Two facts about me. I’m a user-centred product manager. I’m a professional coach. Until recently I viewed these as two, unrelated skills from separate points in my life but now I’ve recognised that they inform and support one another.
I’m trained in ‘non-directive’ coaching. What does non-directive mean? It means that I believe that people have huge potential and have the ability to solve their own problems. A coach doesn’t tell someone what to do, they help them to figure something out for themselves. Just that act of talking through your ideas, out loud, can be incredibly powerful. This is know as ‘socialising’ your ideas.
A coach is more than an audience though. Part of my role is to take you to the limit of the your thinking, the point where you’ve got stuck, and then ask a critical question that stretches you, helping you to think in more creative ways. At the most fundamental level, this is done through conversation: a good coach will facilitate a conversation underpinned by something called the ‘GROW’ model. GROW stands for:
- Current Reality
- Will (or Way Forward)
A coachee doesn’t work through these four stages in a linear fashion and so skill as a coach often entails listening and then confirming your understanding, often in the form of notes that help the coachee to see patterns that they haven’t noticed before, often leading to dramatic self-realisation.
User research is at the heart of my work as a product manager. I like to work on products that have a real meaning for me, supporting my local community. I’m also driven by creating services that people really want. This means that I have to really know the people I’m serving: good services aren’t designed by a room full of creatives plucking ideas from mid-air, they’re designed by understanding people’s goals and frustrations and being willing to change to fit real lives.
‘Discovery’ is an increasingly common stage of product development in which an organisation gets to know its users, defining problems before starting to develop solutions. Understanding the goals and frustrations of your users allows you to design something that they really value: it also allows you to deliver maximum value with minimum effort, something that allows for maximum return on investment.
You can think of ‘discovery’ as empathy. Empathy is the basis of long-term, productive relationships, and every organisation wants a long-term productive relationship with its customers.
Design by Coaching
For me, empathy is the point of intersection between coaching and user research. The first two sections of the GROW model, understanding someone’s goals and their current reality/frustrations, provide a way of understanding what empathy with a customer means. You develop empathy with your customers through open-ended conversations. You don’t barrel in with an idea and ask what they think about it because if you ask people hypothetical questions they’ll tell you what they think you want to hear. However, if you ask people to tell you about their life, and you’re genuinely interested in what they say, they’ll be surprisingly open and honest and provide you with insights you’d never of dreamed of.
Understanding the importance of empathy is powerful because it helps us to understand that great services don’t start with ‘killer ideas’, dreamt-up by god-like entrepreneurs. Great services start with conversations. Simple as that.