Mrs Restaurant Owner is very happy because her customer was deeply satisfied with the experience. She also runs a good business so she made some money that night. Overall, it was a success for everyone involved. Fantastic guest experience, good business, everyone is happy. Wonderful. Beautiful. Perfect.
Ah. Experience. That's a troublesome thing you see because it's actually quite difficult to establish what precisely was it about the experience that was good. Was it the conversation? Was it the company? Both of these things? Or the food? Or the seating configuration? In fact, it's all of these and much more. Experience is an emergent phenomenon. It's emerges from a set of relationships, objects and timing in a specific moment for a specific individual to feel, well, something.
Product managers of a website have the same challenge as a restaurant owner. They need to create an emergent set of experiences that support the business objectives. Those emergent experiences could be for example, ease of use, joy, engagement, desire, advocacy (telling others), typing in credit card numbers, or creating a profile.
A Product Manager is an experience engineer.
Creating something which is emergent is not easy. It's bloody difficult. If everybody could do what Apple have done with their products in the last 10 years they would have done, but they didn't. If something is difficult to do, it's difficult for others to copy. And creating emergent systems that create wonderful experiences is extremely difficult. It's part art and part science.
In this world of emergence first you need to understand the systems from which your experience will come from. The restaurant owner looks at all the details, from hiring of chefs, their kitchen organisation, the staffing rotas, the buying of ingredients, the menu design and hundreds of other small details and tries to create repeatable patterns of success that result in emergent experiences that restaurant goers rave about. It's difficult in a restaurant and it's difficult on a website.
This web of interrelated influences that creates the emergent behaviour is a 4D world. It's like the web itself, connected nodes of influence that act like the synapses in our brain, triggers firing behaviour from one sphere to the next. The fourth dimension is of course time, because each customer interacts with your company several times in several ways in different states of mind at different locations.
A creative product manager will first try to understand the web of influences, understand the triggers and amplify the ones that work, as well as trying new things that could be new influences and triggers. All the time, measuring the impact as best she can.
Here's the thing though, experience can never be fully measured. It's indescribable, intangible.
I can try and explain to you how I felt thinking this through on my walk up Shaftesbury Avenue this morning, Run DMC pumping through my headphones, excited because I'd pulled together some thinking that I'd been dwelling on for weeks, rucksack on my back, thinking of my next ski touring trip. I could try. No-one can ever really feel that except me, at that time, in that place with my history, future and present before me.
You can measure many aspects of experience, many dimensions. Snapshots. Like the restaurant rating from the delighted customer. You cannot really feel the experience of others, but you need to do your damn best to try.
As a product manager you are dealing with millions of those experiences. And furthermore, you are building an interface that your customer will experience using a team of other people.
Building great experiences for others, through others. A tough, but rewarding challenge.