If I'd asked customers what they wanted, they would have said "a faster horse".Over at the On Product Management blog, Saeed gives his take on this infamous quote. He "hates" it, and gives some compelling reasons. Saeed is spot on in his explanations.
Personally, I think the quote is great, but it's a matter of interpretation.
The valid point of the quote is not that it's a bad idea to facilitate a conversation with your market to better understand it. The valid points are:
- You must ask the right questions to get valuable answers.
- You must interpret the answers thoughtfully - often outside their direct meaning - to glean reliable information.
- Asking questions is not always the best way to "listen" to your market. (E.g., sometimes pure observational studies are more reliable.)
Nonetheless, I find the quote is helpful to combat "armchair product management" in the product development organization. You probably know the drill. An engineer, sales person, or executive insists on a feature and justifies it by saying that many customers have requested it, as if no deeper analysis is necessary to determine whether we should add the feature to the product.
But in our conversations with customers, we shouldn't be focusing on features. We should be striving to understand the problems they face. They are not experts on the features or solutions; they are experts on their experiences and challenges. If we ask them what they "want", they are likely to think of solutions and short-circuit the all-important understanding of the problems they face.
The Henry Ford quote is a stark and simple falsification of the notion that a direct poll of customers is sufficient to draw conclusions about features. We should not use the quote to dismiss the importance of listening to our market., however.