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Genchi Genbutsu - go and see for yourself as a PM

I continue to digest the insights from the amazing book about Toyota production process. Another concept that could help to make product decisions called Genchi Genbutsu.

Genchi Genbutsu (English: Go and see for yourself): The best practice is to go and see the location or process where the problem exists in order to solve that problem more quickly and efficiently. To grasp problems, confirm the facts and analyse root causes.

Sounds so easy, right? But how often we find endless ways to avoid it? Instead of talking to our customers - we read "a study". Instead of talking to our colleagues we read meeting notes or a report. Instead of using the product we listen to other people's opinions.

Most often we come up with creative excuses not doing it the right way. I definitely was guilty not once. But deep down I knew I was being lazy. There is no substitute for genchi gembutsu, seeing for yourself.

Especially seeing for yourself as a product manager. The biggest breakthrough, brightest "aha" moments, I had as a PM came when seeing my customers struggle with the problem I was trying to solve. We meant to be the most knowledgeable about the problems we're solving. To get this knowledge we need to gather it first hand.

Years ago I was working on a startup idea. It was about monitoring your competitors and it sounded very cool. Indeed, many businesses are constantly struggling to stay on top of the competition. And gathering intel on what your rivals are doing is a big part of winning. So I thought why always busy PMs should waste their time researching competitors and being informed on market changes? A product should do it for them. Luckily I didn't run to investors for money but first decided to test the idea. I created a landing page describing the promise of the product and encouraged people to sign up. To my surprise some of them did. Soon I had a handful of companies wanting my product that didn't exist. Instead, it was me making what a product promised to make. It was a "Wizard of Oz" test.

I've run the test for several months and then decided to kill the idea. The reason was surprising. I found that the biggest value for product managers doing the research of their competitors was in the process, not the result. The magic happened by going, seeing and doing themselves. That's where ideas, inspiration and true insights came from.

- How would I find time to see everything myself? - you might ask.
Well, you won't. You'll need to prioritise. What's the most important task you could do? Where is your understanding the most crucial for the success of your product? Take a pick and focus on it. For most of us, it would be related to understanding the problem or your customers better. And you know what to do about it - go and talk to them.

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