When we launched season 8 of our podcast, Product to Product, we set out to understand exactly what product sense was. Is it just your intuition? Can it be honed? Should product managers even care?

We couldn’t answer these questions alone. So, we invited leading Product Managers from companies like Reddit, Webflow, and more to chime in. Through a series of 6 candid conversations, we started to demystify what product sense was. Along the way, we also learned how PMs nurtured product sense in their teams and across their companies.

Today, we’re sharing those learnings with you! Keep reading to get a better sense of product sense. Along the way, you might even pick-up some tips to grow a flourishing career in product management.

Here’s how Product Managers at Reddit, Hinge, Webflow and more see product sense

Ramli believes that you might lose product-market fit if you don’t balance hard data with candid customer stories.

Key takeaways from Episode 1

  • When you focus on a vanity metric like sign-ups, you risk wasting valuable resources on visitors who might not be a high-fit lead.
  • It’s better to have a lower number of sign-ups but a higher percentage of those who fit your ideal customer profile.
  • Product sense is built upon an empathetic and holistic understanding of your customer
  • Empathy, however, must be balanced with perspective. If you get stuck empathizing with the POV of just one customer, then you may unknowingly become blind to the wider lens of multiple customers.
  • PMs are in the business of emotional transformation. Consider what emotional state your customer is in when they’re experiencing the problem, versus the new emotional state they get to enjoy thanks to your product.
  • Customers want to look smart and savvy in front of their peers. Would your customer be proud to share your product with their friends and co-workers? Would doing so make them look like an expert?
  • Maintaining an ongoing conversation with your users will keep you in tune with the voice of the customer, and grow even faster.
  • Making decisions solely based on data can alienate your customers.
  • The market moves faster than your data can keep up.
  • Although it’s important for PMs to hone their intuition (a.k.a. Product sense), you can’t ever trust just one person to be the single source of truth.

Listen to the full episode now.

Kristen reminds us that product sense might look a little different inside of a startup.

Key takeaways from Episode 2

  • Data is only half the equation when it comes to developing product sense. Staying in tune with the community of people you’re building for is the other half.
  • Your customers’ pain points evolve over time. Good product sense will help you keep your product proactive instead of reactive.
  • To build a deep understanding of your customer over a long period of time, spend time in the arenas (both virtually and in-person) that they go to get educated and mingle with peers.
  • Don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and don some user research skills and tools yourself! Teams are busy with 101 projects. This is especially true at startups.
  • When you’re growing your product team, ensure you share onboarding packets with diverse customer information. For example, provide a mix of past research, recordings of customer interviews, or even actual sales calls.
  • Product sense starts at the top. Everyone from the Chief Product Office to the intern should be sitting on customer calls every now and then. Encourage a strong culture of product sense in your organization.
  • Feedback is crucial. However, be wary of the loudest voice in the room. Your feedback process itself may become biased and, as a result, disadvantage segments of your customers.
  • There’s a difference between being data-driven and being data-informed. How you strike a delicate balance between the two is up to you.

Listen to the full episode now.

Avrum walks us through a more predictable process to build product sense in our team.

Key takeaways from Episode 3

  • It’s hard to be intimate with the needs of your customers if you don’t actually use the products that you’re building.
  • The one caveat, however, is that you can’t confuse yourself for the customer.
  • The best product managers don’t look at themselves as the “idea person.” Instead, they shine because of their ability to synthesize lots of information from a collection of sources.
  • PMs need to be on their feet more often than they are behind a desk.
  • Developing a systematic process of problem solving (eg. developing and testing hypotheses) helps your team craft and communicate clear stories.
  • Taking a scientific approach is even more important if your startup is still looking for product-market fit.
  • It’s important product leaders take the time to educate and coach their whole team on the scientific approach
  • Be sure to couple the scientific approach with effective storytelling and communication practices
  • If there isn’t a large enough value exchange taking place between the product and it’s users, then certain methods of validation may only go skin-deep. Landing pages and waitlists are a prime example of this.

Listen to the full episode now.

User interviews, Michelle warns, could be a complete waste of our time and energy.

Key takeaways from Episode 4

  • Tech is fast-paced. Sometimes, slowing down to take one step backwards helps you two steps forward in the right direction.
  • When you’re ideating potential solutions, co-create them with customers before you take them to market.
  • In user interviews, focus less on what users are saying and more on how they’re engaging with your product.
  • You can hone your product sense by seeking to fill the gaps between your users’ expressed needs and their actual actions.
  • Although user interviews are glorified in the product management space, customers often don’t have the necessary vocabulary to describe the issues they’re facing.
  • Customers aren’t particularly skilled at hypothesizing what solutions would fit them. That’s not their job, though. Your job, as a PM, is to diagnose and prescribe based on what you’re hearing.
  • Qualitative and quantitative data should not live in silos. Pair them together to paint a rich story for you and your team.
  • Solely relying on data may lead your team astray. Use your intuition to contextualize the data.
  • The questions you and your team hypothesize around at the early stages of product development will impact the outcomes your users enjoy (or don’t). Make sure you’re asking the right questions.
  • Set yourself up for success by building an accurate narrative of the customer journey from the get-go.

Listen to the full episode now.

Frank believes that product sense is key to effective long term decision-making.

Key takeaways from Episode 5

  • When honed over time, product sense is an educated guess for you to start with. If you ignore honing this intuition, though, product sense can manifest itself as unchecked assumptions.
  • Starting the product development process on assumptions can seem harmless. Those assumptions, though, if left unchecked can have compounding negative effects later down the line.
  • Assumptions become much more expensive to correct further down the development journey.
  • Take the time to build out organization-wide best practices to ensure PMs across your teams are speaking the same language.
  • The better you understand your customers and your market, the riskier your bets can be.
  • When you’ve spent years in a specific industry, you develop the ability to recognize patterns quicker than your peers.
  • Empathize with your customers. But when you’re building a large scale product you don’t want to solve for just one unique customer. You want to generalize your customers’ problems to a certain degree so you can be valuable to many use cases.
  • Match your chosen tech stack with what will enable your team to achieve the best possible outcome for your end users.
  • Work with your design and QA teams to map out your release and iteration cycles.

Listen to the full episode now.

Peter encourages us to tune our intuition to how customers will feel when they use our products.

Key takeaways from Episode 6

  • Trying to provide multiple benefits or solve multiple problems is tempting, but it’s often a slippery slope towards a collection of mediocre solutions.
  • Starting the product development process on assumptions can seem harmless. Those assumptions, though, if left unchecked can have compounding negative effects later down the line.
  • Take a trip to the future. Imagine your product is ready for market. What will that press release say? Writing this out is a great practice to reverse engineer what you’re building, who you’re building it for, and the outcomes you hope it will help them achieve.
  • Force yourself to talk about your product using the language your customers use. Ask your team to do the same. You’ll find that using your customers’ language will begin to align multiple stakeholders throughout your organization.
  • Empower your customers to advocate for your product to their friends and families.
  • Most PMs are measured against cold metrics. When PMs spend too much time obsessing over these they can lose touch with the customer.
  • As your organization grows, ensure you strike a balance between being metric-obsessed and customer-obsessed.
  • If your customer had to pick one emotion to describe the experience of your product, which emotion do you hope they’d pick? Optimize for that.

Listen to the full episode now.