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Building Products That Users Need: Conducting Effective User Research
The reason why very few product managers get user research right is that they understand how to conduct it effectively with proper user research frameworks. Therefore, it is also imperative to understand the significance of user research; henceforth, check this article if you want to learn in more detail about it.
Moving on, in this part, we’ll dive deeper and understand how product managers can conduct effective research, along with knowing the different research methodologies available.
Approach Towards User Research Methodologies
Once the approach to user research is decided, it is time to choose what research methodology should be adopted. All the methodologies fall under the following two major spectrums:
Quantitative or Qualitative: Quantitative methods collect and measure precise data on variables and test your hypotheses. Qualitative research, a subjective method, observes data by recording the opinions and reasons provided by the subjects.
Attitudinal or Behavioural: Attitudinal methods gather data on what the subjects say, feel or think about the product, whereas behavioural methods record what the subjects do, and how they interact with the products.
Key User Research Frameworks for Product Managers
There are a bunch of interesting user research frameworks that dictate how user research should be conducted. Below are a few of the key frameworks that product managers use at different stages of a product development process.
In this method, users respond to the structure and content of a website. The content on a website might be arranged in a structure that the users might not find easy to navigate, thus creating usability issues. You can write the labels of different topics on cards and ask the users to sort them into categories that make the most sense to them. This exercise can be conducted during the development phase when you have narrowed down on a basic wireframe and wish to know if it resonates with the user. You should also conduct this exercise when user feedback suggests that there might be usability issues.
From the image above (image 1), you can see that card sorting is an attitudinal method and falls between qualitative and quantitative methods. It does not necessarily require the subject to be familiar with the product
Case Study: You can refer to this case study on how Eurostar, the famous high-speed train connecting England to the European mainland, used card-sorting techniques to enhance usability and include several new features.
User interviews or in-depth interviews are probably the most preferred among product managers because of their quick and flexible nature. User interviews allow the design team to engage with the users face-to-face. The product team can ask users open-ended questions to understand their problems and pain points. The product team can set up 30 to 60 min calls with each subject individually and ask questions about the subject’s problems or experiences.
Such interviews can be done in person or online. User interviews are preferred by a lot of product managers because they can probe the subjects further based on their responses to get a full understanding of the subjects’ thought processes. This allows them to come up with details about the user’s pain points and/or experiences. The adaptive and flexible nature of user interviews makes them relevant or, as some might even argue, even necessary, at all the development stages.
User interviews fall under the attitudinal and qualitative research methodologies. The most important thing to remember is to interview a subject, it is not required that the subject has knowledge about the product. It’s a discovery process that a product manager goes through.
Here’s a great example of how a good user research interview is conducted for a Saas product which is in the process of product development – User Research Interview Example (SaaS)
Focus groups or focus group interviews are conducted with a group of 6 to 9 participants at a time, in the presence of a moderator. These participants can be experts in the domain of your product, consumers of your product, or a mixture of both. The moderator has a pre-decided list of topics related to the product and questions that she can ask to prompt discussion around those. It is generally less time-consuming as compared to individual interviews.
However, this should not deteriorate anyone from choosing focus group interviews as a tool to conduct user research. It is observed that subjects react differently in the presence of their peers as humans tend to get influenced by others. As your users will most likely be a part of a larger society, it is better to know how they will react as a group of users, and not as individual users.
Case Study: Focus Group This video shows how a moderator conducted a focus group interview for the dispensing mechanism of a barbeque sauce. Notice how the group of people were reacting and related with each other. I would also like to draw your attention towards the notes that were displayed at the end of each segment. This is a fine example of unbiased and crisp notes that the moderator can share with the product team.
Just like user interviews, focus group discussions also fall under the attitudinal and qualitative research methodologies. The subjects are not required to have prior knowledge about the product.
Remember this splash screen iPhone users would get each time they got a call? This almost gave everyone a brain freeze.
If you were a subject of Apple’s user research and you were shown this screen as part of their prototype, what feedback would you have given them?
Usability testing is conducted when a product, prototype or MVP is ready. This method indicates how easy to learn or user-friendly your product would be. To conduct the usability test, a researcher tracks the actions and behaviours of the user while they are interacting with the product. The researcher might ask the subject to carry out a particular task using the product.
Different data points like the time taken to complete the task, and the number of clicks from start to finish are collected and the users are also encouraged to give real-time feedback to the researcher. All these data points are studied by the product team to look at the product from the users’ perspective. This helps them to identify the issues that they might have missed. It is during the usability testing that the design team can confirm that their product is meeting the expectations or if their workflow is simple enough for their target audience and so on.
