Pradeep GanapathyRaj: Microsoft Yammer

Pradeep is the Director of Product Management at Microsoft Yammer. He wears many hats: product champion, strategist, and team builder, just to name a few. His product (which now is part of Microsoft’s collaboration suite), has a clear mission:  It helps teams “work out in the open.”

I got on the phone with Pradeep to learn more. Here’s what he said…

  1.  Don’t mistake customer feedback for customer insights. Feedback, which is simply the raw data, is easy to get. Insights are much harder to obtain. These come from understanding how to get that data and how to interpret the results.Remember that the feedback you receive through a particular means is only part of the picture.  So while it’s tempting to act on that information and build a product as requested, you need to balance it with the desires of “the silent majority.” It’s important to find ways to reach many types of people in many situations.For example, in enterprise software, you have two big buckets of stakeholders: the customers and the users. Then, even within those buckets, there are sub groups. You have power users, occasional users, administrators, and even lurkers, just to name a few.  There are so many of these different actors. You need to work hard at getting their input and you want to think about which ones are important, and which ones are not. And that will change depending on which stage of the product you may be in.
  2.  Involving your whole team in the feedback process helps to combat bias. As we keep working to improve our product at Yammer, we end up talking to a lot — a lot — of customers. One of the first problems we tend to run into during this process is confirmation bias; that is to say, using what you’re hearing to confirm what you already thought.Confirmation bias is a tough thing to sidestep (it’s human nature). But we’ve found that the more people you involve in the feedback process, the less likely you are as a group to be swayed. Everyone has their own lens for viewing the world, and by seeking multiple perspectives you’re able to get closer to the truth.That’s why when we do customer research, we involve the whole team.  When an engineer is sitting in front of a customer that is using the product that she coded, it instantly helps her understanding.  And it starts to chip away at the preconceived biases.Remember, also, that there will always be a natural tension between qualitative and quantitative research. You need to embrace that tension and have those conversations.  That’s where the magic happens.
  3.  Getting good customer insights is like exercising – you have to keep at it constantly. If you want to get good results, you need to build a team structure based on obtaining insights and get into a regular rhythm of talking to customers. It needs to become part of your team culture.In the past, I’ve worked on other teams and with other products where we only did customer research on an as-needed basis.  But that has a big down side.  If it’s not part of your culture, you don’t have anything to compare it with and calibrate it against. And you don’t build that empathy with customers, which is so critical to making good product decisions.

Awesome stuff, Pradeep! I wish I could get insights like that every day. And, of course, I had to ask Pradeep one more very important question: Captain Kirk or Captain Picard?

“Star Trek was one of the few Sci Fi series shown in India when I was growing up, so I’m a huge fan. If I had to pick one… Captain Kirk!”

Well chosen! See you next time.