#Build 8: Pluralsight’s Nate Walkingshaw on Why The Secret to Hypergrowth Is Building a Product with Empathy

Media Thumbnail
  • 0.5
  • 1
  • 1.25
  • 1.5
  • 1.75
  • 2
This is a podcast episode titled, #Build 8: Pluralsight’s Nate Walkingshaw on Why The Secret to Hypergrowth Is Building a Product with Empathy. The summary for this episode is: Pluralsight's Nate Walkingshaw literally wrote the book on product leadership. On this episode of Build, Nate dives into the importance of empathy in product and how his own background as an EMT helped him build more empathetic, more intuitive products. Plus, Nate shares his framework for the "product heart" – all of the key elements for what a healthy product should look like. In this episode: 00:35 - Nate’s journey from EMT to Chief Experience Officer (CXO) at Pluralsight 1:48 - Inventing products to solve EMT problem 3:25 - Nate’s work at Stryker 4:09 - The transition from hardware to software development 4:45 - Nate’s work at Strava 6:20 - Launching Strava’s first commerce based app 6:47 - Nate’s work as Head of Tanner Labs at O.C. Tanner 8:00 - The Mission of Pluralsight: Democratizing Technology Skills 8:30 - Joining Pluralsight   9:45 - How to develop a great product that impacts people 10:27 - Why “why” matters 11:25 - Direct Discovery: Mission, Vision and , & The Client 12:17 - Hearing the voice of the customer 12:50 - Customer Preference Testing (CPT) & Customer Confirmation Testing (CCT) 14:40 - Merely sSolving problems vs. creating meaningful outcomes 16:22 - Leveraging key performance indicators for product design 17:19 - Outcome and  & the customer’s success 19:15 - How you can benefit from switching to output focus 23:17 - How Nate taught his team about output focus 25:30 - How Nate’s team stays available & engages customers 29:50 - Care for the craft (and popularity will follow) 30:35 - The value of listening in a distracted world Books & Resources Mentioned in this Episode: Read Nate’s book on Product Leadership https://www.amazon.com/Product-Leadership-Managers-Products-Successful/dp/1491960604 Check out more of Nate’s wisdom https://medium.com/@nwalkingshaw Before you go leave a ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ review and share the pod with your friends! And be sure to check out more insights on product development on the Drift blog at drift.com/blog and find us on Twitter @maggiecrowley, @drift and @seekingwisdomio.

Maggie: Welcome to Build. Today, super excited to have a really special guest Nate Walkingshaw from Pluralsight. He is the Chief Experience Officer at Pluralsight, he's the author or the co- author of the book on product leadership, and super excited to have you here.

Nate Walkingshaw: Yeah, thanks. No, thanks for having me. I'm pumped.

Maggie: Yeah. So there's a lot of stuff I want to get into, especially on your take on products and product outcomes, but first I'd love to hear your story of how you got from being an EMT to a Chief Experience Officer.

Nate Walkingshaw: Yeah. So long story short is I didn't ever think I would be in product management. I didn't think I'd be the Chief Experience Officer. If you looked at who I was then, patient care even to this day is one of the most important things that I love and I loved about being an EMT back in the day. But yeah, I started out as an Emergency Medical Technician. I worked in the field for five years full time and-

Maggie: And that's just in the ambulance saving lives.

Nate Walkingshaw: Yeah, that's right. Yeah. Yeah, I mean, what was crazy is that that's the whole reason empathy, that's my origin story, is the reason why I feel like I'm a much better product leader, product manager is because there's this moment in the back of the ambulance that is really tender and helps you see things from really affluent to really marginalized communities and the problems that each person is faced with that you begin to unpack and understand at a really young age, it changed my life forever, sent me on a totally different trajectory. But that why I ended up here was more about when I was in Fire and EMS, there are just a lot of opportunities to invent things, to help us help the EMTs.

Maggie: So while you're in the ambulance, you're thinking of ways to get more efficient.

Nate Walkingshaw: Yeah. Oh, there's tons of stuff going on back there that it's like, man, this industry has not had any looks for 20, 30, 40 years. And essentially our ambulance cot was a folding ironing board. And healthy people don't call 911, and so you're going on all these calls, you do six to 11 calls per day. And sure enough, a lot of the partners that I had were going to light duty because of back injuries and that's where I started inventing products to solve those problems.

Maggie: So did you have a background in R& D or was this just tinkering, just coming up with stuff.

