“two children standing near fence grayscale photography” by Nathaniel Tetteh on Unsplash

If there was one epiphany that I had recently then it is the fact that Managers are subjects of an elaborate network of whispers that we need to be conscious about.

The Actual Incident

One of our technical product specialists had recently made a post on an internal forum tagging me asking me if a particular usecase was valid. It was an elaborate post, it told what the problem was and wondered whether we would solve the problem of the customer in our upcoming release. Trigger happy me ended up typing a quick reply to it, saying that we would not be prioritizing our efforts on solving the stated problem.

This is when my CEO jumped in and asked:

The Chinese  Trap

In a hurry to get to something else I wrote down a quick reply without dwelling on the actual problem. My good intentioned Specialist gave me a quick and concise requirement and I got back to her. What i did not realize was that I was replying to a problem that was heresay and I did not possess first hand information about the situation to actually pass an official response. I was like the doctor who read the reports and prescribed medicines without seeing the patient. Scary right?

Thinking a bit I realized that this Chinese Whisper trap comes out in many forms:

  • From our Sales and Product Specialists when they are highlighting a customer’s problem
  • While reviewing chat conversations and reading between the lines
  • While looking at Customer engagement patterns and making assumptions based on it
  • While reading through a Customer’s Wishlist Items at its face value

While all these are great at forming a hunch on what the problem might be, they are almost never an exact articulation of what the problem really is.

Really talk to the Customer

I listed quiet a few forms above through which biases and misinterpretations are introduced in the actual definition of the problem. The only solution to avoid this Chinese whisper trap is to talk to the customer. Not through your support staff, not through the feature forum, not through emails but to actually go on a call and dig deep, very deep, until you can make a diagnosis of what the problem actually is.

I know that sounded cliched and we as product managers know this bit. But to me the epiphany was the Chinese Whisper syndrome. Problems *ARE* going to be subject to misrepresentations and biases before they reach your eyes (or ears).

Now i would be doubly careful not to come to a conclusion on what the problem is and what the solution must be without going on a call with the Customer.

So, what are the sources of your Chinese whisper trap?



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