Every product manager should learn this skill

May 19, 2015 By Mark Hurst No Comments

I was happy to be interviewed by the “This is Product Management” podcast to discuss what every product manager should learn: namely, how to include customers.

Listen to the interview here.

Stories I mention in the interview (taken from my book Customers Included, 2nd Edition):

• how Ford failed by using a rapid-iterative design method, and task-based research, without first fully baking in what customers wanted – and didn’t want – in the product

• how a Google product failed by using the public launch as, apparently, the first time customers were truly included

• how a public park in New York City was brought back to life by the simple process of (a) spending time with customers, (b) finding out what they want, and (c) giving it to them.

• how to quantify the cost of ignoring customers, using the example of Walmart’s failed initiative to declutter its stores.

Including customers is not difficult. Every product manager should learn how to do it right. (If it seems obvious and common-sense, ask around to find out if teams you know are making time for including customers!)

Next step: Send this interview to anyone who needs some encouragement. If you’d like to dive in further, you can read the introduction and first chapter of my book right now on this page.

And if your team could use some inspiration on this topic, invite me to speak at your company, on my 2nd Edition book tour.

Just launched: Customers Included, 2nd Edition

April 15, 2015 By Mark Hurst

I’m delighted to announce the brand new 2nd Edition of Customers Included, which I’ve been working on for months. I’m also starting a 2nd Edition Book Tour – you can invite me to speak to your team or event, presenting on all the fully updated material and case studies in the 2nd Edition.

All attendees of my Gel 2015 conference (starting in one week – still time to sign up for Gel!) will get a copy of the book at Gel. But you can order multiple copies for the team: bulk discounts here.

Customers Included coverWhat’s New in the 2nd Edition

Fully updated for 2015, this new 2nd Edition of Customers Included includes lots of additional material:

• New case study about the Toyota Sienna (big launch that succeeded with careful customer observation, instead of a quick MVP) to round out my discussion of The Lean Startup

• New case study about the OXO measuring cup, including quotes from my interview with Alex Lee, president of OXO (showing the difference between asking customers what they want, and finding out)

• New case study about managing change, inspired by a story from the U.S. Navy in 1904 (based on Elting Morison’s classic case study “Gunfire at Sea”)

• Updated the Google Wave case study to include a discussion of Google Glass

• Updated the border fence case study to discuss the problematic launch of

• New interview of Alan Cooper, inventor of personas, to round out an updated discussion of personas

• Updated several case studies with recent news (i.e., Ford dropping Microsoft from its MyFord Touch system … and Netflix recovering, finally, from its 2011 mistake)

• New images in several chapters bring the case studies to life.

Order Customers Included, 2nd Edition:

How to get the book:

Kindle ebook
Bulk discounts for multi-copy orders

You can also invite me to speak at your team or event on my new 2nd Edition Book Tour.

Meantime, hope to see you at the Gel conference next week!

The Internet of Things needs 1 thing most of all

March 24, 2015 By Mark Hurst 7 Comments

For anything to succeed on the Internet of Things, it has to be better than the alternative.

For 20 years, digital teams have tried to create great user experiences where there were few to no comparable experiences in the physical world. But now the Internet of Things promises to bring digital experiences to the physical world, where users often have access to longstanding products that work just fine.

This means that success or failure on the Internet of Things will come down to one question: Is it better than what users already have?

For example, let’s compare these two wristwatches:


On the left is my trusty Casio G-Shock – an offline, 1980s-era watch. On the right is, of course, the Apple Watch.

• The G-Shock has an easy user interface, battery life of 10 years, zero security vulnerabilities, and a price under fifty dollars.

• As for the Apple Watch, remember the key question: Is it better than what users already have? Apart from any other considerations, will people buy a watch for hundreds or thousands of dollars when it has a battery life of a few days? And which requires a (perfectly fully featured) smartphone to be kept nearby? Many will, of course, but it’s hard to make the case for the wider market that Apple has relied on.

Some argue that the Apple Watch is mainly a fashion statement (and, granted, my Casio isn’t – believe me, I’ve heard). There are, after all, luxury-brand watches that cost even more. But what happens in two years, when the technology in this smartwatch is out of date? Moore’s Law never applied to luxury goods until now.

The best argument in favor of the Apple Watch is that it isn’t yet better than the alternative, but it will be in the future. You have to start somewhere, and Apple is starting with customers who can afford to pay the price for “first on the block” bragging rights. It reminds me of early cell phones, those ridiculous bricks carried around for show in the 1980s. They quickly went out of date and were replaced with much more useful, and less expensive, devices in the 1990s.

Regardless of the timing, the user experience is the crucial ingredient to success for any Internet of Things product. And I don’t mean tactical UX stuff like where to put the Preferences link (though I suppose that is important in its own place). Rather, it’s the overall user experience that matters: what do people already use in the physical world? Do people, in fact, need a “smart” device, if something offline is less expensive, more durable, and equally functional? What do people actually want, and what will actually improve their lives?

