November 22, 2022

The Susan Stavitzski Hypothesis: The Best Way to Get Better at Discovery is to Do It Over and Over Again

In the Product Science Podcast interview with Susan Stavitzski, we cover the role of product marketing, the nitty-gritty process of doing continuous product discovery, and what it’s like working in a strong product organization with empowered teams.

The Susan Stavitzski Hypothesis: The Best Way to Get Better at Discovery is to Do It Over and Over Again

Susan Stavitzski is an experienced Product Leader with experience working in the software industry for start-ups, SMB and enterprise companies. She has a passion for taking manual, bulky processes and turning them into powerful, automated, scalable solutions to empower teams.

In this episode of the Product Science Podcast, we cover the role of product marketing, the nitty-gritty process of doing continuous product discovery, and what it’s like working in a strong product organization with empowered teams.

Subscribe for the full episode on Apple, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, YouTube, and more. Love what you hear? Leave us a review, it means a lot.


Questions We Explore in This Episode

What is the role of product marketing in product success?

  • Great product marketing managers can bring a robust experience to the product that complements the product itself.
  • This allows the product team to stay focused on solving the customer problem, while product marketing can build onboarding and messaging.

What was the nitty-gritty process for doing product discovery at the companies Susan has worked at?

  • Susan conducted product discovery on both sides of a 2-sided marketplace 3 to 4 times a week.
  • She started small with an in-person recruitment process to get feedback from store managers and workers, then expanded to e-mail and in-app recruitment for interviews.
  • Susan loves to build a customer group for research by always ending conversations with the question of if the customer would be willing to engage in research again.

What is it like for Susan to be working in a strong product org with empowered teams?

  • It started with glowing recommendations from other product managers which attracted her to the company in the first place.
  • At the company, the teams are fully staffed with 4 engineers, including a lead engineer, a dedicated designer, and support from an analyst and a delivery manager.
  • The management asks the teams to go figure out the best way to solve the massive problems they are guided to solve.

Quotes from Susan Stavitzski

As a product manager, you have to do enough reps in discovery and learning about your customer that if you truly cannot get in front of somebody to help you make a decision, you know you can make this decision confidently.
When you're prescribed how to solve a problem, it's not fun. You're just building whatever someone told you. When you can go out and do the discovery and uncover the true problem, then the team has something to get excited about.
I think the hardest part with discovery is just, how do you get time with these people? People are so busy. Your customers are not just sitting around waiting for you to call. So you have to get super creative with how you get that feedback loop going.
I like to put together a charter customer group for feedback. Often, your customers are so eager to do that. A lot of customers who have invested a lot in your product also want to make it better for them and have their voice heard.

Season 5 of the Product Science Podcast is brought to you by Productboard

Check out their eBook: Dangerous Animals of Product Management 2.0

Every organization has challenging stakeholders and situations that can get in the way of our product plans. Learn how to manage them using a mix of soft skills and hard frameworks.

Get Your Copy



This week on the Product Science Podcast, I'm excited to have Susan Stavitzski as a guest. Susan is an experienced product leader working in the software industry for startups, SMBs, and enterprise companies over the last nine years. She started her career in subscription-based retention-focused SaaS products at Snag A Job. Susan was an integral contributor to the innovative Gig Shifts platform, directing the solutions to a scalable platform that grew product adoption and sales by over 300%. After Snag A Job, Susan led product and design at Hatch, a startup based in Richmond. She led the removal of manual bulky processes and turned them into powerful, scalable solutions to empower teams in a SaaS sales environment. Susan is currently a senior product manager at CarMax, focused on improving the in-store customer and associate experience. Last year, her team launched the first self-service check-in product for customers selling their vehicles to CarMax. Welcome, Susan.

Susan Stavitzski: Hi, thank you.

Holly: I'm so excited to have you on the podcast.

Susan Stavitzski: Thanks, me too.

Holly: So I always like to start with just how did you get into product?

