on Monday and asking them how that hike went on the weekend in Yosemite national park. Asking them how their favourite basketball team that they are fanatical about is doing.
I believe that in a high performing team with a great culture, a great product is the end result.
One thing that has helped me is to have 1 on 1 meetings with people. I set aside time in my calendar to meet with individual team members on a regular basis. Every two weeks, I set aside 30mins to meet with each engineer & designer. For the engineers that work remotely, we sync once a week. I listened to their hopes, dreams, fears and concerns. I shared my perspective and ideas that I have. My aim is to build a great relationship with them. I also meet regularly with people that are critical to the success of the product that I’m working on. I help them with things to make them successful. If I take care of the people in my team, the rest will follow*.
Take care of the customers
I’m a big advocate for delivering customer value. Thinking about the work that we are doing to deliver end user value. I want to take care of the customers. Its about the people. With the products I’m shipping, how does the customer experience change? How do their lives get better? How do we make it easier, simpler or faster for them to things? At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is customers.
We take care of the customers, and the rest will follow*.
You need to get your team to think in terms of customer value. How does the feature they are working on improve the customer experience?
I’ve found that getting your team to understand the customer problem is the key. They need to have customer empathy. As a product manager, I’m constantly feeding information to the team about customers. From user interviews, behavioural metrics, NPS, app store reviews and more.
But its more than this. One of the best ways is to bring them along to customer interviews with you. I understand that taking your team away from coding or designing is difficult. However, having them understand the customer and developing empathy is critical. Why? Because we’re building products for people. If we understand the people and their needs, everything else will flow from that.
Building something in isolation from customers is when you can miss the mark for what customers want. Your team makes hundreds of decisions every day about the product. The closer we can get them to the customer and their problems, the more they can understand what to build.
I’ve done lots of customer interviews and brought many members of my team to them. I’ve rarely had someone say that they didn’t learn something from it or it wasn’t useful. Sometimes the customer interview confirms what we know. That is also useful. Getting your team in front of a real, live customer gets them to appreciate even more what they are building. Getting them to respond to a customer benefits both the team member and the customer.
I’m going to use engineers as an example as I work in software teams. Many engineers are surprised that they can talk to a customer whether its in a customer interview or via customer support. In addition, many customers are also surprised when engineer from the product team responds. Something we’ve done in the past is to also rotate our engineers on customer support. What we are building here is customer empathy.
We need to also maintain a balance between developing code and talking to customers. Build something quickly, show it to customers, get feedback. Rinse and repeat. What we are doing here is understanding the customer through rapid cycles.
When we get our teams to take care of the customer, the rest will follow*. This is because we don’t have technology problems. We have people problems we are trying to solve.
We take care of the people and the rest will follow*
I’m out like the Sydney Swans in the finals,
*Mom is always right.