Problems, not solutions

I’ve been operating as a Product Owner for the last 4 months.  I still have a lot to learn in this role, and this post is meant to share a recent experience to help me collect my thoughts and give readers some insight into my thoughts.

My product is a web portal which allows customers to view their bills, pay their bills, view their utility usage, and much more.  One of our customers in negotiations with our sales team requested the ability to link other customers accounts to any portal login.  We thought through this ask and were able to provide a range of options of varying fidelity.  The next day, the sales guy told me that he relayed our preferred option to the customer and they mentioned that they were concerned about email notifications.

This triggered some questions from me:

“What kind of email?  Are they asking for an email to be sent to the linkee account holder for authorization?  Maybe just notification for the linkee?”

We got a meeting with the customer set up so that I could relay our solution in more detail and try to get the answer to these questions.  The answer I got surprised me.  Their ask related to the email notification was to have eBill ready notifications be sent out for the linked accounts to the portal login holder.  I did some digging into that as to why this was important to them.  They told me that if the occupant of a house skips out on their bill without paying, the owner of the property is held responsible for paying off that debt.  They need to provide these owners with a way to keep an eye on the balance owing on their properties.

I wasn’t expecting this line of thought, so I asked a few more probing questions and thanked them for this information.  I told them that I understand their needs and I’ll reach out to them soon after I have time to discuss possible solutions with my team.

This is an example that shouldn’t surprise anyone.  A customer asked for some piece of functionality because they see it as the solution to their problem.  Without digging into the reason behind their ask, we might have just implemented that feature rather than working with the customer to provide a different solution that would do a better job of addressing the underlying problem.

By digging deeper, we both win.  They get a better solution to their business problem, and we ensure that solution works best in our system.


Now for some retrospection.  How could I have dealt with this situation better?

If I had reached out to the customer when I heard they had this new feature request, I could have saved time and had better discussions with the team right off the bat.  Instead, we spent some time discussing options for linking accounts without understanding WHY they were asking for it.

Is there something else I’m missing?  Share your two cents.

Comments 2

  • I guess involving customer in stages of requirement gathering and retrospectives should help you in this case. Ideally it should be win-win situation for you as a product owner since product will be feature perfect and for customers as they will be getting desired functionality.

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