Good product managers understand the problem space, ask the Five Whys, and stick to first principles. Great product managers effectively translate all of this into a manifestation (a product, service, or business). In my experience as a PM, I’ve found it super effective to not only understand and articulate problems and requirements, but to also to role-play as my customer and ask the questions the customer would ask in the situation that would prompt them to use the product. This one act can have a ripple effect on the way the product is designed, built, prioritized, marketed, and adopted.
TurboTax does this really well, by staying out of your way for 364 days of the year.
TurboTax stands out like no other tax filing product in the world, because of their unwavering understanding of some native traits of their users.
1. Infrequent usage, but little things matter when used
While the designers and engineers may not love it, the fact is, the only time anyone ever logs into the TurboTax web console is the day they file their taxes. All that designing, prototyping, and building – for one day in a year. Not twenty. Not five. Just one day in a year.
So for a TurboTax PM, every single discussion around the product – the revenue model, the design, the prioritization of features versus bugs – all of it must be centered around this truth about their audience.
2. No time, no patience
Let’s go deeper. The average tax-payer is always busy with something else. Anything else. So the interface must be simple, and more importantly – not annoying. Want to grab users’ attention to attract them towards that new W-2 upload feature? Design it, but remember not to annoy them, or else it’s Game Over.
3. Disdain towards task-to-be-done
The average taxpayer also hates filing their taxes. This also means if you make it easy for them to get through the process, they will love you. They don’t care about how awesome the product is, they care about how easy it is to file their taxes.
4. Opportunistic skepticism when it comes to $$$
While the TurboTax users may not have time or patience (or love) for filing their taxes, you better believe they care that every number on the tax return is accurate to the penny! Money is a very sensitive matter, and while user experience and simplicity matter, there is nothing more important than winning and keeping the trust of your users. They will be skeptical, and any number they see is a number they may choose to scrutinize. This makes it very important that the product is accurate and reliable 100% of the time.
5. Privacy conscious
Money and income is a very personal thing. That makes trust a make or break factor. You need to make sure that, come what may, your users’ personal data is secure and that they can trust you with it.
Manifestations in the product
With this understanding of their users’ fundamental traits and emotions, the TurboTax product team makes aligned product decisions and executes them with discipline over and over again, carefully curating that annoying tax-filing experience we all hate so much.
For example, there are several optimizations that can be made to make the experience more seamless to cater to habits #2 and #3. Most taxpayers who are willing to pay for a product like TurboTax will be salaried and have some income earned from interest. On occasion, they may have sold some stocks with capital gains. Most will also have a certain set of attributes related to marital status, age, and income. All of this can be used to provide a customized experience.
Always prioritizing user privacy above all else ensures you don’t lose business because of habits #4 and #5.
There are several examples out there of products that understand their basic user instincts and behavior well and ones that don’t. What user characteristics do you channel into your product decisions?