Many years ago, one of my bosses mentored a novel practical lesson. In order to learn and solve customer issues our whole company was asked to visit a customer factory and spend time with the operators. The idea was to learn the users’ experience first hand. Even though our company was a small-size business, it was still quite an impressive sight to see a long procession of cars arriving at the customer site to learn and observe. And it goes without being said that customer was more than impressed (albeit a little bit overwhelmed) to see our dedication. The customer was very appreciative and willingly shared their daily work experience with us. This helped us in designing a product which sold very well with this customer and others like them.
Explaining Ethnographic Research
In simple words Ethnographic research means to conduct your research/voice of customer surveys on-site together with the customer, living in their shoes and feeling the joys and pains of their work. No other form of customer survey comes closer in understanding customers issues and thereby generating better product requirements than to actually ‘camp out’ at a customer site. I also find this type of VoC is the closest method where both ‘product’ and ‘project‘ sides of the business come together. This as you can imagine leads to finding the best solution for a customer which ultimately leads to a better product design. I also want to go as far as by saying that better products are not designed by brainstorming in an office environment but by observing and ‘camping out’ with customers.
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As a Project Manager, sometimes it can be very frustrating to realize that you are ultimately responsible for the project schedule and but have no authority on people who are working on the project. I’ve seen Project managers complaining that they are ‘responsible for everything but have no authority.’ The way out of this thinking is to realize that as a Project Manager, you are not seeking obedience or brute compliance from your project team but what you are looking for is motivation, engagement and commitment. People have written books on this topic and many universities across the World offer expensive courses to teach you how to manage without authority. I’ve learnt it by experience and following are my 5-point list of how one can successfully manage people without authority.
1. Build relationships One of the ways this could be achieved is by building ‘relationships‘ with members of the team. This allows you to learn what motivates a particular team member and then keep that member challenged and motivated. It does not help if a team member knows a project manager only by name or only as a person who only asks for deliverables and deadlines. Building relationships is even more important for remotely located teams. It is very common today to have project teams spread across several countries, time zones and cultures. In such cases it becomes even more important for a Project Manager to build relationship with the diverse group of team members and get their cooperation. From my own experience it also helps if a remotely located PM travels to home offices of team members atleast few times a year and have face to face interactions with team members.
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