Nate Walkingshaw: Oh, no. Yeah, nothing whatsoever. I mean, literally I drew it out on a napkin. The cool thing about the Fire and EMS space is that, look, you have to work 10 days a month. It's a Kelly schedule normally, so if you're 10 days or maybe it's two 48s or whatever, most of us are working second jobs.

Maggie: Right.

Nate Walkingshaw: And so a lot of the people that I worked with that were working second jobs, landscaping, mowing lawns, but one of these firefighters that I knew super well, he owned a machine shop.

Maggie: Oh, okay. So you have access to somewhere you could build.

Nate Walkingshaw: Yeah. Yeah, so when I came up with the tracks, he allowed me to go into the machining shop and take 60, 61 aluminum and shave 40, 000s off it to learn how a manual mill and lathe would work. I had no craft, no training. It was all learned by doing, it was all hands on application of knowledge. And yeah, that was kind of the birth of the descent control system, these track systems that mounted the bottom of the ambulance cot.

Maggie: So Stryker sees this, snaps you guys up, and then you spend some time there and then you're still in hardware, so then how did you make the leap over?

Nate Walkingshaw: Everyone always asks, so, okay, it's hardware. I mean, at Stryker, we are doing amazing things there. If you look at the, and this is specifically the emergency medical space division.

Maggie: Yep.

Nate Walkingshaw: You have power pro and power load. What power pro is is a powered ambulance cot. And then what we ended up doing there is low energy Bluetooth RFID, right? That all of a sudden would recognize power load, which is basically a lifting and loading system to lift the ambulance cot and the patient into the back of the ambulance. That's really the foray from hardware into hardcore software.

Maggie: Okay.

Nate Walkingshaw: Now we'd already done a ton of IOT stuff with the move chair, which was a powered stair chair. And so we were in offshore oil and gas platforms in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, teaching paramedics how to vertically evacuate their injured personnel to the helicopter deck. And that was all software, potentiometers, a lot of RFIDs. So we'd already done a ton of software elements at ParaMed, but I'm talking what I would say legit massive scale, 150 different countries, repeatable stuff and human lives were at stake, yeah, that was where all those chops got shaped.

Maggie: I could see how that would force you to be a little bit more careful with what you were doing.

Nate Walkingshaw: Yeah, just a tiny bit.

Maggie: Yeah, I mean I feel like most product teams are like," Well no one's going to die."

Nate Walkingshaw: Well, actually...

Maggie: Okay, so then you went from there, there was a brief period at Strava.

Nate Walkingshaw: Yeah.

Maggie: I'm a huge fan, so any inside scoop on Strava?

Nate Walkingshaw: Yeah, I mean, Strava is amazing. I mean, I love Strava. So we created a product development company, Bright Face, after the exit of Stryker. And we launched a product called Cycle Face. Hopefully there's some Cycle Face fans out here watching this, but essentially what Cycle Face was is we connected to your Strava profile and then Nike FuelBand at the time and garment GPS. And we created this algorithm which was super rad. What it would do is it would scrape all of your rides off of Strava, and then it would tie basically this nutritional plan. So basically it was subscription nutrition based off your specific riding style. So the goal was is that within 48 hours of you running out of nutrition, we would drop a box of nutrition on your door.

Maggie: Oh, so it wasn't just like here's a plan, it was actual-

Nate Walkingshaw: It was totally legit. Totally legit on how you rode. So every single month based off of your riding style of Strava, we could give you some personalized level of nutrition and it took off super, super fast.

Maggie: Yeah.

Nate Walkingshaw: We had some unsolicited offers from different companies right away. And I'll just tell you, I mean, as you know, the Strava team totally aligned with our mission, our vision of who we were. And basically a lot of the team that was there were really close friends already. And so they flew in quickly and snapped that up. So what was cool about the Strava piece was we helped Strava launch the first iteration of shop. strava. com because they were really just an endurance athlete company at that time, they hadn't launched any commerce based application, but yet we were buying so much product for them all the time, whether it was Strava swagger, whatever. So Jordan and that whole team, we got acquired, and then we were able to help those guys launch their first commerce based application, which was super fun.

Maggie: Yeah.

Nate Walkingshaw: Yeah.

Maggie: Okay. So then you went athletes, nutrition.

Nate Walkingshaw: Yeah.

Maggie: How did you get to Pluralsight?

Nate Walkingshaw: So I was at O. C. Tanner for a little while, and I was like the head of Tanner labs there.

