How User Insights Can Fuel Innovation for Product Teams

Editor’s note: The following is a guest post by Britta Schell. If you’re interested in writing a piece for us, contact gaby@productschool.com

As a professional user researcher, I’ve seen firsthand how deep understanding of users can unlock real innovation that drives growth, engagement, and strong user relationships.

For product and cross-functional teams tasked with innovating, it can be extremely challenging to consistently generate and execute great new ideas that drive growth and loyalty.

I’m here to tell you there’s another way: When you put your users at the center of your product and process, magic happens. Here’s how:

Insights empower solutions-creation and reduce guessing

When teams deeply understand users as individuals, with real needs, challenges, and a whole life and world outside of their product, teams can think holistically about how to superserve their userbase. Instead of getting stuck in the weeds, teams empowered with user empathy think bigger to develop solutions to real problems they know their users are up against. 

After a client and I wrapped a big research project together, I asked her what she thinks the biggest benefit is to really investing in user insights. She told me: “There’s no need for us to guess what might help or delight our users when we’ve walked in their shoes, and understand them inside and out.”

team working

Insights ensure true innovations that solve real problems

“Britta, we’re so pumped about this new feature we’re launching. It’s going to be awesome,” my new client told me. When I asked about its user benefit or problem it solved for the user, the team had no answer. They simply thought it was really cool (I did too, for the record). 

I could tell the team didn’t know the dangers of making assumptions about their users: wasted resources, poor adoption rates, and even serious user churn. One of the biggest benefits I’ve seen to teams well-informed by user insights is how aligned their prototyping and new feature development is with what their users really want and need – and how awesome these teams’ key metrics are.

A common set of truths unites teams, boosting collaboration and decreasing friction

Have you ever been in a meeting where it felt like everyone on your team was speaking a different language? If you haven’t, please email brittaschell@gmail.com and tell me your secret ASAP. Diverse teams are awesome, but it’s important that everyone is aligned around a set of truths to collaborate well. 

When teams unite around deep understanding of their user, it serves as scaffolding for greatness: It’s easier to work together, especially cross-functionally. Friction is reduced because the team agrees how to evaluate if ideas are right for their users. Team trust is boosted thanks to being united on what matters to the user.

People talking

User insights keep teams honest and focused, reducing subjectivity and bias

“Opinions are like belly buttons: everyone has one,” I said. The room went quiet. Then one of my clients burst out laughing. “It’s true!” I said, “It’s cool that you like the purple colorway, but as much as I love you, your opinion doesn’t matter.” This kind of real talk was what it took for me to remind my clients that in order to make their product great, they needed to put aside their own feelings, and go back to our insights about the user to make a call.

Teams that make decisions without the word “I” in the conversation are destined for greatness. When teams hold each other accountable to justify their ideas and reasoning in terms of how it serves their users and matches what we know about their needs, they’re on the way to building products people love – and love to share, driving organic growth.

Insights provide teams with the confidence to walk away from great ideas that just aren’t a fit for their product or users

Just because an idea’s objectively great, doesn’t mean it’s great for your users. In brainstorms, I’m all for thinking big. But I’m also very keen to whittle down lists of ideas to only those that solve problems or provide amazing benefits for users.

When teams know their users holistically, it’s easy to pare apart which great ideas on the board are perfect for their users, and which great ideas to say no to. Objective evaluation, based on user insights, takes all of the emotion, friction and noise out of this process and isolates the ideas that will drive growth and loyalty.

Working at the whiteboard

Feeling motivated? Here are my best practices to keep your users at the center for teams brainstorming and developing ideas:

  1. Truly put your users at the center of it all, all the time: Make your product’s user persona visual, post it prominently in all meeting rooms, and encourage everyone on your team to post at their desk.
  2. In meetings, encourage all team members to talk about and frame ideas, questions and feedback in terms of your users. Instead of “I like ___”, “We know that users like ____”
  3. Make your users the tie-breaker. If there’s disagreement about how to proceed, work together to identify what the user would choose, and move forward. (Caveat: for bigger decisions, this of course needs to be balanced with business goals, strategy, etc).
  4. Frame brainstorms around solving specific user needs, and avoid getting in the weeds at first – think big. It’s motivating to know that you’re truly helping others – this is the energy and focus that leads teams to great innovation.
  5. Identify your blind spots about your users, and make a plan to invest in research – internally or with a pro researcher like me. Guessing about important user insights never ends well. Remember, bad data = bad decisions.

About the Author

Britta Schell

Britta Schell is founder of Britta Schell Consulting, which helps products and experiences become must-have brands through deep user understanding. 

As a strategic market research and consumer insights practitioner, she helps small and midsize companies harness the power of their users to unlock growth, innovation, and loyalty. She’s worked with startups to big brands like Facebook, Google, and Disney.

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