Why is listening to the customer so difficult?

July 2008 Quick Tip

In the last Quick Tip Isn’t the iteration that accompanies flexible product development wasteful?” I emphasized the power of iterating: placing a “first try” of your product into customers’ hands quickly and adjusting from there. As usual, there were some astute observations to this advice. One respondent said, “You need to be very smart in order to realize when you have done something wrong.”

Such feedback usually is not obvious. It is subtle, so you must be open to it and watching for it. There is a great tendency among product developers to believe that they are the world experts on their products (in a certain sense they are!), and this blinds them to conflicting information. They say, “The customer wouldn’t possibly want to do this. I never do it.” Being the expert often gets in the way of listening. “Amateur” customers don’t use products in the same way that experts do.

In short, if you are going to use the powerful technique of iterating with customers to develop products that will truly appeal to them, you must also develop ways of being open to what they are telling you.

New subject: I receive many questions about flexible product development: what is it and where does it apply? A recent article, “Change: Embrace It, Don’t Deny It,” explaining flexibility concisely, is now available for download.

(c) Copyright 2013 Preston G. Smith. All Rights Reserved.