Susan Stavitzski: Well, I kind of have an untraditional background I guess. Nowadays when I think about people in product, I think we all kind of do, right? We all came from lots of different places. I started in marketing actually, so I went to college for marketing and got my first gig doing catering and special events, and so kind of more of in-person experience if you will, and I did that for a few years and actually got my first job in a tech company doing special events for them. So I supported our sales team and I did all of our trade shows. We had a big conference that I was in charge of planning for all of our customers, and kind of got my first toe dipped into the pool of product there, where I got to go to some trade shows and actually hear our sales team talking about the product. And it was really cool to hear them talk to customers or potential customers of just how we can solve their problems with software. I'd never really been exposed to that before in any of my previous jobs. And it just got me really curious of, wait, how does software actually fix this restaurant's problems or this retail company's problems or whatever it might be? And the more I learned about it, the more it just became so fascinating to hear how this information from our customers was translated back into technology.

And so I did that role for a little while at Snag A Job, and I got to actually move onto a product team as the product marketing manager for our e-commerce team. So we just stood up e-commerce, which is kind of crazy to think of that at the time. We hadn't had that yet, but we just stood up an e-commerce team. So our customers were fully self-service. They weren't obviously going through sales teams. They needed marketing to guide them through the onboarding and how to get the best use out of product and things like that, so that was my job. So I got to sit on the product team directly and work with the engineers and see the product manager in action and understand how technology was built, which was really cool, and immediately I was like, I want that job. That is so cool that there's a actual role. I didn't even know a product manager position existed before then, but there's actually a position that you can take all of this amazing customer feedback and the business feedback and the market feedback, and translate it into an experience that then you go out and sell. So after sitting on that team for a little while, there was an associate PM position that came available and I kind of drug my feet for a while, like I don't know. This feels like a lot of responsibility. This is a really big job. Is this something that I want to do? And I got to talk to a couple of my fellow PMs and they were really great at giving me some good advice of just doing some good self-reflection and understanding what kind of product manager do you want to be, and so I went for it. I applied for it and I got the first role as associate PM and kind of took off from there. I was a product manager for a while at Snag A Job, and like you said, moved on to a startup called Hatch and led product and design for them for about a year, and then now I'm over at CarMax doing some really cool stuff there.

Holly: That's awesome. I find that I haven't had a lot of people on the podcast who came through marketing to get to products.

Susan Stavitzski: Oh yeah?

Holly: So it's interesting because I feel like that is a path that we talk about existing, but I just haven't happened to talk to a lot of people about it. So I'm curious to hear if you could actually tell us a little bit more about what your role was like as a product marketing manager because I think it's really important for product managers to understand their counterparts.

Susan Stavitzski: Yeah, for sure, and I think a lot of companies too don't understand the value of product marketing. It's almost one of those where we have marketing and we have product, but we don't have that middle position that kind of ties it all together and it's super, super valuable. And I'll actually talk about it from the perspective of me as a product manager when I had a product marketing manager on my team, because I think when I was the product marketing manager, I was doing a lot more of email marketing and a little bit of in-product marketing, but we were still so young as an organization of what that role could be. And when I transitioned to product manager, I got to work with this fantastic product marketer who just brought a tremendous amount of value to just the product organization as a whole. Like I was saying, when I was a PMM, it was still such a new position that it was really mostly email marketing, in-product education, kind of some basics, just getting some foundation laid, but then when we actually grew in that organization with product marketing and had the full product marketing team, when she was on our product team, it was like a full customer experience that they were bringing about. So understanding the pre-sale, all the customers, and how they were thinking about buying as they were going through the sales funnel, capturing on them, making sure anybody who abandoned things to come back, and then once they're in the product, onboarding them and continuing to nurture them. So it was this very robust experience that now product marketing was bringing to the product and it was a compliment to the product itself, because I think a lot of times the product team tries to push all of that into the product itself, which you can do for sure. You can build your own in-product tutorials and onboarding and all of those things, but there's amazing tools out there that that's what they focus on. You can purchase a Pindo or a User Pilot or whatever you might say, and have a product marketing manager manage that experience and see the data and understand what's working and what's not, and quickly make adjustments while the product team focuses on we are building a product to solve a problem. We didn't build a product to build onboarding. We built a product to solve the problem for the customer. And so having those two things compliment each other and work really closely together truly built an amazing customer experience because we could dedicate time and attention to each of those.