Maggie: Okay.

Nate Walkingshaw: So the quick story is that the CIO at O. C. Tanner was this thought leader around technology evolution and change. Well, we finished a board meeting at Tanner and it literally was just a quick conversation in labs at O. C. Tanner's like, hey, there's this company called Pluralsight and they're interested in engaging me to make a course. Do you want to come? So I just jumped in the car just because, I had no intention, I didn't even know what Pluralsight was. And so launched up there and a hallway conversation, I'm walking up the stairs at Pluralsight, this acquisitions editor Matt talked to Neil, and as we were walking down, Aaron, the founder, was walking up. And Matt turned to Aaron as like, Hey, because he really wanted Neil to do courses.

Maggie: Okay.

Nate Walkingshaw: And he's like," Hey, could you come to lunch with us", because he was trying to close Neil. So I went to lunch at Sushi Monster, and I'm sitting across from Aaron, the founder, who I didn't know.

Maggie: Right, and you're just sort of along for the ride.

Nate Walkingshaw: Yeah, I was along for the ride. I'm like whatever.

Maggie: Yeah.

Nate Walkingshaw: And so Aaron's like, who are you? And I'm like, yeah, I'm this guy, so who are you? And he was like, well, I'm the founder of Pluralsight. I'm like, oh, okay, sweet. I didn't know that. So as we started dialoguing, man, the mission of Pluralsight, democratizing technology skills, and really what sits at the heart of that is opportunity is not equally distributed.

Maggie: Right.

Nate Walkingshaw: And that's the heart and the soul of the mission of the company is that we believe it's just access. If you can give access and you can give the knowledge, then honestly we can set ourselves free. And it was an easy choice. I left Tanner almost immediately after that to go build product for Pluralsight.

Maggie: Cool. So you've had all of those different experiences building all sorts of different products. How did that shape the sort of framework that you came up with?

Nate Walkingshaw: I would say that the biggest sphere of influence in the whole entire kind of directed discovery process is actually the human centered design piece.

Maggie: Okay.

Nate Walkingshaw: And honestly that life skill was crafted from the back of the ambulance. And so I would say that's the hugest part of the influence of the methodology at least, or the thinking, that influenced the framework of it. The other piece was just failure. I failed a lot. I just didn't have, early in my career and I don't know about you or other people that are listening, but I was pretty cocky. When I was a paramedic, I actually thought that every single paramedic was like me. And so when I developed the first solutions or products, I had so much confirmation bias that I was designing the right solution for people.

Maggie: Because it worked for you and it was obvious.

Nate Walkingshaw: That's right.

Maggie: Yeah.

Nate Walkingshaw: And so the whole purpose of the framework, one, is way more about the people. It'll develop a great product, that's not the point. The point of it is confirmation bias of teams and then centering all those decisions around a customer or a user. And then the user at the end of the day breaks the tie. See, great product development doesn't have me or the team in it. Our confirmation bias isn't in there. What's in there is real qualitative and quantitative feedback and aggregated research that actually gives you the meat on the bone, right? That's that's the difference maker. And so the whole point of the philosophical approach is really to build the most psychologically safe team possible so that you can have honest conversations about what you're seeing, thinking, feeling, hearing, and doing with the product that you're trying to organize around. And that's the the overall impetus of the framework and just being really real with yourself, we'll get into outcomes, but the quantitative piece, the what you're trying to create for the world is the way. What problem are we trying to solve and why does it matter? And then how do we honestly look at that problem to kind of unpack it.

Maggie: Okay. Is directed discovery the framework or is it the thing I printed out?

Nate Walkingshaw: Oh, the heartbeat of a product? Yeah. So I just did that, so that was my mine the product talk, so that the point of the healthy product heart was basically taking directed discovery, and this is an interplay from my personal life, but that's a normal sinus rhythm. So NSR, so for paramedics, and it's basically taking all of the key elements that I think you need to have to develop a product and this is what a healthy heart would look like.

Maggie: Right, yeah.

Nate Walkingshaw: And then I did a fun play on tachycardia. So that's like super fast, bradycardia, which is super slow. And those apply to the companies that we work in. There's really slow product development and it's because there's a ton of missing pieces or silos, or they're not psychologically safe. There's lots of cool, fun facts you and I can talk about on why I feel like those things will fail.

Maggie: Okay well first, directed discovery, what's the high level, high speed, what is it?

Nate Walkingshaw: It's basically a kind of philosophical framework. Don't think of it as a process.

