Boss Level podcast S2E5: feat. Melissa Perri

It’s episode five of the second season of Boss Level, and the hits keep coming. Technical difficulties in the process of recording the interview couldn’t throw Sami and his guest Melissa Perri off their product management and lean startup game. Melissa is a product management consultant and trainer, and she believes that users need to be heard more, not less. Here are three ideas from their lively conversation worth thinking about a little more.

Customer validation is critical

A common thread in the discussion is that sometimes businesses believe they know what the customer wants, but they don’t. Companies come up with requirements internally and treat them as the truth without question. The company may think a particular requirement is right but is it a requirement for the customer? The solution is to focus on customers and figure out – by talking with them – what they need. Then businesses can come up with solutions that are free of misguided interpretations.

Avoid time loss by keeping projects short

Melissa and her team limit projects to one week. They do this because if they didn’t, it might be eight weeks later and they’re wondering where the time went. A week-long limit drives focus and scope. Sometimes projects are stretched longer, but only if they know they’re on the right track and that investing more time and energy will be worthwhile. When companies want to increase engagement with customers, they often kick it off as a big project that demands a lot of time, do it once and then stop. Melissa favors short, collaborative projects that are relatively easy to plan and implement.

Great product managers are sophisticated

It’s not enough to focus on metrics and rolling out new products; great project managers must also be highly empathetic with their customers. They put themselves in their customer’s shoes and then talk about needs from that perspective. Everything is in the context of the customer. Great product managers also understand the business value of what the customer wants and bring a systematic and rigorous approach to their work.

Listen to the episode below or Download the MP3 (30,5 MB):


3:10 Melissa explains what she does as a product management consultant/trainer and talks a little about the history of lean startup. Sami and Melissa discuss what product management was like ten years ago.

6:58 Today, product management is shifting focus from gathering requirements to actual customer validation. Melissa gives some examples of where businesses can go wrong when approaching requirements.

10:15 Melissa lays out how to build something the customer wants. It has a lot to do with talking with people, but it’s not just about listening to complaints.

13:36 What happens after you talk with customers? Melissa explains her experiment driven project management approach and shares an example of a surprisingly successful experiment.

19:01 Sami asks Melissa to share her gripes about the product management world at the moment. One big one is dealing with stakeholders; another one is that businesses don’t kill features.

23:27 What makes a good product manager? Melissa sums it up as a drive to figure out user problems – and explains how she incorporates the Toyota Kata method into her approach.

29:52 To wrap up the episode, Melissa and Sami discuss the huge role upper management plays in product management.

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