Holly: That sounds awesome. Which reminded me, what is the problem that you were solving for your customers at Snag A Job?

Susan Stavitzski: Yeah. So Snag A Job is a hourly job board, basically is where it started. So it was all about restaurant, retail, hospitality companies that needed to hire workers, and so the e-commerce space where I worked was on the small business side. So I just need to post a job for a dishwasher. I just need to have one extra person for making deliveries or whatever it was. So they didn't need a full robust account that was with a sales rep and all of those things. They just wanted to go online and self-serve, post a job and get resumes and be able to hire on their own. So that was kind of where I started there. After I worked there for a little while and moved into product, I actually built a scheduling platform for the same customers and then moved over into our Shifts product, which was a really cool space at Snag A Job. It was kind of when Uber was really taking off and the whole gig economy was really kind of just launching, if you will. We were looking at our customers and understanding that you don't actually need to hire someone full-time. You just need someone on Saturday to wash dishes or you just have a really big event coming up this weekend that you need some extra help setting up for. Why don't we just give you some workers, you pay for the time that they work, but they never were on your payroll. They were always on our payroll. So it was this really cool way of having on-demand workers whenever a company needed them, but they didn't have all the overhead when it came to actually hiring somebody on full-time and dealing with all the payroll expenses and things like that. So that really took off really quickly when I was working there and it was a really cool product to work on.

Holly: That's awesome. Tell me a little bit more about what the customer discovery work was like when you were working there at Snag A Job.

Susan Stavitzski: Yeah. So when I was on the Shifts product, it's a marketplace product, so we had a employer-facing. So the people who owned the restaurants, retail hospitality spots, they had their own app that they would post the positions that they need filled, but then we also had a worker's side of the house as well, so we were balancing both within the same product, having two different experiences. So we were doing customer discovery on both sides. So we were meeting with our restaurant managers and hiring managers over there really frequently to understand what types of workers are you looking for, how do we best match a worker to the job that you want, how can we best build this product to make it easy and fast for you? Because we know that a lot of times the reason you're using us is someone called out today and you need to fill that job within an hour or two hours or whatever it is. You don't want to sit down at a computer and be taking an hour just to post a job. It needs to be super fast, super quick so that you can get somebody in here as fast as possible. And then on the flip side, we had our workers. So we were saying, what types of jobs do you want to pick up? What types of companies do you want to work for? Who can we go out and fill the marketplace with so that you will interact and actually pick up these shifts? And then once you do, how do we make that experience better for you as a worker? So from clocking in to clocking out to seeing when you're going to get paid to tracking your hours, things like that. How do we make that a better experience for you as a worker to keep you engaged and wanting to keep working for us? So it was really fun to have that balance and be doing discovery on both sides consistently. We were doing that almost like three to four times a week, which was really fun to just be interacting with our customers that frequently.

Holly: Yeah, that's awesome. How did you recruit the customers for such frequent interviews?

Susan Stavitzski: Yeah, so we started off really small. It was totally boots on the ground here in Richmond, Virginia, walking into restaurants and retail. This is pre-COVID. So walking into these locations, talking to these people and kind of pitching the idea and getting them bought into it and building our user base that way. Our sales team was fantastic. Two guys kind of doing the same thing, hitting the ground. Snag A Job itself had a really great clientele already in the area, so we kind of reached out to existing relationships and got them involved. And then once they were using the platform, we really had that one-to-one relationship with them already because we were so small and kind of startup within a big business, if you will, so we were able to call on them. We also had a fantastic customer support team keeping up those relationships with those managers to just see if anything goes wrong, email me, text me. We're here for you, so we had really strong relationships there. As we scaled, obviously we had to think through doing things more organized because you can't just text everybody, but we were getting more email alerts and kind of engaging with them in your typical contact us sheets, things like that. With the worker side of the house, this is actually my most exciting part was we had a office downtown and a lot of our workers came from the college that is local here in Richmond. So the workers, we would actually send out a shift on our platform to do discovery and they could claim the shift. Nd so we would say, hey, we want to do discovery with four workers, and the first four to claim the shift, you get it, and we paid them. We paid them for their time, just like if they were working at a restaurant or something for that period of time because they were coming to talk to us versus working somewhere. And they'd come into our office and we'd sit around the table and we'd kind of just hear from them. It was like, what's working? What's not working? Let us pitch you some things that we've heard, some prototypes, touch it, feel it, give us feedback on it. It was really fun and interactive and we tried to do that once a week with our engineers, kind of sit down with everybody and hear exactly from the user how we could make the experience better.