Maggie: Okay.

Nate Walkingshaw: It's just mile markers.

Maggie: Okay.

Nate Walkingshaw: So every company that I've worked at for I'd say the last 20 ish years, I've needed some type of guard rails for myself or the team to understand or orient ourselves around the why. And there's really kind of a series of elements, but one is the mission has to be super clear. The vision has to be super clear. And the other thing is just who you're building for and why you're trying to solve those problems. A lot of our industry knows them as personas. People get way aggro on personas. It's more about the behavioral modeling behind the persona than it is about the kind of four bar persona chart we've all been used to. The other piece is voice of the customer.

Maggie: Okay.

Nate Walkingshaw: So being able to capture their voice, which I think is the biggest missing element. So Pluralsight, we've done over 9, 000 qualitative interviews in three and a half years.

Maggie: That's a lot.

Nate Walkingshaw: Yeah. So most of our teams do around 60 interviews a week.

Maggie: Okay. And are those like structured user interviews?

Nate Walkingshaw: Oh yeah. Yep. Yeah. So on Blue Jeans or Immersion State and they're all recorded and it just depends. The process that we use is unique. If it's innovation, if it's a plus one, if you're trying to squash bugs, you're doing different things in that. But the second half is prototype observation. We call it CPT, which is customer preference testing. And then the last half is CCT, which is customer confirmation testing, which really is quantitative analysis. So that every single design that we ship has a big data layer that sits underneath the design comps. And it's giving you qualitative and quantitative feedback the second that you release it into, we have staged releases, we're continuous delivery.

Maggie: Okay, yeah.

Nate Walkingshaw: So when you release it to a small subset of users, I can see sentiment analysis. I can see qualitative feedback and I can also see a quant score.

Maggie: Okay.

Nate Walkingshaw: And so before it ever makes it into production, we know if we've got something that's going to work.

Maggie: So when you dropped into Pluralsight, was this all-

Nate Walkingshaw: Built? Yeah.

Maggie: This was all set up already?

Nate Walkingshaw: Yeah. No, no, oh, was DD in Pluralsight?

Maggie: Yeah, yeah.

Nate Walkingshaw: Oh, no, no.

Maggie: I was like this is incredible, how did you get to this place?

Nate Walkingshaw: No, there were eight engineers.

Maggie: Okay.

Nate Walkingshaw: Yeah, like the story at Pluralsight was awesome because when I got there four years ago, it was a monolithic web app, right? It was in two languages. net and angular, it was on- prem. And so, yeah, this was a full rebuild from the ground up, moving it onto the cloud, native iOS, Roku, Chromecast, Apple TV. No product management or user experience design in the business, well, there was two or three product managers, but they were in marketing kind of project managing sales requests at that point in time. So as far as a formal product function at Pluralsight, no.

Maggie: So this was an opportunity to come in and sort of from the ground up, do it the right way.

Nate Walkingshaw: Yeah, I think, well, I mean, everyone has their right way.

Maggie: Yeah.

Nate Walkingshaw: This was the right way as it pertains to me and my product department experience, but every person who's in product thinks their way is the right way.

Maggie: Yeah. I mean, that's why I'm doing this just so I can steal all of your right ways for myself.

Nate Walkingshaw: That's cool.

Maggie: I want to talk specifically about product outcomes, because I think a lot of these themes of having a clear mission, however you do it talking to customers constantly, we all know we're supposed to do that kind of thing theoretically. But outcomes specifically, I think especially early on in my career, thinking about becoming a product manager, it was always solve the customer problems, find the customer problems and solve them, but now I'm hearing solve for product outcomes.

Nate Walkingshaw: Yeah.

Maggie: So what does that actually mean and how have you sort of helped your team do that?

Nate Walkingshaw: Yeah, I think, I mean kind of a really clear, I have a couple of buckets in my head when I think about outcomes.

Maggie: Okay.

Nate Walkingshaw: One of the buckets is kind of the thing that we know a lot about, which is key performance indicators. And that is really more of an intrinsic look inside of the business model. And so you're building a product that builds maybe some type of impact or economic or happiness for the intrinsic financial model of the companies we work for. I think outcomes is actually quite a bit different, and it's more of an extrinsic point of view that I have. So I'll use Pluralsight as a really good example here of kind of how we think about kind of an outcome model. Now, the thing that we're not talking about is outputs because that's actually the thing that we're trying to-

Maggie: That's the thing.

