This is the final in my series of posts on Product Management Research Pitfalls. In case you missed the introduction to this series, I’ll be identifying one product management user research pitfall per post. Missed the previous mistakes? Catch up! Mistake #1 Mistake #2 Mistake #3 Mistake #4 Mistake #5 Mistake #6 Mistake #7 Mistake #8 Mistake #9
Mistake #10: Researchers with the Wrong Skill Set
USER RESEARCH IS A TRUE SCIENCE, not a matter of opinion and interpretation. If the person doing research doesn’t have the right background, you could end up with the wrong conclusions.
To get a sense of whether your product teams have the right competencies, here are a few things we like to see in the people gathering real-world data from customers:
• Do they have a human-computer interface background, or a general background in experimental practices? Do they mention things like getting user feedback, doing user research, and defining personas?
• Look for a progression of titles like “user researcher”, “User Experience designer”, or “product manager” (though the last title can mean many different things such as a marketing, sales, or technical background, depending on the organization).
• Beware of too much emphasis on technical skill. If the candidate spent a lot of time as a developer or learning programming languages, it’s possible they haven’t had enough time to develop user research skills. At some companies, developers work directly with clients to gather requirements. Sometimes this works, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the individual has the formal training to consistently identify customer needs and synthesize them into a meaningful action plan.
• It’s a plus if the candidate worked at a company that takes product management/User Experience design seriously — Apple, Yahoo, or Microsoft, for instance. It indicates they’ve probably had great mentors and lots of experience working in a disciplined research process.
In talking with candidates, use open-ended questions to really understand how they think through gathering requirements, talking to users, and planning designs. Ask them to take you through, in detail, how they have done this in the past. Does it match all that we have described above?
One of the most successful ways we’ve seen research gathered, interpreted, and disseminated to organizations is by pairing a product manager with a part-time UX researcher. The product manager is an expert on the product and on the market. The UX researcher helps with research strategy and execution, and pairs the insights with the product manager’s expertise, creating a full set of requirements. The UX researcher can also help bridge the gap between product manager and designer to illustrate the requirements via wireframes.
This process is detailed in our paper User Experience Design — Helping Product Managers Sleep at Night.
Does User Research Make Better Software?
Focusing on user research to create better software might be trendy right now due to the success of companies who have changed the software landscape. But simply interviewing customers doesn’t automatically translate into more compelling products. It isn’t enough to ask your customers what they want, then implement the solutions they ask for. Rushing to conclusions without understanding the full context of how people use your software might even take your product in the wrong direction.
The good news is that if you can avoid the pitfalls we’ve described, you can collect the right data, interpret it with scientific rigor, and provide it to development teams in a way they can use. It is the successful combination of these activities that will take your software to the next level with customers.
About the Author
Lorraine Chapman is a management and User Experience Research professional at Macadamian Technologies. In addition to her role as Director of User Experience Research, Ms. Chapman has provided a broad range of clients (within the Healthcare, Telecommunications, Government, and Finance sectors) with strategic direction on business, product and customer issues. This experience includes product value analysis, user requirements research (both qualitative and quantitative) and usability analysis/evaluation of websites, services (eCommerce and eBusiness), applications, software, hardware and documentation. Lorraine can be reached at email@example.com