Holly: So did you have the four people come in at the same time or independently?

Susan Stavitzski: We sometimes did a mix. So depending on what we were testing, if we wanted to have... What we found was a lot of times when you put people around a table, they actually will feed off of each other. So maybe somebody's a little bit more shy than the other one or they aren't quite sure. What should I say? What should I not say? You're always going to have one loud voice, and so that would kind of bring out anybody else that might be shy and get everybody engaged and talking and more of a conversation, which was really fun. Sometimes, depending on what we were testing, we didn't want to have that bias. We didn't want the loudest person in the room to kind of influence or potentially sway everyone else around the table. So if we had everyone come in, we had smaller conference rooms that we'd say, hey, one by one we're going to show you something and we want to get your feedback on it. We're going to come back as a group and talk about it as a whole, so we would pull people individually depending on what it was that we wanted to test.

Holly: So how did you decide when it was something where you didn't want that bias versus something where that was okay?

Susan Stavitzski: I think it was more when, I hate to say it depends, but I think it was more of when we were trying to finalize something. When it was more of a brainstorm, ideation session, it was good to have people pulling from each other and getting the big ideas out there and saying like, oh, well, what if we could do this? And that was when it was okay to have everybody around the table and talking. When we were like, okay, we know the problem, we know roughly how we want to solve it. Now we need to get into is this really going to do what we think it's going to do, and had a prototype or a wireframe or something that we wanted them to interact with, that's when we would do more of the one-on-ones so that if somebody sits down and says, well, this wouldn't work for me because of my living situation or my financial situation. That might be a little bit more private that we don't want to do in front of the group.

Holly: Got it. Okay. One thing that you mentioned along the way there that struck out to me is the importance of relationships. I think when we're doing customer discovery, having good relationships with both the customers and with the people who are interacting with the customers regularly goes a really long way. And I'm curious to hear if you have any tips for how to build and maintain those relationships well.

Susan Stavitzski: So a lot of or I guess I'd say all three of the companies I've worked at now, I like to kind of put together what you could call a charter customer group, which is just a small group of customers that you have openly said, hey, would you be available when we need you? Would you be open to if we have a question or we want to show you something, giving us your feedback on a regular basis? And a lot of time, your customers are so eager to do that. They're like, yeah. If they really like the product or they've had a good experience so far with your sales team or customer support, they do want to interact and make the experience better. A lot of customers too who have invested a lot in your product probably also want to make it better for them and have their voice heard. One thing that I did when I was at Hatch is we had a lot of home improvement companies that used the product and we built really strong relationships with a couple of the big ones and got on calls with them. I actually was introduced to them through our customer support team. So maybe they had a problem or they just had some feedback and our customer support team would engage with them and say, yeah, this is really great. Would you be open to talking to Susan who leads our product and giving her this feedback and seeing if she has any other questions for you? And nine times out of 10 they're like, yeah, of course. I'd love to share more of how I think you guys could be doing a better job. And once I had that conversation with them, I'd always end the call with, would you be open to doing this again? Would you be okay with me calling you? Or if I had a prototype for the problem you just shared with us, if we decide to pursue this further, could I come back and show it to you and get your thoughts on it? And just kind of always leaving that door open and having that relationship with those customers, you find that they're going to email you when something goes wrong. They're going to think of you when they have an idea or, hey, I saw this thing, and a lot of times, you kind of just organically will start building those relationships with four or five, six of your customers that you're like, I can call on you whenever I need some feedback quick in a hurry. Don't only go to them, of course, because then you're going to only have the happy people giving you feedback, but you do have some go-to people quickly if you ever need some quick feedback or thoughts on something that you're brainstorming.