The usability test could be conducted in person with a user experience researcher or a product manager and a subject together in a room, or it could be conducted remotely. Sometimes, the subjects are chosen at random to test your product, like people in a park or at a store. This is called guerilla testing.
For example, an organisation comes up with an application specifically to listen to podcasts. To conduct its usability test, it will ask its users to navigate the app to go to their saved podcasts or find podcasts on topics that they are interested in. The researcher would like to know how quickly and easily the users were able to get a hang of their product. How easily they were able to navigate in the app.
A/B testing, or split testing is a research methodology where several versions of a feature of a product are created and administered to different groups of people. A pre-determined set of metrics are tracked for each version to determine which one is the most successful. This type of testing is used especially before rolling out a new feature or when there are doubts regarding a particular feature either during the development phase or post-rollout. A/B testing is very helpful as it eliminates the product team’s guesswork and interpretations.
From the image above (image 1), you can see that A/B testing is a behavioural method and is quantitative in nature. It requires the subject to be familiar with the product.
You can refer to this article to go through several good examples of products conducting A/B testing.
Thanks to advancements in technology and it becoming more and more accessible to everyone, experiments such as eye tracking can be easily conducted for your product. This technique has proven useful for analysing digital products. As the name suggests, software is used to track the eye movements of the users visiting your website or app. This method is one of the least interfering with the user journey and it does not even require the presence of someone from the product team.
Eye tracking quantitatively documents the time different points were able to hold the gaze of the subjects. It also lets us know if there are any areas that the subjects are not even looking at.
This data is used to generate a heatmap that represents the fixation lengths of the users on different elements. The image below shows an example of such a heat map generated.
Based on this data, the designers can place the contents of the page accordingly. This data can not just be used to arrange the contents of the site but also to place advertisements. The price to advertise in areas that are getting more attention could be set higher that the rest.
Impact of user research
From image 1, you can see that eye tracking is a behavioural method and falls between qualitative and quantitative methods. It requires the subject to interact with the product. This method, too, needs no interference from anyone from the product team.
Reasons Why User Research Fails: Users Research Practices to Avoid
There have been many cases in the past where user research was conducted by organisations, and yet their products failed. Of course, it can happen. Conducting user research does not guarantee a successful outcome. However, conducting effective user research might.
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
Henry Ford, the inventor of the modern-day assembly line that revolutionised the automobile industry, is believed to have said this famous quote.
The users do not instantly know what exact product they want. Therefore, the first major mistake product managers make is treating the words of the users as the holy grail. The user feedback should be very carefully interpreted.
The questionnaire administered should be very well thought out. The questionnaire should not expect the subjects to be product experts. It should not include questions that the subject might not know the answers to.
Then, there is the issue of the bias of the researcher or the product team. More often than not, they hear what they want. User research is used to confirm their own biases rather than challenge them. Also, it should be made sure that the researcher or her biases are not leading the subjects.
You have already seen the different user research methodologies that exist. It is imperative that the researcher or the Product Manager choose the most appropriate ones, depending on the type of product, the phase of development it is in, and the outcomes that are to be measured.
Concluding the User Research Process
User research is an integral part of product development and should not be eliminated or even cut short, for that matter. However, it is also important to note that the product team knows when and where to stop. Although the importance of user research is undisputed, it should not go on forever. Before starting the research process, the team should document a clear roadmap. They must agree upon the hypotheses that they need to test. The research methodology and the question being asked, if any, should be aimed at testing those hypotheses. When the team has arrived at a conclusion, that’s where the research process ends.
Now, the research could have been carried out by the product team, special UX researchers, or even a third-party organisation. Once the results of the research process are in, they should be properly documented and shared with all the stakeholders. This helps all the organisational silos involved in the product’s lifecycle, such as the developers, senior executives, sales and marketing and after-sales service to understand the product from a user’s standpoint and helps optimise the user experience from all fronts, ultimately generating the best value for the users.
User research in product management is wonderful since it benefits all entities. Therefore, product management roles and jobs are growing day by day and becoming more pivotal. The product management industry is very popular in India and overseas, with more than 20,000 positions listed on LinkedIn alone. Product managers often make about 246% more money than the average Indian worker, according to Jobted. Upgrade your product management knowledge through product management courses hosted by Emeritus. 81% of the learners have had a positive impact on their career and professional development through Emeritus online courses and training programs.