Nate Walkingshaw: Yeah, that's the thing, you know that's the thing, right? Because it's ship dates. So the outputs, all of us who have been in product for years have been on kind of these death marches to ship things by a certain date.

Maggie: Yeah.

Nate Walkingshaw: Not cool. Outputs aren't necessarily bad. We have to be committed and accountable to the company to ship something within a timeframe.

Maggie: Yeah.

Nate Walkingshaw: It's more about how it gets measured and what it creates is kind of where I'd want to spend the most time.

Maggie: Okay.

Nate Walkingshaw: So for instance, I'll use a good example. Kind of the three anchor tenants, if you will, for key performance indicators is likelihood to buy, length of stay, and NPS. And there's lots of crazy experiences around net promoter score. And the net promoter score is not the score. We don't focus on the score. We focus on the qualitative feedback and the sentiment analysis in NPS data. So that's helping inform basically the overall behavioral aspects of the product and how they're experiencing it. But the first two, length of stay, that's usage. So that's really understanding do these people really enjoy, are they surprised and delighted by the product that we've built and then likelihood to buy really is billings or revenue. So that's like a really intrinsic look for us. If the mission of our company is to democratize technology skills and or to teach individual learners new technology skills to take with them, then that's impact. So it's actually how they apply their knowledge once they've learned something. So that's an outcome.

Maggie: So the outcome is the outcome for the customer.

Nate Walkingshaw: Yes.

Maggie: Okay.

Nate Walkingshaw: Oh yeah, absolutely.

Maggie: Yeah, I think that's like one of the key pieces that I've been hearing is that it's not looking internal, it's not saying, oh, we're going to build this thing, it's going to do this. They're going to buy it.

Nate Walkingshaw: Yeah because look, if I nail the outcome with the individual learner, the other three things that I just gave you, they kind of handle themselves.

Maggie: Right. In the same way that your NPS score is really amazing. I saw it on one of the blog posts.

Nate Walkingshaw: Yeah. I mean, we've done a lot of work, but it's because we're listening to what they want, we're delivering it and then we're having impact, right? Which is creating some type of application of knowledge or skilling up. So we've put measurements around that, like how do you want to quantify those things within Pluralsight? Well skill IQ is a thing for us. It's a cool little testing algorithm that we have. So within five minutes or 20 test questions ish, we can actually understand or give you a score, a skill IQ, in angular in any software development language or IT ops. So what's interesting about that is that's a skill outcome so that somebody learns something, applied their knowledge and then took an assessment to see where they were, right?

Maggie: Oh okay, and then got better.

Nate Walkingshaw: Scaled up and then got better. And so that's creating impact for them in their personal life and it's also creating impact for the company because now they know they have a person that they can count on that actually has the skills that they need in angular. And look, there's a huge theme out there like the digital transformation, it's super cliche. The under the hood of that is the real work, which is you're going from on- prem to the cloud. Well, that looks like COBOL into Java. And that can be thousands of developers that know COBOL with an average tenure of 15 years, trying to learn a new language or framework and they're trying to write new software into Java. That has impact, that is outcome. So how do I move all of those individual developers from COBOL engineers into Java engineers.

Maggie: Right.

Nate Walkingshaw: And we want to measure that piece. That piece is important to us.

Maggie: Talking to someone who has less of a broad scope.

Nate Walkingshaw: Yeah.

Maggie: How can they take what they're doing today and turn it into an outcome focus?

Nate Walkingshaw: That's great.

Maggie: Is it just reframing the problem that they're solving? How can people start doing that right now?

Nate Walkingshaw: I mean, where do you start? It's kind of what I hear there.

Maggie: Yeah.

Nate Walkingshaw: So if you don't understand the first three things like the usage of your product, the length of stay or the billings, the actual value that you're generating for whatever you've given them and if they're happy about it, if you don't know those three things, it's really hard to do anything else we just talked about.

Maggie: Right.

Nate Walkingshaw: Because I don't know if I'm actually going to impact those outcomes or not.

Maggie: Okay.

Nate Walkingshaw: I have no idea. So the core of this is if you're a subscription business today, go grab all of your subscriber data and go look at the likelihood to buy, so your subscription revenue for that cohort. Look at their usage patterns and see if they're happy, because the best thing about this exercise is it tells you what not to do.

Maggie: Okay. Give me an example.

