Product lessons from serving as a juror on a Supreme Court civil trial

Do you know that dreaded moment when you get a letter in the mail marked as Jury Duty Notice? Well, this happened to me recently and for the first time I was actually selected to serve as a juror on a civil trial case. I won't go into the details of the case for the obvious reasons, however the lessons learned from this fascinating experience can expand way beyond serving as a juror. As I made observations throughout the three weeks I spent at the Supreme Court civil trial I couldn't help but to take notice of the principals that were directly applicable to my line of work, in Product Management. Here's a summary of those principles and the importance while building products.

  • Focus on the facts and evidence and hold back judgement until the end. As a product manager, many times we're quick to judge or come up with our own hypothesis on what's right/wrong in particular situations. Many times that premature decision comes before all of the evidence, facts, or even data have been presented. In some instances a piece of evidence will trump or contradict another piece of evidence. Other times one piece of evidence could be considered stronger evidence than another. We've all seen movies with twisted plots that intertwine various storylines only to come together at the very end in a smooth ending. You just have to be patience and enjoy your popcorn until the end. Serving as a juror is no different; you sit back, take observations, and hold back any judgement until the end of the case. Then, and only then, take all of the evidence presented into consideration to make your final judgement. I propose you do the same with product management.

  • Listen very carefully during questioning and cross examination. At times I felt like Sherlock Holmes trying to decipher fact from fiction. As a product manager, one of your primary responsibilities is customer discovery (which includes interviewing users of your product). Throughout your questioning, listen very intently to what people are saying and how they say it. Hesitations in a response could mean a lack of confidence in an answer. It could also mean that there's more to the story that needs investigated further.

  • Crafting the right interview question is critical. I'm sure you've heard the phrase 'leading the witness' before. Now I know what that actually means. It goes beyond the obvious caution of not asking a question in a particular way that might make a person tell you an answer that isn't 100% accurate. I've learned that a good lawyer can ask the same question in 10 different formats or variations. Each variation could be intended to get a particular response that leads them to their next set of questioning. As I mentioned previously, a product manager's biggest responsibility is to constantly conduct customer interviews. It's important to prepare interview questions before conducting a customer interview. This preparation will give you time to structure your questions in a way that doesn't bias the customer or lead them to tell you what you want to hear. In Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days by Jake Knapp, he outlines a few customer interview guidelines. Check out the book for more on the subject.

    • Don't ask multiple choice or "yes/no" questions. Instead, ask "Would you...?" "Do you...?" "Is it...?"
    • Do ask "Five W's and One H" question. ("Who...?" "What...?" "Where...?" "When...?" "Why...?" "How...?")

  • Diversity. Diversity. Diversity. It's one of the aspects of living in New York City that I love most. Surrounding yourself with people from different cultures, backgrounds, experiences, religions, and walks of life really grounds you. The requirement of inclusion and having diverse participants is the same when dealing with our legal system. It's absolutely critical for gathering unbiased opinions on a particular situation, case, or product prototype. It was incredibly interesting to see how various members of the jury reconciled with some of the evidence that was presented over the past few weeks. This makes the whole process quite beautiful in many ways. Each of us had our own personal life experiences that when brought together create a unique perspective and outlook on the case. I'm reminded that this is no different when building products. You need to have a diverse group of people building a product - because they'll all look at what you're trying to accomplish from a different point of view. When you're prototyping new ideas it's also critical to collect feedback from a diverse group of customers or prospects. Do your best to ensure diversity is being taken into consideration throughout every step of the way in your product development lifecycle. Your product will most certainly deliver better results given the diverse review you give it.



Kevin Beatty