The winners in the Internet of Things will be those teams that really think about the customer.

And that’s largely the point we’ll explore at my Gel 2015 conference next month (Thur-Fri, Apr 23-24 in New York). The teams that include customers in their thinking, the teams that invest in the overall user experience, are poised to succeed in the next digital era. Be there.

Beware the whiteboard that ignores customers

March 12, 2015 By Mark Hurst 2 Comments

If your inhouse “innovation team” isn’t spending time with customers, be careful with what they sketch on the whiteboard.

This little thought has struck a nerve on Twitter, I’d guess because many companies approach innovation as an exercise is brainstorming new and exciting ideas, in the safe confines of the “ideation room” inside the office, well away from any customers.

While there’s nothing wrong with being new and exciting, that’s not the nature of innovation. There’s been a good deal of scholarship on the term – notably by Benoit Godin (see his publications) – that includes this great quote from the 1960s: “Innovation has come to mean all things to all men, and the careful student should perhaps avoid it wherever possible, using instead some other term.”

What is innovation, then?

It’s making things better for customers. Whether it’s a radical “disruptive” innovation, or an improvement on something that’s already available, if you make things better for customers, you’re doing innovation right. And that requires spending some time with customers.

If you’re stuck inside the ideation room, talking only to other people on the team, you’re unlikely to come up with what customers want. And yes, I know, “customers don’t know what they want.” But here’s the thing: it’s not the customer’s job to tell you what they want; it’s your job to find out. And that – once again – requires spending some time with customers.

From now on, let’s replace the word “innovation” with “making things better for customers.” It would clarify so many discussions, such as this one:

A: So you’re leading the innovation team?

B: Sure am.

A: Did you spend any time with customers before drawing these cool ideas on the whiteboard?

B: Of course not, because customers don’t know what they want.

…now let’s try it with our (new and exciting!) phrase.

A: So you’re leading the Making Things Better For Customers team?

B: Sure am.

A: Have you actually spent any time with customers yet?

B: Of course not, because-

A: Please leave the building.

The customers are out there, outside the building – and so is the next innovative idea.

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NEXT STEP: Join me next month at the Gel conference. If you want to be around other folks who “get it” – innovation in the best sense of the word – sign up to join us at Gel (Thur-Fri, April 23-24 in New York). Hope to see you there.

Announcing Gel 2015 speakers

February 12, 2015 By Mark Hurst

I’m excited to announce the speakers of our upcoming Gel 2015 conference (April 23-24 in New York):

Lou Shapiro – CEO, Hospital for Special Surgery (creating top-rated patient experiences)

Nancy Lublin – CEO, DoSomething (innovating how to help teens in crisis – via text message)

Andy Baio – writer, entrepreneur, and cofounder of XOXO Festival (uniquely smart perspective on digital experiences)

Jonathan Wegener – CEO, Timehop (wildly successful mobile app & community)

Jordyn Lexton – founder, Drive Change (creating change with food trucks run by formerly incarcerated youth)

David Segal – “The Haggler” columnist, New York Times (tracking how companies address customer problems – or not)

Nikki Sylianteng – founder, To Park Or Not To Park (sharing a redesigned parking sign with the world)

Paul Murphy – CEO, Dots (insanely popular mobile game – how they did it)

Jason Saenz – writer and comedian (adding surprise to the cityscape)

Mark Hurst – yours truly, hosting the event

Details: Gel 2015 speaker list.

Our theme this year is “impact”: we’ll be exploring people, projects, and teams that go beyond the intent or idea of creating a good experience – they actually do it. What are the aspects of good experience that make for real-world success? We’ll learn from the brilliant speakers above (and more to be announced).

Companies attending Gel 2015 include Google, Dropbox, Cisco, Fidelity Investments, Kaiser Permanente, Citi, Wells Fargo, Nordstrom, MTV, GE Capital, Consumer Reports, and dozens more. These are VPs, SVPs, some CEOs, and some managers & directors – managing products and experiences around the world. Meet them at Gel.

Partners hosting breakout sessions include betaworks, Centre for Social Innovation, Hired Guns, and more on the way (see agenda). If you care about customer experience, don’t miss out on this community.

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NEXT STEPS: I’d love it if you would…

1. Sign up to attend. Earlier is better, so that I have a sense of who’s coming (and what other cool things I can afford to put into the Gel experience). Drop a line if the whole team wants to come; we can offer a discount.

2. Share this on Twitter, Facebook, etc. – you could say something like:
Excited to see the Gel speaker list – great conference on customer experience & experience design:

I’m excited, and I feel some urgency about Gel this year. This is the event, this is the community, these are the conversations that we need to create good experience – in companies, in social innovation, in startups and hospitals and schools and cities. Don’t miss Gel this year.

Hope to see you there.