Nate Walkingshaw: Yeah, that's great. At Pluralsight, we didn't start out as the technology learning platform. We were a learning platform and there could have been beer making classes on there. So where do you focus? How do you focus? Well, when you go and do this analysis, it was pretty easy to see that the people that loved what we did and paid us the most amount of money and stayed the longest in our app and were super happy, were software developers.

Maggie: Huh, okay.

Nate Walkingshaw: But when you looked outside a one step, two step or five step adjacency, people that were out there that we're not really developing content for, and we're like, I remember we had wedding planning videos I think in there. It was cool. Those people, they weren't staying long. They were turning out of our product. Their utilization was low. And the happiness score was pretty bad. And the reason why is because we hadn't built a personalized experience for them, right? The content didn't really match or meet their needs in their moment of need. So that's what I'm talking about is like, how do you create an outcome for a software developer? Well look, that learning experience for a developer, very, very different than someone that's a creative, right? Because they're visual learners. Developers are command f- ers and they want to search and get back into workflow. Creatives are immersive and they want to dive in. So that's a great way to look at length of stay, likelihood to buy and NPS. So once I start from there, then I can say, okay, this is who the customer is, this is who we're building for, what problems are we going to solve? And that was the last thing I said, which is so we want to give them a skill. We want to teach them something to skill them up. And so now we want to measure the outcome of the time it takes them to learn and grasp and attach a skill IQ to their profile. So average number of skill IQs per an individual learner, that's really important to us. And it's because they've gone on a learning journey, they've applied that knowledge and then they've actually given themselves an artifact that measures it.

Maggie: Yeah, that's true.

Nate Walkingshaw: Is that cool?

Maggie: Yeah, that's awesome. I'm just trying to think about how we could measure those outcomes for our customers. And we have some ways we can do it because we're sort of involved in the buying cycle with them. But I think that's interesting for people to think about sometimes the impact might be something they can't measure. So how could they get some sense of whether what they're doing is actually creating the outcome for their customers that they want it to?

Nate Walkingshaw: Yeah. I mean, I don't want to say that there's vanity ways, but there are looser outcomes for us. So I'll give you social proofing is a good one. So for skill IQs, what you can do a skill IQs is attach them to your LinkedIn profile.

Maggie: Oh, okay.

Nate Walkingshaw: You see what I'm saying?

Maggie: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Nate Walkingshaw: So that could be another way. If I didn't have any of that other data, I could look at the day that we launched skill IQ, the number of skill IQs and the attach rate right in the open social sphere and then see if that started to gravitate to statistical significance.

Maggie: Right.

Nate Walkingshaw: So have people decided to put that on stack overflow profile, LinkedIn, is it showing up on any other credential for job interviews and resumes? So that's a great way to know that okay, this credential is representing their body of knowledge. It's actually showing up in front of the rest of the world and they're using it to maybe scale up or get a job or a new job or a promotion.

Maggie: Okay.

Nate Walkingshaw: Does that help?

Maggie: Yeah, yeah. That makes sense. When you were coming up with this framework and implementing an app at Pluralsight, how did you teach the team about it? Was it easy, did it take a long time?

Nate Walkingshaw: Do we have hours to talk? The way that we implemented it was in phases.

Maggie: Okay.

Nate Walkingshaw: We really had to break it into these three buckets, right? Which was A, mission and vision along with personas. The second one is actually teaching teams the product management, UX, and engineering skills around how to conduct voice of customer interviews.

Maggie: Okay.

Nate Walkingshaw: The next element really is the voice of the customer piece. Ethnography, learning how to read body language, arms folded, legs crossed, eye contact, tonality, all of that awesome work that it takes to kind of unpack really what's going on underneath the hood. The other thing is that things that are nuanced, product management, UX, and eng, their roles in our organization as far as what they do, how they work, they blur the lines.

Maggie: Definitely.

Nate Walkingshaw: When it's in discovery work, if they're all blurring, like an engineer will do an interview, they'll moderate a full- blown interview. They'll do all the questions, right?

Maggie: We feel really strongly about that here that the whole team is part of that process and everyone's talking to customers all the time.

Nate Walkingshaw: Yeah. And for instance, how committed we are to it, if an engineer can't make a voice of the customer interview, we cancel it.

Maggie: So what's part three?

Nate Walkingshaw: Yeah, and then part three is the customer confirmation piece, how to do CCT. So how do you embed analytics and what things do you want to measure? What types of things do you care about?

Maggie: Okay.

