In the keystone article ‘GOOD Product Manager, BAD Product Manager’, Ben Horowitz lists balancing customer demands and talks about understanding their needs better. The way I see it, Product Managers (should) use customer feedback to understand more about their product’s use and the way their users experience it. I can count more than a few times when my clients have surprised me in the ways in which they were using my product(s) and by learning that, I got ideas for future features’ development.
This kind of (good) PM’s behavior is amplified when you’re using negative customer feedback in the right way (meaning, don’t take all negative feedback and build your roadmap according to that! But that’s a topic for another blog post…). Usually (and this is a very human thing to do), we try to avoid hearing negative things about ourselves, and even those who are open to hearing it about themselves, when it comes to something they’ve created, the restraint from adapting it is even higher (as a parent, imagine hearing something bad about your child!).
So to ease the pain about hearing something bad about your precious creation – I assembled 3 of my top reasons for wanting to get negative feedback from my users.
- Without usage there is no feedback!
This is something every project/product manager can recite in their sleep. When you deliver something to your users, and you don’t hear about it, it’s most likely because they just don’t use it. I once had a project with a small telecom company in Israel, which after the implementation and training, I heard nothing from for about 2-3 weeks. I couldn’t bear the wait to hear something, so I took 2 hours and went to their offices. Not one of the employees were using their new software, but kept using their old excel files. It turned out that the management didn’t make it clear to them that the old ways are ‘done’. After I got the management to start enforcing the use of the new system, I got an excel file with about 15 change-requests. This was great since I now knew they started using the new processes we created for them.
- Without bad feedback – how would I really solve problems?
I see PMs as problem solvers. A GOOD PM, should always look for problems to solve. Getting negative feedback is the best ‘feeding ground’ for problem solvers. You keep getting more and more new problems to solve. The problem with a problem solving process is that it’s recursive: it repeats itself with a very rare ‘exit condition’. For most people this can be very exhausting. But luckily and surprisingly, this is where negative feedback works to our advantage!
In her article ‘How Positive and Negative Feedback Motivate Goal Pursuit’ Fishbach comments that not only “feedback is essential for goal pursuit”, but that when we get negative feedback which is connected to insufficient progress, we strive to work harder and reach our goal. So actually, by getting negative feedback while I’m still on the way to my goal and I have a few more (‘few’ as a relative term) steps until I reach it, I would actually work harder and strive to get to my goal sooner.
In that regard, getting negative feedback is not only like breathing air for a good PM, it’s the fuel that keeps you going!
- My users trust me enough to fix it!
The best thing in my mind is to gain the trust of my users. When I get negative feedback it’s like hearing the following sentence: ‘I have a problem. I know you can fix it’. Music to my ears! Users who have lost their faith in their product (manager) will not share bad feedback. They will learn to get along with the situation and you’ll hear less and less from them. It won’t be long until they stop using more and more parts of your product and it will be replaced by something else which better suits their needs, without you even realizing it!
So give me your feedback, and make it a bad one!