Holly: That's great. So tell me a little more about what happened to after Snag A Job. So you went to Hatch and what did Hatch do?

Susan Stavitzski: Yeah, so Hatch was a notifications platform for the home improvement space. So basically what that means is if you own a home, if you need to get work done, so I need new windows or doors or whatever it was. A lot of people during the pandemic got sick of their houses because they were locked in their houses, so we actually were very successful during the pandemic time because people wanted to renovate their homes and get things changed and fixed. So you probably will go online and search for roofing company, and when you do, nine times out of 10, you're going to see a contact form, like fill out this form and we'll get back to you to come out and give you a quote. Well, when you submit that contact form, where does it go? Well, if you don't have any sort of system of place, it probably goes to an inbox and somebody at that company has to reply back. Well, what we found was the faster you can reply back to that contact form, the higher likelihood you're going to get that business. So the longer it sits in your inbox and you don't engage with that customer, you're going to lose out. So what Hatch did was we actually would automate those messages. So the second you sent in that contact form, we'd immediately text you or email you and say, hey, this is so and so from this roofing company. Got your contact form. Would love to set up some time, Click this link to schedule a time or reply back with a good date or whatever it was, and therefore the customer would instantly get that gratification of, okay, this project is moving forward. And we saw sales just skyrocket for our customers because we were engaging with people right away. And so that's really, we did a lot of other things like appointment reminders and payment reminders and things like that too, but that was the big part of the product was just getting that initial appointment set so that we could actually get a sale from that customer. But as a product organization, it was very young. So we had one product team with engineers across the country trying to build out this robust notification platform, which for anybody who's done notifications, it's really hard. Notifications are not easy to do, as much as you're like, oh, it's just a simple text message. Well, when do you send it? How do you send it? Time zones, daylight, savings time, all that good stuff we have to take into consideration. So we had a really cool product team that was engaging in that and built out a full platform of how to schedule those and get those out the door.

Holly: Awesome. So I'm curious, you mentioned that it was a really young product organization. What do you mean by that?

Susan Stavitzski: Well, it was a young company, so it was only a couple years old as a startup. Really cool idea just exploded in growth. The founders of it were fantastic. They had really amazing relationships with so many people in the home improvement space already, so a lot of great charter customers, if you will, that were eager to help build this product, and it just exploded. And as it exploded, there's a lot of other competitors in the field, of course. So we got a customer. Oh, well do you do this feature too? Do you do this feature too? And so it was kind of a lot of like, oh, we should build all of this stuff, but there was no organization to the chaos. So bringing in somebody who understood product and could kind of organize all of that and think about it as, okay, how can we actually deliver what we need to deliver? How do we prioritize what's important that we can actually sell and make money on and build out this customer experience versus just having a laundry list of features that we think we should build?

Holly: Yeah. I'm curious, what was the business model?

Susan Stavitzski: Well, so basically the business model was we had subscription-based customers, so you had up to so many messages that you could send per month with your subscription based on what it was that we're focused on. We had different campaigns, so I mentioned appointment reminders, payment reminders, appointment sets. Customers could kind of pick how robust or how small they wanted their package to be for their subscription, and then our support team would help them get everything set up and automated for them. What was cool about Hatch was it wasn't just all automation. The goal was to make it feel as personal and real as possible. So yes, that first message was automated and we wanted to set the appointment, but after that, somebody at your organization would actually be messaging back and forth with the customer. So it kind of transitioned to a real person at that organization to close the deal and actually set that appointment, so it felt very personal and customized to the customer.

Holly: Got it. And I guess one of the thoughts that comes to mind for me is that I personally have set up automation to do responses to things by myself with tools like Zapier, and I'm curious if you came across if people saw that as competition or if your customer base just was not aware of that or unable to use it, or how did you differentiate from broad automation tools?