Nate Walkingshaw: And that's really the qualitative and quantitative feedback on the releases and then also the outcomes. So are you starting to see some proof points around the outcomes? And then also is the experience the second you give it to them, is it actually meeting their user experience needs, task flow needs?

Maggie: Okay.

Nate Walkingshaw: And the last piece is that in CCT is data, right? The data science ML kind of AI side, we haven't gone deep there, but when you're using a lot of recommendations or inference, you're testing the data science model that you've built that's been engineered into the behavioral model of the user. And so you're wanting to make sure that those things are airtight as well.

Maggie: How does the team remain flexible and responsive to customer needs when there's so many steps?

Nate Walkingshaw: Yeah, it's organizational design.

Maggie: Okay.

Nate Walkingshaw: So I mean, they're all cross- functional, co located. They all sit together. The frame of DD that I've just kind of given you, those are mile markers. So the point that I'm trying to make, if I've got 30, which we have 35 or almost 40 of those teams today, the way that they use their discovery interview process, the VOC, the way they capture it, we don't care. Every single person has their different interview style. The point is that when they actually ship something into production, it's making sure that they're delivering value that doesn't have confirmation bias in it, or gender bias in it. You have to give something that is tangible because watch what happens if you ship something that doesn't work, you actually need something to go reference, to know where the team actually created the mistakes. So in that voice of customer or in the prototype, it's super clear for our teams to say, okay, I obviously jaded this design a certain way to kind of present an experience. And we have had these problems. It's just the old days, we to just build and ship, throw it over the wall, ship it, and then find out that they didn't like it. Or if they did, or didn't like it, we didn't really know. The point is you want to avoid the actual writing of the codes, right? So you have a high degree of confidence that you're building the right thing.

Maggie: My question would be for people who are at teams that are sort of earlier stage, who might not have the time.

Nate Walkingshaw: Yeah.

Maggie: How do you approach that question? Sometimes it might be faster just to code something.

Nate Walkingshaw: There are times that I think that totally applies. So if it's a new idea that you've never done, that's high risk just to code it up and launch it.

Maggie: Right.

Nate Walkingshaw: I think that's high risk. When there is a better way and it's, I mean, when we talk about speed, was it at another 12 hours to go do a couple of interviews to find out okay, we're directionally right?

Maggie: Yeah.

Nate Walkingshaw: So I would I push on the, well time, there are things like if I have a high degree of certainty, some things in prod and I need to squish some bugs, you're not going any of that stuff.

Maggie: Right.

Nate Walkingshaw: But if it is a plus one that's going to change the flow, the affordances, then it's probably worth just covering your rear end a little.

Maggie: Some checking, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Nate Walkingshaw: Yeah, and doing some qualitative interviews and then punching it back out to production just to make sure that you're good. Because look, the risk, this is your brand. This is your product. This is your experience. So the second you give something to the world, you can't take it back.

Maggie: So if someone listening wants to learn how to actually put this all into place, is there a resource? Is there a course?

Nate Walkingshaw: I mean, I've just tried to give everything away for free. So if you just go to medium. com and Walkingshaw, everything around directed discovery, and then I have part one, two and three, it's actually a pretty big series, but I've put an awesome playlist in there so you knew the mood I was in and when I was writing it.

Maggie: That's awesome.

Nate Walkingshaw: It's a pretty sweet playlist. But basically that whole part one, two and three series is the double click into this work. Yeah, I think there's a ton of content out there plus the book, Product Leadership.

Maggie: Yeah. So I have one quote that I asked Martin about that I want to ask you about as well, which is my favorite one from the book, which is the one about daily swims in the sea of ambiguity. So you just gave us this whole framework on how to have less ambiguity, but still that's sort of the essential part of being in products.

Nate Walkingshaw: Yeah.

Maggie: What does that quote mean to you?

Nate Walkingshaw: Yeah, I mean that embodies the work that we do I think. The framework honestly, those little milestones in there, it's honestly just to help me orient my mind around what we're doing. And I know that between companies being in a startup or you guys could be big, these companies could be big, what looks like big to Pluralsight today is let's just call it a million learners just out there, doing their thing. That feels heavy to me as a leader, right?

Maggie: Yeah.

Nate Walkingshaw: I feel a huge amount of responsibility to take care and craft a really meaningful experience. It wasn't any different when it was 250, 000 learners or 50,000 learners.

Maggie: Right, it's still lives.

