I decide to document those stories happened in my coaching practices. I will use this platform to write down the interesting cases that I experienced.
Today I coached a small group of 6 people from a big company. One person volunteered to share his issue and get coached, and the rest 5 were observers and encouraged by me, they also shared their thoughts. So this is a mix of group coaching and discussion session, all done through a Skype meeting.
The person volunteered, let's call him Mike, was a senior technical leader in the company. He shared about a recent meeting where he felt very frustrated, charged, and finally upset.
This was a meeting between his American team and the partner team from Western Europe. Based on his previous experience with the European team, Mike said he anticipated this meeting would be long and slow moving before he entered the room. And the meeting went just as he expected. It went on for an entire day!
Mike said the expected meeting outcome was very clear, everyone understood that they need to agree together on a complex product plan. He went on described that people were picking on details, and forgetting about the core things they should focus on. In addition, it was not clear each person's goals and proposal, and they spent most of time trying to understand each other's thoughts, and getting everyone agreed on each of the thoughts/goals. Unfortunately, most of the time they could not agree on those goals at first, so there were a lot of efforts trying to better understand the rational behind those goals and then finding ways to tweak them...
Mike said he was very frustrated, thinking he was wasting time in such meeting, and twice he almost walked away. He said this meeting should be done in an hour but they wasted the whole day finally got some agreement on the plan because that what they had to achieve. He said h really did not know what to do with this and asked for help.
I first acknowledged what I heard from Mike, by checking with him, "Let's me see if I understood you correctly, please correct me if I didn't." Then I used my own words briefly described what I heard. Mike said, "yes, that was what happened."
Next I validated his feelings. I said, "Well, it totally makes sense that you felt frustrated. And with the culture you were in, you value time and efficiency a lot, so you were upset when you saw yourself wasting time in this meeting."
Then I turned over the microphone to the rest of the team. I asked, "Could you please try your listening and questioning skills to figure out what Mike could do?" One person asked, "Mike, were the presentations clear? Could people understand what was proposed quickly?" "No, there were not clear goals/proposals brought by each of the participants. So we spent first part of the time trying to tell each other what we wanted." Another person asked, "Mike, what were you thinking when you feel upset?" Mike answered, "I was saying to myself, what a waste of my time!!! And when I was thinking that, I became very impatient and I walked out briefly to calm down myself..." This went on for a while and people got some deep understanding on what Mike was thinking and why Mike felt that way. .
At this time, I coached Mike by asking, "Mike, please close your eyes and imagine, what could be an ideal meeting that you would feel happy about?" Mike answered, after a brief silence, "I would like everybody come to the meeting with a clear set of goals they want to achieve and a proposal on how to achieve those goals. In this way, we can understand each other a lot easily and faster, because everyone has done their own homework before the meeting instead of coming to the meeting start to think about these things under others influence and a lot of pressure."
"OK, if this is what you think should be a better way for the meeting, what could you have done to make this happen?"
"Well, first, I can work on my own attitude. When I was coming with a thought that this meeting would be a waste of my time, it turned out was, and I was not interested in listening others because it was proofing my thoughts. I can certainly try to think I want to get a lot out by listening carefully to others and be interested in what they will be sharing."
"Second, there is no owner for this meeting, it is a plan needs to be agreed from two teams so it went without a owner to hold everyone accountable in the beginning. I think I would identify an owner, or maybe I would take the responsibility as the owner for this meeting. And I would ask everyone to prepare a list with their carefully thought-through goals and proposals before the meeting. Then in the meeting, I will ask them clearly present their list, and explain the rationale behind this. Yes, I think this will help a lot! I will try that..."
"Great, that is a plan you can try and see how it works. So when will you try it?"
"I will try it in my upcoming meeting next Tuesday."
"In order to put it into action, what are the steps you need to take and when?"
"I will send everyone a request by email tomorrow, clearly list the overall meeting goals and agenda for next Tuesday meeting. In that email, I will also provide a template so they can fill in their ideas and how to do it. I will ask them to email back to me on Friday." Mike said, "Then on Friday morning I will follow up with them to make sure they will spend time on it and send back to me by end of that day."
"Then I will continue to follow up on next Monday for the ones I think need more work, and ask questions to help them think deeper. In this way I believe they will have done a good preparation before the meeting on Tuesday."
"Sounds a thorough plan. Congratulations on leadership growth!"
The method for generating innovation ideas I presented at The Top 100 Summit was very well received by the event attendees. This is an annual event in Beijing for the technology industry to share case studies in technology innovations / R&D management practices throughout the world. The 2015 Summit was held at Beijing National Convention Center from December 5-7, and the audience are over 1,000 Chinese professionals in the technology industry from all over China.
I talked about a method which I summarized in Chinese as “望闻问切”之法 (for those folks who understand the basics of Chinese Medicine would understand where this is from). This is a method that I have learned and practiced and then summarized through my training and experience as a product manager in Microsoft. It is a combination of the Empathy Map model created by XPlane, the Customer Journey Map and a couple of other tools, which helps teams to understand customers deeply, to find their pains and gains, to identify opportunities for innovation ideas, and come up with solutions through out the entire customer journey to help them solve their issues.
I shared a case that I did recently with a startup. I helped the startup company figured out what products they should build for their target customers, those Chinese students that are studying in the US universities.
Basically, you start everything by understanding the customer's real needs and wants.
First, you observe the customer, understand what their missions are. In my case study, this can be the Chinese students want to pass on their exams.
Then you observe what the customers see, hear, say & do, and think & feel. For example, the Chinese students were very nervous about their exams, felt overwhelmed and they could not manage their time and study well. Before they left China, they heavily depended on their parents at home and teachers at school to remind them (well, monitor them) in studying, and they were under tremendous pressure by supervised by those adults around them. When they left home and lived overseas, they finally got the freedom and with NO supervision around them 24x7. They have not learned how to plan and manage their own time, usually do not prepare the exams early and end up of spending the whole night trying to study. And as you can guess, many of them did not really understand the materials and did not do well in the exams.
Thirdly, you can ask WHYs to the things the customers did/heard/said/thought/felt. This is a way for you to dig into the root cause of an issue. In my case, because I asked many whys, I understood why those students waited until the last night to study for the exams, and then worried so much about not be able to pass.
Fourthly, you draw your conclusion about what are the pain points and gain points for these customers. That is where opportunities unveil. The example I gave on the students showed an opportunity to provide a service helping the students plan their time and enhance their study efficiency.
Lastly, you can look at customers entire journey, and break the journey into different stages or moments, then use the same method repeatedly to find opportunities and come up with solutions. For the student example, we look into what the students experienced from the time they have received university acceptance letter to the time they graduate, and found many points of solutions (well, I would say ideas at this stage) through this 4-year journey. Then we selected some of those points to start product development.
I would say this is a very simple method that everyone can try to use. I have trained product managers, marketing professionals and university students to apply this method. Usually through a one-day workshop, they will be able to use this method to come up with some insights to their customers and develop product ideas. Then they will take more time to apply this method on their own to go deep.
If you have questions about how to apply the method “望闻问切”之法, please feel free to contact me.