Nothing will ever replace your gut feeling about your product, market and strategic direction.
However, good product management is about steering the boat according to the current as evidenced by your customer feedback. In that game, you have to always keep ahead, make sure you are working on features that customers want and that will, ultimately, bring them value and nurture a community.
The most important input to a product manager is customers, and the most important output of a product manager is… more customers!
So how do you go about identifying trends in an effective manner?
- Listen – in every customer conversation you have (and you should have lots) in every open-ended survey, twitter feedback, support case, or other interaction.
- Collect notes, and make sure to take complete quotes. For me, it is also helpful to use free-form tags for later lookups.
- Store your data in a searchable repository of some sort. It can be as simple as an excel file, or as complex as your own SQL database with semantic tags.
Once you believe you have detected a trend (“too many people say the product is expensive”) go back over your database, and see if this belief is just because of a weak sales quarter or if this is more than just anecdotal hearsay. Compare this with other trends (“customers say we should include better self-service capabilities”). Numbers have meaning: the democratic method (one customer – one vote) has value even if other customers hold shares in your company 😉 (“well, it is true we need feature X, but I also have 500 customers clamoring for feature Y”).
This is one of my most valuable tools for planning the product roadmap, and I hope yours as well..