All Usage is Not Created Equal

Every product manager needs a detailed understanding of how their product is used. In a desire to be data-driven*, most PMs jump to Google Analytics or its equivalent (I have a problem with how ‘data-driven’ is used when it comes to product management, but that’s another post). To really understand how your product is being used, you can’t just rely on the raw data. You’ll need a framework to understand the data, the right metrics, and anecdotes to paint a fuller picture.

The best framework to interpret your data is something you should already be very familiar with: your user personas. Any data won’t be worthwhile if you aren’t able to tell the story of what it means, and personas are key to that.

When working on one of my first SaaS B2B products, this became very clear. When looking at the administration portal for an EdTech product I owned, we had personas who used the portal every day (librarians, professors), every week or month (IT), and then a group of users who only accessed the portal every quarter or even every year. This last group was usually the key decision maker, but might only log in to the portal a few times a year. Looking at their use cases and usage metrics alongside DAUs wouldn’t make sense. Their use cases occurred in less than 1% of logins, but were incredibly important – that single annual login might be the deciding factor in an subscription renewal.

Alongside your personas, you’ll still need the actual data and the right metrics. A very important thing to get right, you’ll have to look at your product and identify the right high level metrics to track (could be as simple as DAUs) as well how you’ll measure specific features. As always, you’ll need some metric to measure anything that matters.

In addition to tracking all the right data and a framework to interpret it, a key, and often missed, aspect of understanding a product’s usage is anecdotes. Usage anecdotes are important to surface edge cases that might not be visible in the data, to validate interpretations of the data, or paint a more coherent story you can share about your product’s usage. The key part about anecdotes is you will need to prompt users to provide them – this can be everything from app store reviews to an open ended question in surveys. The critical part is having a path for users to provide them and a process for your product team to interpret them.

With these three things – a source of anecdotes, sufficient tracking of metrics, and a persona-based framework to interpret them – you’ll have the key ingredients to really understand your product’s usage.