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Product Intuition Calibration

You notice how some people you work with have a very astute and mostly correct intuition about a variety of user scenarios, behaviours and product performance?

I always wondered what such a spot on intuition was grounded in. So I talked about it with a few colleagues and dug deep.

👨‍👩‍👧‍👦 User cohort & intuition

The larger a product’s user base, the more diverse cohorts it contains. When you build a product for a massive user base (billions of users), you have more likelihood of your intuition working well because chances are that a fair percentage of the use base are people like you. We see this a lot in Search — practically everyone who uses the internet uses Search and hence you can safely assume that many of the users think and act like you do.

Now imagine a different situation where you are building a product for a very specific user base, for example, the retired elderly people in Europe — your intuitions are going to be completely off. You have no idea how to think about them other than a few very basic (largely inaccurate) assumptions.

Because most products target a specific user base, we need to go through the process of intuition calibration in order to be effective at building products for them.

🎰 Entering a new industry

When you enter a new industry (i.e. social media, EdTech, FinTech, FoodTech and so on), you don’t really know the user cohorts well. And you know the user’s problems even less so. Because of this, your intuition is uncalibrated and cannot be relied upon to solve user’s problems well enough, yet. It needs to be calibrated.

🎯 User problem intuition

When you spend more time in the domain talking to users and going deep on the user problem, you gain a better understanding of what you’re dealing with. You start to think like them. You form a model of them in your head. The calibration starts to happen. This takes months if not years – months of humility, curiosity and sincerity in reading research reports, talking to the users and your teammates (especially the old-timers as are a great source of such insights). When you spend this time truly grasping the context, you’d usually end up developing a deep respect for the work that has gone into taking the product to where it is.

An important caveat: The market evolves and so do the users. If you solely rely on the company old-timers to calibrate your intuition, you begin to think like them and adopt their blindspots, killing off most chances of fresh thinking.

🏋️‍♀️ Org execution intuition

Interestingly, the user problem calibration is only a part of the story. You also need to spend ‘active eyes & ears time’ in your company to calibrate your intuition around execution – how does your company operate? How does it scope products? What mini-cohort of users do they focus more on? Calibrating your intuition well for execution pertains to having a very good sense of scoping problems, understanding the team’s incentive & operational structure and higher order org priorities.

In my experience the org execution intuition is pretty much as important (if not more) as having a great user problem intuition, in order to be great at your job.

Some of you might have seen people with a great user problem intuition — they have a keen sense of how users behave and operate your product. But you often see these people struggling with putting this keen intuition to work in the company in order to improve the product. The passivity and disregard for focussing on understanding the org really well is often the culprit that leads to their inefficacy in making things happen.

So in summary:

Calibrating the user problem intuition and calibrating the org execution intuition, both take time and a conscious effort but pay exponential rewards.

A honed org intuition makes you invaluable to the company and helps you rise the ranks, while a honed user intuition in the domain makes you a stalwart that is sought after by the industry.