Susan Stavitzski: Oh no, for sure. Yeah, Zapier is great. We even used it for a couple things internally at our company as well, and it depends on how savvy you are. A lot of companies would say, oh, I can do this myself. I can set up automation. I can do this. Yes you can for sure, but you're only going to get so far. You only have so many things that you can actually set up. Different features that we had were kind of the differentiators when it came to what was included in your message, how often you were messaging these people, what medium you wanted to use, so between texts, email. We had ringless voicemail so you could actually record a voicemail and send it later, so things like that kind of made us stand out. But a hundred percent, we were working with customers all the time who were like, hey, I have this set up already but we want to use you for this other thing, and we're like, yeah, totally fine. We can compliment that with whatever you're already using.

Holly: Got it. And so after your time at Hatch, where did you go next?

Susan Stavitzski: So I'm currently at CarMax. So after Hatch, I saw an opportunity to join CarMax. It's a pretty large tech company here in Richmond as well. I have a few friends who previously were at Snag A Job who've transitioned to CarMax and just said glowing things about their organization and really their product organization, and I kind of scratched my head and was like, this sounds a little too good to be true. Are they really doing the things that they say they're doing? And so I went through the interview process and like I said, I had some friends who worked already, but I interviewed with all people I did not know and they all were saying the same thing. And I was like, hmm, either they're really good at all interviewing or this is actually true. And so I started at CarMax February of last year, and so far, I'm coming up to two years this February, it is true. They really are a strong product organization. They really believe and empower product teams, setting up teams for success, fully staffed teams, running after problems. It's been really cool to just join the space and be supported the way you kind of read in books that you should support an organization, so that so far has been a big reason why I'm still at CarMax.

Holly: Yeah, that sounds awesome. It's such a joy when you do get to work in the ways that we read about or that people talk about, right?

Susan Stavitzski: Yeah. It feels like a fantasy, right? You're reading these Marty Cagan books and you're like, this is not how this works. There's no way anybody would do it this way. And then you're like, oh, but if you do it, it actually works really well.

Holly: Yes, exactly. That is similar to what I used to say as well was like, oh, and then I just applied the principles that I learned from Marty Cagan's books and oh, it actually really works.

Susan Stavitzski: Yep. Yeah, it does.

Holly: Yeah. So tell me a little more about what that looks like. How do they empower the teams?

Susan Stavitzski: Yeah, so a few different ways. I'll start with fully staffed product teams, which until coming to CarMax, I really did not know what that meant. So all my past product jobs as a product manager, I was my own analyst, I was my own researcher, I was my own marketer sometimes if I didn't have a marketer on the team. Occasionally, I had to be my own designer, which is dangerous because there's no way in hell I was a designer, but a lot of those things, your own delivery manager. And coming to CarMax, they believe in all of those roles having people who know how to do those jobs. So on my current team, I have four engineers, which are fantastic, including a lead engineer that helps manage the engineers and is really my thought partner with everything. I have a dedicated designer who helps me when it comes to all the UX and discovery and research and thinking through all of that. We have an analyst on the team, so thinking through what is the data that we're tracking? How do we organize it? How do we present it? How do we really keep ourselves aligned with our goals? We have a delivery manager who, until CarMax, I was like, I didn't know this amazing position was a thing, but someone who helps really with that cross-team collaboration and organization and just making sure that when you have dependencies, they're not getting lost or muddied through all the different things that we need to be working on across teams. So it's been really enlightening to just see, wow, look how much we can accomplish when we're fully supported, because you're not chasing after things that are all over the place. So that's one really massive area that they take to heart and it's like we want to have our product teams truly staffed so that they feel supported and can actually accomplish the things, because we have some pretty big goals. We're a huge company, so we want to go after some big things. You need to be supported for that. And then on the other side is really understanding management support. So a lot of times even in really big companies, you're kind of seen under a microscope of what are you guys doing and how are you guys hitting these goals? And a little bit of micromanagement, and I haven't felt that way at all at CarMax, which has been fantastic. They really understand, find the problem, define the problem, define how you are going to measure solving it, and then you guys go figure out what's the best way to solve it. We're not going to prescribe it to you. We're not going to tell you what to build. We are going to support you, and yes, this is a massive problem. Go figure out how to fix it and keep us in the loop with what you find out, which has been really cool because I think that's the fun part of product is yeah, that is a massive scary problem, but when you're prescribed how to solve it, it's not fun. You're just building whatever someone told you. But when you can go out and actually do the discovery and uncover probably the true problem of the larger problem, then you're like, wow, we really figured this out. If we solve this, everything will get better, and that makes the team really bond and grow together and get excited about something.

