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In the second installment of her "Confessions of Product Manager," SC explains why the emergence of mobile technology was as much a cultural shift as it was a technological one. She also touches on the importance of user research in building mobile, and why product managers must be cognizant of context when developing products.

In case you missed it, Part 1 is available here. Here is Part 3 to wrap things up.

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Video transcript:

SC Moatti: Mobile is the personal technology. It's the first time we have one device in our hand. Let me tell you. Let's say I'm checking out my cell phone right now or my iWatch or some glasses. You are talking to me. Oops. You've lost me. I'm distracted. The context that everybody experiences on mobile makes it a completely different experience. We are not trapped in front of a computer or trapped in front of a catalog. That's a challenge. That's why it's a cultural change.

Matt Pasienski: In your book, this is something that I found really interesting about the way you've framed this book. You mentioned coming from the paper world, your 1996, we need to have a website. It was very much about technology. It was about how do we get the servers. How do we display the information? How do we catalog? What is our database look like? We use the metaphors of technology and storage and data. You switched, and you say in mobile you have to use a metaphor that is much more around human beings of mind, body, and spirit, which I think unlocks a whole lot much more interesting ways to think about the problem.

SC Moatti: Yeah. Absolutely. I think the computer revolution is ultimately like another bump of the industrial revolution. You have these massive corporations, functions, processes, and sequences that on mobile ... You and I are in a room right now. We could be outside, we could be anywhere, and we are doing business, right? The context we have is so different. When I think of our mobile products, and that's what I learned over the past 12 years, I think are extensions of ourselves. If I think of the best mobile product, I think of what is my best self. My best self is mind, body, spirit. I want to look good. I want to have a meaningful life. I want to keep learning and growing. Looking good is that body role. Meaningful like is the spirit role. Keeping learning is that mind role. It's exactly the same on mobile.

Matt Pasienski: To get in the mind, continuing learning, I think when you talk about cultural shifts that mobile is bringing, if the company thinks about a mobile app, this is another way we are just going to extend our business, it's probably not going to succeed. If you think of it as a cultural shift, no, we need to be a business that is capable of succeeding in that much more contextual world, that much more fast changing. You have to keep their attention in the world of mobile. For instance, if I'm running a publishing company, it's not just how I'm going to display the information, it's how I create and update the information. It has to come at all points of the day. It has to be constantly updated. It has to be learning from the analytics that I get back and very responsive. That's going to change your newsroom or the people that are writing the content. What kinds of cultural shifts in other industries have you seen mobile bring when you think of it as much more of an extension of human beings instead of another mode of delivering data?

SC Moatti: Yeah. The publishing example that you give is phenomenal. I'm talking with a lot of authors right now since I just published a book. They are looking at their product. It's a book or it's a series of websites with blog posts. It's sort to still study content. With mobile, they can actually have maybe a companion learner with some readers. That's how we learn. We don't learn from listening to one person or reading one book, we learn from practicing and doing something on an ongoing basis. Cultural shift would be don't put your book on a mobile phone. I create a mobile companion that will help people learn that mobile is about culture with dated tips or maybe discussions and messages, things like that.

Matt Pasienski: I want to make sure to mention the fact that you have an amazing organization called Products That Count. I feel as a product manager, maybe you could talk about this. Products, sometimes you think of them as shrink-wrapped. You think of them as I am going to make a product, I'm going to shrink wrap it, and I'm going to sell it. Really products are much more nowadays especially we have the internet all this feedback of kind of new ways of everybody doing stuff. You are not going in and creating a product people use. You are creating a product that enables your user to change. I think the fact that you change how we speak about mobile, how we think about we speak about products in this age where it's not a shrink-wrapped product anymore. It's any number of other different things. It might be part of this big thing that has become products.

SC Moatti: I'll give you an example. Maybe that's where you are trying to go. One of my roles was running the rentals business at Trulia, the real estate marketplace. Rentals is a very interesting use case when you compare it to busying a home. Everybody needs a place to live, not everybody can afford one. Now, how you go about renting a place is completely different then how you go about selling a place. If you think about it can be surprising, but isn't. You want to buy a place. It's emotional. It's the biggest purchase of your life for most people. It's very emotional because it's your place, right? You want to rent a place, it's so rational. You don't want to spend more than this. You need parking. You need two bedrooms. You have a dog. Very, very rational. People look for a place on the go. They don't dream about it at home in the evening.

If you think about changing the way people rent a place, which is like today, I'm going on Craigslist. You have to picture the customer's journey and the contest. That's really everything. I'm in a neighborhood and this is the place where I want to find a rental. I want a two bedroom. I want parking. You can use mobile to push information about places available in your neighborhood in a way that you could never have done with any other platform. That, I think, is really how product managers need to think about their new products. It's all about the context that their users are in.

Matt Pasienski: It's definitely a switch because, like you say, if you are selling a home versus renting it, you are going to say, "Here's all the homes in the area." People are going to be driving 20 miles to go view. It's got the nice dining room like they've always dreamed of. Rental is switched around. Somebody might be in the neighborhood. They might be willing to take a look, but their life comes first rather than the other way around.

SC Moatti: That's right. Exactly. I'll tell you, I think, what that means for product people is the importance of user research. User research in context is even more important. A lot of the user research that we used to do or that we think of is put people in a room and do a focus group. I don't think that's effective. First of all, if I'm in a room and I feel confined, I'm not going to think about my real life. Second, if I have a lot of people around me, maybe I'm going to be influenced by them. If I'm at home, going about my day or at work or out and about, and my mobile records what I'm doing as a piece of user research, then it's a lot more accurate and it's a lot more intuitive as well. When you think about it, we have sort of disconnected who we are as humans from what the machine or what the research or what the facts are telling us. We need to remember that behind the machine and behind that facts that there are human beings.

Posted by on Wednesday, May 18, 2016.


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