Cindy Alvarez

A different talk, each time

I've given a number of lectures and workshops on customer development this year, and the best thing I've done to make those engagements effective is to encourage participants to ask questions all the way through.

Some people are polite, so I had to really insist that questions were okay. "Please interrupt me with questions," I say, and now I have an opening slide that says that as well.

I worry when people don't ask questions.

It means they have no intention to start practicing the techniques I'm teaching. It means they're listening politely, perhaps even refraining from opening their laptops or checking their phones, but they're going to return to their desk unchanged.

People should be skeptical when I tell them to throw their old market research and long-term planning aside in favor of having conversations. They should worry about how their manager is going to respond (although, managers, your behavior shouldn't justify this fear). Behavioral change is HARD, people.

So I love it when someone blurts out a No, really, let me tell you how things work in our org -- what are you going to suggest for that?

I don't always have an answer. Sometimes I can reference an analogous situation. Sometimes one of their colleagues or workshop-mates pipes up with something insightful.

But even if not, the act of asking seems to provide value. It helps the asker to see that experimental thinking isn't just something we turn on when we're considering a new feature. It's a way of working.

I'm asking people to embark upon customer development interviews without promising them that they'll know what they're going to learn in advance. I'm encouraging folks to pick up the phone with a 5-question script and be ready to improv enough follow-up questions to provoke 20 minutes of conversation. Each time they do this, it will be a different talk. Just as each workshop of mine digs deep in different areas, tackles the concerns of different types of skeptics, approaches change in a new way.