Holly: Yeah. I'm curious to hear a little bit about how they use metrics in setting goals. When the leadership there is defining or agreeing with you about which problem you should be trying to solve, is there a role for metrics in measuring that success at solving the problem?

Susan Stavitzski: Yeah, for sure. So we follow the OKR system at CarMax as well. So every team has their own OKRs, their objectives, that roll up to our department-level objectives and then roll up to product leadership objectives, and so it's not prescribed. It's just, hey, overarching product organization. We have these goals that we're going after for the year, if not longer, so we have a larger product vision and then how does that break down to the different departments and then how does that break down to the different teams? So you feel like, okay, I'm in charge of my space and my problem and my customer, but this is also driving towards a much larger initiative across the organization.

Holly: Beautiful. That's great. And then going back to something you said a little bit earlier. You were talking about the way that the teams are empowered and the fully staffed teams. And I wanted to know when you mentioned the analyst and the delivery manager, were they fully dedicated to your team or were they spread across teams?

Susan Stavitzski: They're shared. So yeah, so you have, usually it's two teams, two to three depending on the problem space that that role would kind of share, but a lot of times, they try really hard to keep them within the same customer base. So my team might be adjacent to two other teams that are also working with the same customer but on different problems. That analyst could easily span across them because it's very similar metrics, same customer, same problem area, just teams are working on different goals within that space. So it's not like they're jumping from one side of the company to the other. They're still in the same hub.

Holly: Yeah. Awesome. That makes sense, and it's something I've seen before as well. I've seen it work well too. So looking back at the experiences that you've had, it sounds like you've been fortunate to really work in places with a lot of really great customer discovery practices. Have you been frustrated at all by it? Have there been elements where you were like, wow, this is not what I thought it was going to be?

Susan Stavitzski: Well, not from a customer discovery standpoint. I think when I was at Snag A Job, looking back now, it's so funny how hindsight's 20-20. Looking back now, I was really in a right time right place when it came to my career because Snag A Job was very into all the discovery principles. They paid for our entire product organization to do a Jeff Patton workshop for two days. We got to have Theresa Torres training one on one with our product team. Things like that, that at the moment I had no idea how valuable they were because it was still so new and something so new to me as a product manager, and looking back now, I'm like, holy cow. That totally shaped how I think about customer discovery, how I think about operating product. Why I believe I'm so passionate about this is because it made it as a core principle to how I do product. And so now that I see more people getting into it, I'm like, yes, read those books, go to those workshops, do those things because they're so valuable. I think the hardest part with discovery is, and you asked this earlier, is just like, how do you get time with these people? People are so busy. Your customers are not just sitting around waiting for you to call and say like, oh, how can I make my product better? They're running businesses. They're underwater. The reason they bought your product was to hopefully get some air, and so it's really tough to get time with these people. And I think that can be super frustrating for a product manager because you want to do discovery as often as possible, you want to have these insights from your customers to help you make better decisions, but a lot of times you just can't get in front of them. And so you have to get super creative, whether it's email surveys or sometimes I've even just sent a couple of customers that I've gotten feedback from in the past that I can't get on their calendar again, hey, here's a link to an InVision prototype. Can you go through it and give me your feedback on it whenever you have time? Just really getting creative with how to get that feedback loop going can be super frustrating, but once you do it a couple times and have some of those in your back pocket, you can pull at them. But I think that's where a product manager, you do have to make a lot of decisions with your gut and you have to do enough reps in discovery and learning about your customer that if you truly cannot get in front of somebody to help you make a decision, knowing that, okay, I've talked to enough people that I can make this decision confidently and be able to roll something out, even though we weren't able to do the full discovery maybe you wanted to do with it.

Holly: I really like how you talked about getting the reps in. I think that there's a lot to that when it comes to discovery, not just for you understanding your customer, but also just for your own skill at the discovery practices.

