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How to complete user research in product development


Completing user research can seem daunting but it doesn’t have to be. This article will show you a simple process for completing user research effectively.

Completing user research can seem daunting but it doesn't have to be. This article will show you a simple process for completing user research effectively.

Before you start

Properly identify your ideal user before starting

There’s no point completing user research if you’re researching the wrong user so before you start make sure that you fully understand the type of person you want to target. As you begin the research process you will learn more about who your target user is and the problems that they need to solve but you need to make some basic assumptions before you begin.

Complete user research before you start developing your product

In the same breath, there’s no point developing a product around assumptions about what you think your customers want. So make sure you complete thorough user research before you begin developing your product.

But I’m fixing my own problem?!

Taking a user centred approach is important even if you are fixing a problem that you have yourself. An obvious caveat, if you only intend to fix your own problem and don’t want to launch your product publicly then you will only ever have one customer, you. In that case, just make sure you understand your own problem.

However, for the most part you will have identified a problem that you have and want to develop a product to fix the problem for yourself AND others.

You still need to complete user research even if you are your own customer

If you are building a product that fixes your own problem and you suspect that it will fix a problem for someone else too then you still need to research your users. From your research you will gain a better understanding of the problem and what potential (if any) solutions already exist. You may also find that your problem isn’t shared amongst your peers, saving you time and money developing a fully fledged product where a simple excel or word doc could have sufficed.

Down to the research and how you should do it

Immediately available information

First, take a look at the immediately available information. If you’re targeting a business consider the type of business that would use your product. Search on google and start looking at your potential users websites, taking note of the decision makers (if their employees are listed) and any other useful information.

Products that serve individuals are a little trickier because you can’t just search on google for “people who would buy my product”. That being said you should have a good understanding of the user and from this understanding you can start to look for information. Consider:

  • What your users job is
  • What type of company they work for
  • Their interest and hobbies
  • Events they attend
  • Charities they support
  • Any other information about what your users do or how they act

Then use your list as the starting point for your search. For example, if you identify that your ideal user works in HR then you could look at industry HR events, look at the speakers of these events on social and look at their followers. There’s a good chance a lot of their followers will work in or have an interest in HR.

Start gathering a base understanding

When you have a sample of users start looking at their activity online.

  • How do they talk?
  • How often do they share?
  • Do they talk about problems they’re having?
  • Do these problems relate to the product you want to build?
  • Have they posted about any events they’ve attended recently?

Use these questions (and your own) to further build the picture of the ‘typical’ user.

Information that’s not immediately available

The information that isn’t immediately available is usually the answers to the questions relating to your problem. You might get lucky, but more often than not users don’t typically talk about their problems publicly. So you need to connect with some users directly and start a conversation.

Starting conversations with your target users

Directly contacting individual users

Go specific, nobody likes spam, so don’t be a spammer. If you’re considering reaching out to the users you’ve identified you need to make sure that you have researched that individual user enough to send them a personal message. Take the time to think of a way you could genuinely start a conversation.

Join the existing conversation

By this point you should have identified places where your users talk (common hashtags for example) the beauty of social media is that you can join in public conversations easily. By joining the conversation you are making people aware of who you are so it won’t be as ‘cold’ when you send them a message.

Maybe you’ve had a good conversation with someone on a thread and at that point you can reach out and say “Hey you seem to know your stuff, can I get your opinion on something I’m working on?”

Join the conversation in real life

Websites like meetup.com are perfect for finding events in your local area where your users are likely to be. You may have to broaden your search initially and then narrow it over time. Taking the HR example from earlier in this article maybe you would start by looking at business events first and then get more and more specific as you find potential events you could attend.

Don’t sell

The biggest point to remember throughout all your user research activity is “don’t sell” you want to know what you need to build and at this moment in time trying to sell something to your brand new connections will only scare them away.

Create a pipeline

That being said you should definitely maintain a list of people that you’ve spoken to and ask them if it’s ok to let them know about updates to the product as it develops.

As your product grows your relationship should also grow with your new prospect list and when you launch that is the time to arrange a follow up demo and ask if it’s something they’d consider purchasing.

Record and prioritise

After researching your users for some time you should start to build a good understanding of the features your users crave. Throughout the whole process you should be recording all the things your users are telling you. Pay special attention to recurring problems as these will become the basis for your minimum viable product.

Research, Build, Repeat

After completing your first round of research build the smallest MVP you can and get it in front of your pipeline to get feedback. Find out if what your building is resonating with the user and if it’s not ask what they’d like to see instead. At each step of your products development you should follow this process:

  • Research the customer
  • Identify the pain points
  • Build something small that caters to these pain points
  • Demo: Confirm that you are actually catering to the pain points you’ve identified (through more research)
  • Rinse and repeat

Building your products in this way ensures you're building the right thing without masses of investment and guesswork.

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