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Posted by Tom Grant on October 15, 2008
In the small corner of the blogosphere devoted to product management, you'll often find musings about the value of customer advisory boards (CABs), such as this post from the Cranky Product Manager. In my own experience, CABs are frustrating beasts, which is why PMs keep talking about how to handle them:
In short, CAB meetings happen just often enough to raise the customers' hopes that the development team will actually listen to them. Unfortunately, since the development team only meets with the customers once per year, the product direction is usually significantly out of whack with the customer's wish list. Therefore, the development team recoils from the substantial work needed to respond to these enhancements, so the requests into the "When we have time to get to these" memory hole. One year later, the cycle of mutual frustration starts all over again.
That's why, when I ran PM teams, my rule of thumb was, "Don't bother having a CAB if you're only going to meet once per year." CABs should be trusted advisors, which isn't possible with yearly "drive by" meetings. I'd rather have quarterly webinars with the customers than a yearly face-to-face meeting. The conversation might not be quite as good, but at least you'll keep in touch with them often enough to ask for clarification, get their feedback on ideas, and show them how their requests are affecting the trajectory of the product.
CABs have lots of other problems that I won't cover here, but are worth a short mention:
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