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Product Development

Five Customer Testing Areas Product Managers Are Improving in 2019

January 15, 2019

Hundreds of professionals from over 350 companies participated in the 2018 Customer Validation Industry Survey (thanks!). Of those respondents, nearly 50% of those managing customer testing programs were product managers.

It makes sense considering that conducting market research, interviewing users, and prioritizing product features fall within the product management wheelhouse. While Customer Validation benefits many areas of development, its outcomes align most with product teams.

On the flip side, this also means that the challenges faced by product managers, like time constraints and stakeholder misalignment, are mirrored in their customer testing programs.

The industry survey adds context to findings we’ve gleaned from years of helping product teams build better products. We worked with Centercode’s Product Analyst Emil Grecian to explore the five customer testing areas product managers wish to improve – and five practical tips they can use to start right away.

1) Better Customer Testing Processes

Product managers named “better processes” as their number one wish for their customer testing programs. SiriusDecisions reported that 74% of highly successful organizations adhere to defined processes for nearly all initiatives, compared to only 37% of less successful organizations. Processes are central to success in key product management areas, including Customer Validation.

Processes impact success in many areas of customer testing. Some of the outcomes associated with unstructured processes include:
   •    Difficulty identifying and fulfilling stakeholders’ objectives
   •    Declining tester participation
   •    Difficulty prioritizing feedback
   •    Significant effort with inconclusive results

What Are Industry Leaders Doing Differently?

The data showed that industry leaders are taking proactive steps to improve and refine their processes. This includes measuring and tracking their progress outcomes to create benchmarks for success. They’re also taking advantage of new resources and industry events wherever possible.

One Thing to Get Started: Beef Up Your Industry Knowledge

Survey respondents acknowledged a need for better processes across all roles and industries. Yet 30% said they don’t have access best practices. Attending conferences, reading articles and industry reports, and connecting with other professionals are accessible channels for learning new ways to streamline your workflow. You can even start with the Centercode Resource Library, which has dozens of educational resources you can access for free.

2) More Stakeholder Alignment

To move a product through each phase of development, product managers work with many different departments. They are the glue that binds engineering, QA, UX, and other post-development roles like sales and support.

But these groups have various focuses and at times conflicting priorities. Because of this, aligning stakeholders around a single goal can prove very difficult. Survey data showed that one in three professionals are in need of better stakeholder alignment.

What Are Industry Leaders Doing Differently?

Top performers are communicating with their stakeholders on a regular basis. They’re making an extra effort to find focus overlap. Then, they’re building the most important priorities into the project during planning. Finally, they’re updating stakeholders on their progress from development to delivery.

One Thing to Get Started: Meet with Key Stakeholders

I know – the last thing you need is another meeting. But hear me out. A short weekly meeting to update key stakeholders specifically on customer testing progress minimizes surprises on all sides. Combined with solid processes for collecting and prioritizing quality insights, it allows stakeholders to act on your findings earlier (and showcases the utility of your efforts).

If you’re put off by the idea of a meeting, you can also send out a weekly progress report. But in our experience, it’s easier to ensure your stakeholders have eyes on your project when you’re face to face.

3) Higher Tester Participation

Even seasoned professionals can struggle to maintain high levels of tester participation, so it’s no surprise that a product manager juggling many responsibilities would experience this.

This is partly because several factors that happen before test kick-off affect engagement later on. A focused test plan is one; pulling the right testers into your project is another. But the most important factor is having a reliable process to let testers know what to expect each week.

What Are Industry Leaders Doing Differently?

Industry leaders make their expectations for participation clear at the start of the test. But they don’t stop there. They’re in touch with testers throughout the test. This includes acknowledging each piece of feedback, following up for more information where necessary, and reaching out to users who have disengaged from the project.

One Thing to Get Started: Send Testers Project Newsletters

Regular communication encourages testers to keep your project top of mind. To do this, members of the Centercode Team have used newsletter-style emails. The Centercode Platform’s dynamic tags allow them to customize emails. Testers receive weekly project details and a summary of their participation history.

Five Customer Testing Areas Product Managers Are Improving in 2019 - Example Tester Newsletter

4) Better Reporting and Metrics

You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Alpha HQ reported that less than half of product managers have well-defined targets and quotas for which they are held accountable. Metrics are one of the most effective ways to show a program’s contributions. But while many product managers recognize its importance, data shows they have difficulty prioritizing it amid other obligations.

What Are Industry Leaders Doing Differently?

Industry leaders are building benchmarking into their processes. Backed by performance metrics, they have a recorded pathway for improvement. They’re also following through on how different departments leverage their results. This makes it easier to share impactful results across the organization, increasing the program’s return on investment.

One Thing to Get Started: Reexamine Your Test Plan

With the number of processes involved in a customer test, deciding where to start can be a daunting task. So I recommend starting at the beginning: take a look at how you plan your tests. Your test plan sets the tone for your entire project. By changing your approach to these initial processes, you can take a proactive stance against common testing challenges. You can make it even easier on yourself by using the test plan template in the Beta Test Planning Kit.

5) More Time

According to Pragmatic Marketing’s Product Management and Marketing Survey, product team members spend 72% of their time on tactical activities, leaving just over a quarter of their time for the high-value, strategic activities.

Responses to the Industry Survey revealed a similar trend when it comes to managing customer testing programs. Test management tasks eat up the bulk of industry professionals’ time. This limits bandwidth for value-driven activities like refining their processes and demonstrating the value of their program.

What Are Industry Leaders Doing Differently?

Industry leaders are tracking time spent and redistributing their efforts to make an impact. They’re also using tools that can automate some of the necessary but time-consuming tasks related to test management. This frees up more time to analyze feedback and share the results.

One Thing to Get Started: Create Templates

Whether it’s email, workspace, or surveys, templates make test preparation faster and more consistent. If you’re a Centercode Platform user, you have all these built-in templates at your disposal. But there are plenty of other options as well. You can create and clone surveys with Google Forms, for example. Just take care to customize them to meet the specific needs of your testers and your project.

Want access to further insights from your customer testing peers? Centercode is hosting the 2019 Customer Validation Conference, a virtual event where you can interact with industry leaders and learn best practices without booking a flight. Subscribe to get the latest updates and speaker lineups.

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