ResourcesBlogA Cautionary Tale for Product Managers: Solving Maria’s Healthcare Dilemma

A Cautionary Tale for Product Managers: Solving Maria’s Healthcare Dilemma

Maria's Product Management tale in Healthcare

In the ever-changing world of product management within the healthcare sector, this narrative revolves around two product managers, Ava and Theo, who were parachuted into a seemingly promising project. Their mission was to help clinical trial practices connect patient records with emerging clinical trials, a journey that soon turned into a profound lesson about the indispensability of the customer’s voice. Their story unfolds the perils of overlooking the crucial aspects of product development: overcoming internal voices and biases and understanding and integrating the customer’s wants and needs. 

Ava’s Challenge: Steering a Stalled Ship 

Ava, known for her ability to turn around failing teams of feature-flingers into high-performing value delivery pros, was tasked with revitalizing a stagnating patient finder project. In this situation, Ava had to navigate through and salvage what had become a ‘feature factory’ trying to boil the ocean. She faced a significant and challenging goal: to steer a team, lost in a maze of coding horizontal slices for an underlying infrastructure for several months, towards delivering the first release of the product in just 30 days. 

Theo’s Realization: A Strategy Adrift 

Theo, admired for his vision and strategic mindset, soon discovered that the project’s supposed ‘strategy’ was a collection of disjointed bevies of internal biases and operationally minded opinions. It was akin to navigating a ship with multiple captains, each steering towards a different, iceberg-infected horizon. The absence of a coherent vision and actual strategy had led to a chaotic cacophony of ideas. 

The Turning Point: A Unified Front 

As Ava and Theo delved deeper, they both realized that their project, instead of being an innovation beacon, was becoming increasingly detached from the needs of its intended customers. The complexity of the system seemed to cater more to the intellectual satisfaction of internal data scientists, executives, and architects rather than the practical utility for the registered nurses and physicians running clinical trials at their respective medical practices. 

Rediscovering the Customer: The Tale of Maria 

The turning point in their journey came through tiny acts of discovery. By engaging in a rapid series of customer-focused discovery experiments to shape a coherent strategy, they started interacting directly with the end-users — the staff at localized medical practices. After spending time listening and observing how they work, Theo introduced ‘Maria’, a persona that epitomized the challenges and needs of the actual users. 

Maria, a hyper-busy registered nurse practitioner running clinical trials at her physician’s practice, lived in a world of 15-minute increments. She had no time nor desire to wrestle with complex interfaces or learn intricate systems. She needed something straightforward, efficient, and adaptable — something that didn’t require her to become a data scientist but addressed to rapidly connect the patients she loved to life-saving clinical trials they needed. 

Theo’s Strategy: Simplification and Empathy 

With a renewed vision, Theo guided the strategy towards simplicity and usability. The goal was to develop a system that Maria could use without needing to become an expert, offering query recommendations she could rapidly ‘nudge to perfection’ and run. 

Ava’s Insight: Execution Aligned with Needs 

Equipped with a focus on “Maria’s need for speed and simplicity,” Ava reoriented the team’s focus. She challenged the team, metaphorically in song, with the question, “How do we solve a problem like Maria’s?” She fine-tuned the delivery away from feature overload to solving the singular problem of dialysis patients. This hyper-focused direction gave the team renewed purpose, clarity, and confidence to quickly put the product into Maria’s hands for feedback — simply, without baking-in in unnecessary complexity. 

The Culmination: A Project Redeemed 

In the end, Ava and Theo found a solution that aligned with their new understanding of Maria’s workflow. They adapted an existing system, refining it to meet Maria’s needs. This approach not only saved time and resources but also ensured that the product was user-friendly and immediately useful. 

The Lesson: Empathy as the North Star 

Ava and Theo’s story serves as a powerful reminder to all product managers of the perils of losing sight of the customer’s perspective. In the pursuit of innovation and excellence, it’s easy to get caught up in internal opinions and complex features. However, the true north of any product development should always be empathy towards and understanding of the user’s needs. 

A Generative AI for Product Managers Challenge: Who is Your Maria? 

As some of you may be tasked with adding AI to your product, remember this cautionary tale. Ensure you’re not asking your Maria to become an expert prompt engineer, but rather amplify and accelerate what she already does so well. 

Remember, a product’s value lies in its utility to its users. Let Ava and Theo’s journey be your guiding light in product management, always bringing you back to the essential question: “How does this serve our customer?” 

Bonus: Song Lyrics Snippet 

Here’s a snippet of song lyrics Ava might have presented to her team, inspired by the show tune ‘How do you solve a problem like Maria?’ from Rogers & Hammerstein’s ‘The Sound of Music.’ 

Product Manager Superior 

… When I use it, I’m confused,  
Lost in queries and bemused,  
And I never know exactly what I’ve found.  

Unpredictable as a maze,  
It’s as cryptic as a phrase,  
It’s a dashboard, it’s the data, it’s a dump.  
It’ll out-output any RAG,  
Drive a data scientist mad,  
It can throw patient records into the wind.  
It is unusable, it is vast,  
It’s a riddle, it’s a trial,  
It’s a headache, It’s a puzzle,  
It’s a mess. 

Product Management Team Chorus 

… How do you solve a problem like Maria’s?  
How do you sort the data and find the truth?  
How do you make a system fit for Maria?  
A flibber-widget,  
A will-o’the-wisp,  
A sleuth. 

Join the conversation and share your thoughts on how we, as product managers, can better align our strategies and execution with the needs of our users. 

Dean Peters
Principal Consultant & Trainer

Dean offers nearly twenty years of experience in product management with a prior decade as a software developer for real-time system integration. Driven by a passion for replacing pain points with user delight, he has empowered teams in startups such as Dude Solutions, Aprimo, and Seven Lakes Technologies and enterprise settings such as IQVIA, Citrix, and McClatchy. Leaning on his ability to translate technical details into valuable outcomes, Dean has led a number of innovations in the areas of AI, NLP, and Mobile across various domains, including healthcare, energy, education, law enforcement, and news media.

January 19, 2024