Product Love Podcast: Cindy Alvarez, Product Manager at Microsoft and Author of Lean Customer Development

Published Jan 30, 2019

This week on Product Love, I talked to Cindy Alvarez, a product manager at Microsoft. Cindy has held every UX- and product-related title there is. She’s the author of the book “Lean Customer Development” and a regular speaker at conferences and events. She also started the #CindyAlvarezFoundry, which offers toolboxes and personalized advice to product managers, engineering leaders, and innovation executives. 

Prior to becoming a product person, she studied psychology at Harvard University. Her background in psychology has proved to be extremely essential in the field of product management. So much of psychology is studying how humans interact and respond to information, which feeds into how they select and build products.

In this episode, we dive into how to differentiate between customer wants and needs and discuss how to make diversity actionable.

How to Differentiate Between Customer Wants and Needs

When we, as customers, ask for something new, we try to base our request from what we sense is possible. Cindy says that’s because we don’t want to look stupid, and I agree. We are hesitant to ask for something that sounds crazy. But Cindy reminds us that customers aren’t industry experts, so their requests are usually constrained. Yet, if we build those solutions as requested, customers still won’t be happy, because their expectations weren’t completely met. 

Cindy prompts us to think back to when horses were the main mode of transportation. If you had asked what a customer back then would have wanted, they would have replied with, “a faster horse.” But a more specific question such as, “What’s so terrible about riding your horse to get from one place to another?” would have prompted answers like, “I get sweaty, there’s mud on me, and long horse rides are uncomfortable.” These answers all suggest problems that could be solved by an automobile. 

I would encourage you to ask your customers how their situation can be improved. Listen to their wildest requests — they might lead you to innovative product ideas.

Diversity and Inclusion

The tech industry is full of platitudes about the importance of diversity and inclusion. Rather than spending time talking about its importance, Cindy believes we need to start making progress. Something that helps underrepresented folks, as well as the company as a whole, would be making the hiring and promotion processes more concrete.

When we conduct interviews, we tend to gravitate towards candidates that remind us of ourselves. We rationalize it by thinking it’s because we attended the same school, or like the same restaurant, but most of the time, it’s because they’re like us in gender and ethnic background. Our comfort around them can be enough to overlook their shortcomings and extend them the benefit of the doubt. We don’t give the same courtesy to candidates who don’t resemble us in any way.

To combat that bias, Cindy suggests that we make our hiring and promoting process as objective as possible. We should be carefully examining candidates based on their skills and qualities in order to ensure we aren’t blindsided by our own level of comfort.

Check out this week’s episode of Product Love to learn more. Don’t forget to subscribe to Product Love on iTunes.