The more you understand your customer, the more successful you’ll be as a Product Manager. To help you understand your users, Samantha Stevens has created a DIY guide for user research.
A lot of PMs say that they are user driven but in fact, they simply have a roadmap of features that consumers have requested. In a B2B atmosphere, solely being driven by user requests can work. However, in the consumer marketplace, this is not really the case. This idea can be exemplified by a Henry Ford quote:
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said: faster horses.”
Our job as Product Managers is not to be user-driven, but instead, user informed. The more we can understand the challenges and problems the users face, the more successful we will be as Product Managers.
A core tenet we should follow is that good products solve problems.
Before jumping into too many details, let’s talk about the more formal user research. Larger companies can hire an outside research agency or may even have an internal team dedicated to user research. Formal research is not for everyone. Let’s explore the pros and cons:
✓ Pros of Formal Research:
- Scientific: You’ll be in a controlled environment.
- Unbiased: The moderator or researcher is separated from the product and holds an objective viewpoint.
- Observable: Someone else is doing the work, so you can simply observe and understand.
- Recorded & Reported: You can always go back and look at the data and have thorough insights.
✗ Cons of Formal Research:
- Expensive: Working with an agency can cost tens or hundreds of thousands
- Time-consuming: You have to onboard the team, explain in detail the goals, find participants, and actually run the study. This could take several months to complete
- Selection Bias: If you’re offering rewards for the participation, this may skew the type of participants that apply to the study.
There are great benefits to working at a company that has the resources to do formal user research, but what if you’re in a smaller company? What if you just want to understand how to do it yourself?
All you have to do is learn how to read minds. It only takes a few steps to understand how to read minds and be user informed.
Mind Reading for Product Managers
One thing we first have to address in order to be able to read user minds is… BIAS. Bias is the largest drawback when it comes to DIY user research. We are humans, we are PMs, and we are passionate about our products. It’s very easy for emotion to slide into the equation.
Here are a couple steps to handle bias:
- Step 1: Acknowledge there will be bias.
- Step 2: Understand what kind of bias to watch out for.
- Step 3: Be cognizant. Acknowledge the bias, know the types, and, as you’re doing your research, try as hard as possible to mitigate these biases.
So, now that you can prepare for bias, let’s get telepathic and read some user minds. The first thing you need to do, and the hardest part of user research, is to captivate your subject. You have to find people to talk to, not people who were recruited for a study, but people who will actually have a stake in your product.
Samantha’s advice for finding users to talk to is to figure out where your target consumers spend their time. With a bit of confidence and a bit of incentive, go up to people and ask if you can chat with them for a few minutes. A couple of things to help you out in this process are:
- People are generally nice. If you express genuine interest, they are usually happy to share their time with you
- People love to talk about themselves. Give the user a stage and they will present for you
So, where can you go to find these users that you can have a casual conversation with? Well, you want to make sure that where you go resonates with the product or problem you are trying to solve. Here are a few examples:
- If you’re building a product for pet owners, go to a dog park and bring some treats.
- If you’re trying to solve a problem for senior citizens, go to a retirement home and bring scrabble.
- If you’re working an on a makeup line, go to Sephora and subtly ask shoppers about their favorite moisturizers (until you get kicked out by employees).
Samantha and Tinder users in a bar – (User Research).
As previously mentioned, it’s important to consider selection bias when choosing our subjects to question. You wouldn’t show up to Brazil and question only English speakers, as they don’t represent the target you’re looking to study.
When you think about where to go, you need to make sure it’s where your target audience hangs out. If you wanted to understand the lives of young working professionals, you wouldn’t go to the beach at noon on a Tuesday.
The second bias we need to understand is procedural bias. If people feel rushed when they’re talking to you, or you feel rushed, the results will not reflect what is truly the case. Make sure you talk when both of you have time.
The third is interview bias. Once again, we are human, emotional, and passionate. We have to be cognizant of letting those biases not seep into the way we talk to people or record data.
Leading the witness is when you are trying to get the user to go in a certain direction, sometimes, it subconsciously happens. This is why you have to be aware and make sure you aren’t adding in an interviewer bias of personal preference.
Lastly, there is measurement bias. People will do a lot to be seen as socially acceptable. They tend to not want to seem controversial or say things that are embarrassing. This is quite difficult at Tinder because your dating life is usually embarrassing. This is why Tinder have to work to create a safe environment for people to talk in.
The next step to becoming an effective researcher is to clear your mind. You have to get rid of all your preconceived notions of your target audience.
Here are some truth pills that may be difficult to swallow:
- You are not necessarily the target consumer.
- You do not understand everything about your customers.
- Your solution is not perfect.
- You may have misidentified the problem or pain-point.
- You may not understand the market.
- Your market may not be as big as you think.
As PMs, it’s our job to truly know our customers and to truly be able to explain everything about their lives. However, we also have to know that we don’t know everything about the customer.
A way to deal with these truth pills is by keeping a growth mindset. You are indeed the expert because you are the most invested in them, but, you are always learning and always open to new information. This growth mindset is a great way to keep your mind clear and open.
Channeling Your Intuition
Next in our mind-reading guide is channeling your intuition. This is where you talk a little bit about what to talk to users about. Of course, it is totally dependent on what topic or area of research, however, there are certain things you want to learn in light of your company or product.
Once again, good products solve problems. We don’t want the user to tell us what they want, we want to be user informed and be able to build the solutions for users through understanding their lives and their problems.
Here are some guiding questions that can help you when you’re preparing your questions:
- What are they not telling you?
- What are their fears and motivations?
- What are their frustrations?
- What are their goals?
- What does their day-to-day look like?
- What/who are their influences?
Lastly, you need to meditate on what you’ve learned. After you’ve conducted research, found where your users go, found out what you need to talk to them about, and to conduct really good interviews, you have to meditate.
As you’re meditating, you’re thinking about all the information you’ve learned so you can share it with your team. However, once again, there are two very important biases to remember when meditating on the data received:
- Confirmation Bias: You’re looking back at your notes, videos, and audio and you realized you learned everything that you had hoped to hear. If this is the case, you might have let a little bias slip in. Make sure you are objective in both the research and the analysis. Not everything should be positive. You’ll benefit a lot more from the negative points.
- Reporting Bias: This can be really dangerous. You don’t want to send only the “rainbows and butterflies” to upper management. You have to be honest and share both the positives and negatives or your report will be interpreted as bogus for being too good and will most likely undermine what you are really trying to accomplish.
Now you have found users to speak to who represent your target audience. You have spoken to them in an objective way and not guided their answers.
- You’ve made sure that when you are talking to people they are comfortable and felt that they could be open.
- You cleared your mind of assumptions and really went into talking to people with an open mind and an open heart.
- You asked people questions about their lives, not just about the specific things that you’re trying to learn but to really uncover what their problems are and what their lives are really like.
- You’ve written an objective report knowing that you are human and passionate. You’ve kept that passion in mind and mitigated for all the biases that may arise.
Meet The #ProductCon Speaker:
Current Tinder Director of Location Products Samantha Stevens has a long experience in the product arena. She was Director of Product Growth at Tinder and Senior PM at AMEX. This background has helped to master her product skills during the last 4 years. She was a speaker in the 2018 edition of #ProductCon Los Angeles. You can watch the full ‘Product Psychology’ talk here.