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: Jumping into the Solution Space Too Quickly
GETTING GOOD USER FEEDBACK IS A SCIENCE. But there’s one thing that you can do to improve the quality of feedback you’re getting from cus¬tomers right now. Stay in what we call the “problem space” longer.
What that means is to take time, when talking to real-world users, to think about and discuss the different facets of a problem, rather than trying to solve it as quickly as possible.
Although the theory sounds obvious, the practice is remarkably hard. Both interviewers and interviewees naturally start brainstorming solutions right away.
Product managers who ask the questions should remember Steven Covey’s 5th habit of highly effective people, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Sure, you’re an expert in the product and you’ve probably heard what the user has to say hundreds of times before. You may have even thought it yourself. But if you automatically tune out or assume you understand what the user is saying, you may not discover the true root cause of the problem.
As the interviewer, you should also get the user to stay in the problem space longer. Each time they begin to express their opinions in the form of a solution (“Just add another feature that works like this…”), your job should be to ask why. A product executive we spoke to recently referred to this process as “peeling the onion.”
Designing a formal interview protocol in advance helps tremendously. These interview protocols often ask the same questions in different ways, to keep the user reflecting on the problem until you get to the root cause.
This is also why organizations increasingly bring in outside help from UX research specialists. Professionals experienced in interview techniques explore problems before solutions the same way a clinical psychologist trains to inter¬view patients. UX researchers don’t have ties to any particular solution, unlike a manager or developer who might — even unconsciously — want one way forward over another.
The same principle applies internally. The next time the sales team comes to you saying that customers absolutely need a mobile version of the product by Q2, stop and ask why. Set up customer interviews and get to the core of the problem so you have a full understanding of the issue. Observe users in their natural habitat. You may even find insights and untapped opportunities that lead to innovations for your next product.
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