When you have to solve a problem, it can be tempting jump ahead to the solution stage. But what happens if at the end of the project the fixes implemented aren’t in line with what you actually needed?
This is where user research comes in: It helps to identify the business problems that require a solution by understanding users’ goals, needs and behavior.
User research is at the forefront of every project that we undertake: It ensures that the problem is being adequately addressed and that you’re not wasting your time or money.
There are the four crucial rules that I follow to ensure that we get the user feedback that we will need to pull off a successful project.
1. Uncover Assumptions
It’s easy to use your own experiences to make assumptions about the ways that people want to work and the goals that they have in doing so. Unfortunately, these beliefs can be wildly incorrect, leading us to create a solution that no one ends up happy with. We test your assumptions against the reality of user feedback before building functionalities that aren’t necessary or wanted.
2. Get Grounded
Once you’ve begun the user research process, it’s also very easy to go off on tangents or fish for the user responses that you desire. Any conclusions that you draw from your research should be based on specific answers from your users.
To get good feedback, we ask questions like these:
- What defines success for you?
- What are the types of things that you do on a day-to-day basis?
- What difficulties do you have in carrying out your work?
From these questions, we acquire specific objectives, goals and tasks that we use to measure our progress during product development.
3. Be Agile
You don’t want to spend hours and hours figuring something out during the research process only to learn that you need to sink more time into it. Instead, we adopt the philosophy of the agile development methodology from software engineering.
In agile software development, you build the smallest possible functioning part, get feedback from users, and use that feedback in the next stage of development. Similarly, at each stopping point in the development process, we see what the product’s potential users have to say about it before moving on.
4. Iterate and Iterate Again
In many cases, you’ll discover that the solution initially suggested doesn’t quite solve the problem in the way you thought it would. When this happens, we’ll adopt an iterative process toward user research. It might take several passes, getting input from both users we’ve already polled and fresh faces, before your solution is satisfactory to all parties involved.
Do User Research Throughout the Development Cycle
When you hire a consultant to solve your problems, it can seem appealing to attack the solution straight away. But what we really need to do is work backwards: based on the day-to-day experiences of real users, what are the true problems that must be addressed or the goals that should be reached?
User research isn’t just a step to check off on your way to building a solution. It should be done throughout the development cycle, testing hypotheses and assumptions to give us the clearest picture of what your users need and what remains to be accomplished.
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