“What confuses researchers is they think if they present logical facts that are irrefutable then obviously people have to listen to it. Somehow, they’re continually surprised over their careers that people aren’t listening to their irrefutable facts, not understanding that these decisions are not being made on the basis of irrefutable facts.” – Steve Blank, Customer Development Creator

Everyone on your team and in your organization will approach research findings with their own beliefs and biases, including:

  • assumptions about what customers value;
  • hypotheses about where the market is going;
  • theories about technology trends;
  • opinions about competitors’ strategies; and
  • beliefs about the why customers buy and use your product.

Maybe your colleagues’ beliefs are right, maybe they’re wrong, but their assumptions and biases will influence the way they make sense of new information. They may be looking at different data points than you are, and reaching different conclusions about what’s best for the product.

Acknowledging subjectivity is key.

When you bring in new information and the team wasn’t part of the research process, the reaction is often almost binary. They either:

  • trust the results and the process blindly; OR
  • disregard the results.

You can view this as the difference between reading a book, and having someone tell you about a book. Was the book good? Hard to say.

There are a lot of nuances in customer truths. Telling the rest of the team what you have learned can create what Rob Fitzpatrick calls a de facto “the customer said so” trump card. If you’re not the ultimate decision-maker, this can create a strong reaction, which leads to stakeholders dismissing the insights:

“They’re not in our target market.”
“It’s only one data point.”
“[ Future Plan X ] will solve this.”

To be effective, all learnings must be shared learning.

The Value of Shared Learning

You’ll be fighting an endless uphill battle if you don’t bring colleagues along with the insights. You need to build consensus.

Thousands of micro-decisions are made each day by designers, marketers, engineers, and support staff. These decisions should be based on your organization’s latest beliefs. And if those beliefs are based on second-hand experience, team members will lack the nuances and conviction to reinforce the decisions.

If the team’s beliefs don’t change with the insights, you’ll constantly need to re-convince new hirees. Even if you can keep a good record of the learnings, show the impact of the information, and back it up with more data points, you could get pushback every time a new leader comes on board.

One of the most important problems for a product leader is getting their team to empathize with the customer.

Alex Schiff says: “Every day, dozens of “first draft” choices need to be made by engineers and designers, and the more you can get them to empathize with the customer, the closer those first drafts will be to something you can ship, and the faster you’ll get things out the door.”

Early on, it’s easy to share what you learn because the product team and the company are pretty much the same thing, but as a company grows in size and in complexity, the need for documentation, mapping, and information sharing also grows. As Mapping Experiences author Jim Kalbach says: “If you have a big complex solution and a big complex organization your need for mapping is going to be high.”

Tactics to Build Consensus in a Team

Here are the most impactful ways to bring the team along:

  1. Taking part in the research: Having team members take part in the primary research, sitting in on user tests and interviews, and reading survey results helps them draw their own conclusions. If you’re analyzing the results collaboratively, there’s often no need for a lengthy report or analysis period.
  2. Holding sensemaking workshops: Instead of giving the insights to the team, organize collaborative workshops to help them take ownership of the learnings. This can be done by consuming insights as a team and discussing their meaning. People tend to disagree on what they heard from the customer. A group will often generate insights more quickly. The insights will also be shared and internalized more effectively this way. It’s a great way to build consensus.
  3. Sharing short updates: User research expert Steve Portigal recommends sharing short updates with highlights, anecdotes, and descriptions via email. This can help create momentum, fuel discussions, and give everyone a feel for the voice of the customer.
  4. All-hands and meetings: For larger organizations wishing to bring the team at large aboard with findings, it can be a good idea to have the head of product present every week or so, for 15 to 30 minutes, to highlight what the team has learned. These should focus on information that fits the company’s priorities, to avoid diverting attention away from the core goals.

It’s a good idea to use these techniques in conjunction with artifacts that are designed to help summarize the findings.

Artifacts that are the easiest to update and the fastest to consume will work best.

Artifacts to Help Build Consensus

  • Customer journey maps (CJMs): A customer journey map can help a team sync up on their understanding of the progress that prospects and users need to make in order to discover and start using a product. Customer journeys can involve segments, use cases, or feature sets. Because they represent the current understanding of the journey (which won’t ever be perfect), they need to be continuously improved and refined. Customer journeys come in many shapes and forms. The general idea is to visually show goals and touchpoints in relation to the awareness stages.
  • Personas: Personas are fictional representations and generalizations of a cluster of your target users who exhibit similar goals, attitudes, or behaviors in relation to your product. Personas can help you to understand and communicate the motivations and reasoning of your prospects. Effective personas are focused on goals and behaviors. For personas to be actionable, teams need to start addressing the problems and opportunities from their perspective. “What would [ Mitchell ] do?” Although personas have lost a bit of their popularity in recent years, they can still be a very useful tool for sharing and summarizing learnings.
  • Mixed solutions: Unfortunately, once created, CJMs and personas tend to collect dust. The insights they help centralize are valuable, but they tend to be kept far away from the line of action. For this reason, a whiteboard summarizing the latest set of beliefs often works best. This can be a good way to keep the team focused on the metrics, the objectives, the key personas, the customer journey, and the opportunities. To make it work, focus on information and insights that can drive decisions. Iterate on the content of your whiteboard until consumption of the information has become part of your team’s weekly—even daily—habits.
Solving Product – Build Consensus in a Team Using Customer Journey Maps
Example of a Customer Journey

The Role of the Product Leader

Product leaders often have one of the most cross-functional roles in the organization. For this reason, it often makes sense for them to be point person for the propagation of research findings and be responsible to build consensus.

Whether there is or isn’t a distinct user or customer research team in the organization, someone needs to make sure that insights are shared and consumed across the business.

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This post in an excerpt from Solving Product. If you enjoyed the content, you'll love the new book. You can download the first 3 chapters here →.

Categories: Common Challenges