Susan Stavitzski: Oh, for sure. I've worked with a lot of peers who are trying to get better at discovery, and they're like, what are the secrets? What can I do? And I'm like, you just have to do it. You just have to do it over and over and over again, and it's awkward and it's uncomfortable and you're going to say the wrong thing and you're not going to know the answer to something, but once you do it enough times, you're not embarrassed anymore. You just are like, oh, I don't know that, and you get confident in having more of a conversation. It's not an interview. It's not rigid and strict if you make it comfortable for the person you're talking to and you're comfortable with what you're trying to get out of them, and you just go with the flow of the conversation. But I think a lot of people who start off are like, Oh no, I have to have all of these questions answered by the end of 30 minutes. And you're like, you're going to set yourself up for failure because there's no way you're going to get through all of this in 30 minutes. You have to kind of let the conversation organically move and you guide it, but if you don't get all your answers, that's okay. You'll just do another one. Get somebody else on the phone and ask the other questions you didn't get answered, but it's tough. It really is. It can be super uncomfortable for a long time.

Holly: Yeah. Do you have an idea of what the ideal amount of time is? At what point did you start to feel confident and comfortable with it?

Susan Stavitzski: I think it also depends on how long you've been working somewhere. When I first started at CarMax, I'm comfortable going in and just having a conversation with somebody and playing the new kid card and saying, hey, I don't really know much about this. Why don't you tell me about it? But if they were to ask me a question about the business or a feature coming up or whatever it was, I was like, I have no idea. Let me get back to you. But once you've been there for a couple months, maybe a year, you're going to have some more of that business knowledge that you can feel confident answering their questions back. So I think it just kind of depends on how are you, how long have you been in this problem space, how long have you been at the company, but at the end of the day, it's just a conversation. If you can just have a conversation with somebody and be confident in saying, I don't know the answer to that question, but I will get back to you, and actually following up with them, going and getting the answer and maybe sending them an email later and saying, hey, you asked about when this feature would be out. I followed up with that team, It's going to come in September or whatever it is. Then you can kind of start building out that confidence of just continuing to do it. I can tell you a story. We did the Jeff Patton workshop I mentioned when I was at Snag A Job, and one thing that Jeff Patton did was, and this is pre-COVID again, but he basically was like just go out. We're offsite already from the company doing the workshop. He's like, everybody has a problem that they've come up with. You need to go get some customer feedback on it. And all of us in the room are like, oh, we're going to get on the phone or we're going to do [inaudible 00:32:45] or whatever. And he's like, no, you're going to leave the building and you're going to go talk to people physically in person. We're like, what? And we have a cute little town here in Richmond called Carytown, and there's a ton of restaurants and retail shops just all down the street. And so all of the teams kind of went down there and we just walked into businesses, and it was super awkward. Hi. Total random person coming in to ask you this question about your hiring practices and how you hire people. And some people didn't want to talk to us. They're like, no, I don't have time for this. You can leave. And other people were great and sat down with us and was like, yeah, ask me your questions. I'm happy to answer you. But for a lot of us, we had never done that before, and it was truly ripping the Band-Aid off of how uncomfortable this could be, but once you did it, now it's not scary anymore. So we were comfortable continuing to do it, but it was one of the things that I think we learned the most from was just like, you just have to go. You just have to start.

Holly: Yeah. Absolutely true. So it's been a pleasure to talk to you. We're almost out of time. I wanted to know how can people follow you if they want to keep up?

Susan Stavitzski: Yeah, for sure. So as you probably have guessed, I'm very passionate about customer discovery. I talk about it a lot, but you can follow me on LinkedIn. I like to post there pretty often of just different stories, kind of like what we've shared here today about what I've learned over my career and get some other people involved in the conversation. And then on Medium, I post weekly product content of just different kind of more in-depth things around product and customer discovery and just other things that I've learned that I want to share with everyone.

Holly: Awesome. And what's your handle on Medium?

Susan Stavitzski: It's @susan_ski.

Holly: Wonderful. Well, thank you so much, Susan. It's been such a pleasure to talk to you.

Susan Stavitzski: Thanks.

Holly. Appreciate it.

More Posts