Nate Walkingshaw: It is still lives. And I think if you come at it from that place and you really care about your craft, morally and ethically about your craft, you bring together great diversity of thought and you try and put your arms around that ambiguity a tiny bit with I think, core principles that test those elements that I just disclosed.

Maggie: Yeah.

Nate Walkingshaw: I think that's where magic happens. I think that's when you get to build something beautiful for people. And I think the team feels totally different and really, it is. I mean, you know how it is working with teams.

Maggie: Yeah.

Nate Walkingshaw: You want to feel great about what you're creating. You want to feel that you've changed the human condition in some positive way. And I think that's ultimately if those are the team outcomes, it's a cool thing to have happened.

Maggie: Yeah.

Nate Walkingshaw: Yeah.

Maggie: That's awesome. Last question. If you had to give everyone listening just a couple pieces of advice that they can take back and put into practice right now.

Nate Walkingshaw: Really relating, like listening. I think we don't listen enough. And I think when you work with teams and you're trying to work through really tough problems together, it's amazing what happens when someone feels hurt. So if you sit and have a conversation with someone to really intentionally hear and then play back what they're saying to you and then get a nod. The thing we're doing right now, I'm getting great social currency from you right now, it's because you're giving me nods. I know that you're actually listening to what I say.

Maggie: Right, right.

Nate Walkingshaw: But we don't really do that that much in practice. And I'll tell you right now, we're super focused on phones. We're super focused on screens. That's kind of our job today, technology is infused into everything we do. But when you are actually interacting with your teams human to human, honestly, the art of relating, relating with another person, to listen to them, to play them back, to let them feel heard, watch what happens. There's this opening between people and it creates this awesome sense of connection. I think that's what we need to do more of.

Maggie: Okay. So listen.

Nate Walkingshaw: Listen, yeah.

Maggie: Awesome.

Nate Walkingshaw: Yeah.

Maggie: Well Nate, thank you very much. I really appreciate you coming on the podcast and to everyone listening, obviously shout out Nate in the reviews, six stars only. I need a couple more six star reviews.

Nate Walkingshaw: Nice, what does that mean? Six stars, I want some six stars.

Maggie: Yeah.

Nate Walkingshaw: Can I get them?

Maggie: Apple doesn't have them yet, but we're on a campaign to get them.

Nate Walkingshaw: Oh, let's get six stars.

Maggie: Yeah, six stars. Yeah.

Nate Walkingshaw: Hashtag six stars.

Maggie: Six stars, shout it out and give me some feedback. maggie @ drift. com. Thanks.


Pluralsight's Nate Walkingshaw literally wrote the book on product leadership. On this episode of Build, Nate dives into the importance of empathy in product and how his own background as an EMT helped him build more empathetic, more intuitive products. Plus, Nate shares his framework for the "product heart" – all of the key elements for what a healthy product should look like. In this episode: 00:35 - Nate’s journey from EMT to Chief Experience Officer (CXO) at Pluralsight 1:48 - Inventing products to solve EMT problem 3:25 - Nate’s work at Stryker 4:09 - The transition from hardware to software development 4:45 - Nate’s work at Strava 6:20 - Launching Strava’s first commerce based app 6:47 - Nate’s work as Head of Tanner Labs at O.C. Tanner 8:00 - The Mission of Pluralsight: Democratizing Technology Skills 8:30 - Joining Pluralsight   9:45 - How to develop a great product that impacts people 10:27 - Why “why” matters 11:25 - Direct Discovery: Mission, Vision and , & The Client 12:17 - Hearing the voice of the customer 12:50 - Customer Preference Testing (CPT) & Customer Confirmation Testing (CCT) 14:40 - Merely sSolving problems vs. creating meaningful outcomes 16:22 - Leveraging key performance indicators for product design 17:19 - Outcome and  & the customer’s success 19:15 - How you can benefit from switching to output focus 23:17 - How Nate taught his team about output focus 25:30 - How Nate’s team stays available & engages customers 29:50 - Care for the craft (and popularity will follow) 30:35 - The value of listening in a distracted world Books & Resources Mentioned in this Episode: Read Nate’s book on Product Leadership https://www.amazon.com/Product-Leadership-Managers-Products-Successful/dp/1491960604 Check out more of Nate’s wisdom https://medium.com/@nwalkingshaw Before you go leave a ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ review and share the pod with your friends! And be sure to check out more insights on product development on the Drift blog at drift.com/blog and find us on Twitter @maggiecrowley, @drift and @seekingwisdomio.