There’s a natural tension in the act of building a product. We have our projection of who we’re building it for (usually ourselves and not anyone else), what we want to build, what it will do, and how it will be used, etc. Users have their own projection of what they want us to build, who we’re building it for (them and not us), what it will do, how they will use it, etc.
Bridging the gap, finding the middle ground between these perspectives is why product / product marketing exist. It’s a constant effort in calibration, because:
- Who we think we’re building for doesn’t end up being the only, or many times even the biggest, constituent
- What we want to build is rarely exactly what’s wanted by users
- How we think it will be used is only a subset of how people actually use it
Our imaginations are small and the number of “corner cases” large — less like corners and more like whole edges we just can’t conceive of.
Doing this well is a matter of communication. In both directions.
The problem with communication is the illusion that it has occurred. — Jennifer Pahlka, 6th Blitzscaling class
Usually what we’re doing is not communicating. It’s broadcasting. And what we push is for our own utility as sellers-of-goods:
- Who the user and buyer is, so people can rule themselves in/out
- What the value is, so people can be convinced they’ll be better off
- What the product/solution is, so people can compare the thing to other things and categorize it
- What the technology is, so people can be bamboozled by buzzwords or impressed by our engineering chops
- What the use cases are, so people know how they will experience the value
- What the pricing or buying process is, so people know how they will consume it
What we tend not to communicate is expectations.
- How do I think you’re going to use the product?
- What the range of inputs I expect?
- What range of outputs you can expect?
- What have I imagined you doing?
- What have I imagined you not doing?
- Where are the cracks and fissures in the product, in the experience?
- How should you interpret the expected and unexpected outputs?
- How do you think you’re going to use the product?
- What do you expect it to do when you use it?
- What don’t you expect?
- What do you think the value is? Etc.
We can’t manage expectations we don’t communicate
Without communicating and consuming expectations from users, we can’tmanage them. I’ve found this to be one of the central causes of [undesired] friction and poor user experience.