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Posted by Tom Grant on January 29, 2009
Frittering away the time with an experiment
All experiments involving donuts are worth doing, so here's one you might try. Tomorrow, bring a box of donuts to work, and leave them in the kitchen. At the end of the day, go back to the kitchen and count the number of donuts that people have taken.
Next week, pick a meeting-filled day, and bring a new box of donuts to all of them. Don't leave the donuts in the kitchen--the point is to keep it visible at all times. At the end of the day, count the number of donuts consumed.
Chances are that the number of donuts consumed in Week One is greater than the number consumed in Week Two, for an obvious reason. People behave differently when they are observed. We like the donuts, but we don't like being seen taking a donut (Homer Simpson excluded).
The crueller truth about customer meetings
While that principle seems thuddingly obvious, it's also easy to forget it--like, say, when product managers are using customer meetings to further the collection and analysis of product requirements. Most PMs naively assume that customer meetings are 100% reliable sources of information. You ask your customers straightforward questions like, "What enhancements are important to you?" You take the answers at face value. What could be simpler, or more reliable?
Unfortunately, you're deluding yourself if you trust the information you collect from customer meetings without reservation. Here are a couple of reasons for skepticism:
A few other reasons for skepticism have their roots in the Donut Visibility Principle (more famously known as "the observer effect"):
All three of these reasons to doubt the absolute veracity of what customers tell you arise from the same observer effect. If you read the secret diaries of the people sitting in the conference room, you'd get a much different picture of what the people in that organization want from you.
Sprinkles of information from other sources
The observer effect has two profound effects on product managers:
Postscript: A constant theme in this blog is, "Product management is a profession that requires specific skills and experiences." Therefore, whenever I post something that fits that theme, you'll see the brand-new Professionalism tag applied to it.
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