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Product Owner Nightmares: The Unknown Unknowns

As a product owner, what keeps me up at night is the thought that there are unknown problems lying in wait, ready to spring their trap when I least expect it. I talk to stakeholders to clearly define the problem, ensure consensus on priorities, and focus the team on effectively spending our time and resources. What else can I do to ensure that we’re building the right product?

What the Users Say AND What They Do

There is only so much one can do ahead of time to suss out how potential users may behave. It is important to conduct a certain number of interviews and other related exercises that allow your target audience to communicate how they think about certain conditions and activities. At the very least, this provides you the bounds within which you can develop a hypothesis for potential usage of your product. But you need more, and that can only come from actual use. The analytics framework you put in place will provide you with that information. But are you gleaning everything you can from that? Hidden sources of feedback from real-life users help. Here are three that may prove useful to you.

Search Logs

Yes, everyone checks their Google Search Console to see what query terms people use to find their website. This is absolutely necessary for uncovering how people get to your website. But are you also looking at the logs for the search on your website? People will use your search when they do not immediately find what they’re looking for. The terms they use in this search and the pages they then access and spend time on tell you how THEY describe your content. This feedback can help you adjust the language you use in your product as well as, perhaps, suggest that you make some important content more accessible.

Client-side Validation Outcomes

There’s no need to send user input to the server for validation when it can just as easily be done on the client. Eliminating this back-and-forth makes for a better user experience since it speeds up the interaction and reduces the number of steps. One problem, from the product owner’s point of view, is that the application frequently does NOT record the outcome of these validations. I would want to know if our users frequently enter data that the system deems invalid or fail to enter required data. That could be the reason why this page is a common exit point on the site. Talk to your developers. Sending each validation outcome individually back to the server negates some of the benefits of client-side validation. Perhaps you can bundle the results to send them once per session.

Eating All Varieties of Your Dogfood

I am certain you use your product regularly, but do you vary HOW you use it? Do you use it on your phone, tablet, laptop, and a monstrously large monitor? How about landscape and portrait modes? Do you use it on macOS, iOS, Chrome, and Windows? How about older versions as well as the most recent? OK, I’m going to extremes. This is a costly testing effort that may be done once per major release. However, you should keep an eye on your time-series audience analytics for device, OS, and browser. If you see a significant drop in one slice, take that out for a spin yourself. There might be a bug your team has yet to discover.

Where Are Your Caches of User Feedback?

If you have any sources that have proven useful, let us know in the comments.

Categories: Blog

Bill Lenoir
06 Apr, 2021


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