Sep. 9, 2019 | InBrief

How the user research process helps you make continuous improvements

Ever heard of a game called Glitch? This failed game became a multi-billion-dollar company and it’s thanks to user research.

How the user research process helps you make continuous improvements

Glitch was an MMORPG that was created by Tiny Speck (better known today as Slack Technologies). The company had raised over $16 million in funding and its first product was Glitch. After launch, the game quickly “unlaunched” due to a variety of technical issues. A little over one year later, the game was closed permanently due to limited audience appeal.

How did this failed game turn into a multi-billion-dollar company? The creators of Glitch realized that the best feature, the one that users consistently used and enjoyed, was the chat. Roughly eight months later, Tiny Speck launched Slack and the rest is history.

The lesson is that when you look at what users want and make continuous improvements to your digital product to serve that need, it leads to big wins. How can you incorporate this process into your digital product?

Continuous user research is a must

A digital product isn’t something that you create one time and then you’re done. It’s a continuously evolving system for helping the user solve a problem and fulfill a need. Why does it need to evolve?

Even though the core problem you solve may not change, the factors around it will. User expectations change every few months and this needs to be factored into your digital product. There are also changes to the market, new competition, advances in technology, and a host of other developments that should affect how you solve your user’s core problem.

Users care deeply about how well a digital product serves them. One study found that 97% of mobile app users defined ease of use as the most important quality for a mobile app. Statistics like this underscore the importance of continuous user research.

Fitting user research into your continuous improvement cycle

What is your North Star (guiding vision) as a product owner? Answering this question is critical to making user research part of your continuous improvement cycle. You need to focus on the problem you’re solving or the need you’re serving in order to continuously improve.

This North Star can be mapped out into an experience map that shows the different touchpoints for a customer. By laying this information out you can start to understand the nuance and emotion associated with each touchpoint. It then becomes easier to differentiate the product by ensuring it makes users feel the right thing.

With an experience map in place, you now know what you should be testing for and can start testing it with real users. This is a game changer for product owners since it allows them to make decisions based on real-world data. Having a user tell you what they like and don’t like is far more powerful than any guess or plan handed down from leadership.

What to look for in a user experience process

We don’t have a preference when it comes to the exact process product owners should follow. That said, there are a few factors that will help you define and follow an effective process.

  • Agree on how feedback from users will be evaluated and validated, and tie that process to an implementation cycle
  • Create a learning agenda and set a schedule for that agenda to follow (whether it’s sprints or a cycle of several weeks).
  • Define 3-5 results that would show that you’re making meaningful progress in the right direction.

When you follow a process that meets these requirements, you’ll be able to gather the right data from users. For example, we were working on a fitness solution that allowed for remote coaching. During our research process, one particular user went above and beyond to make time for her coaching session. She asked a family member to watch her child, coordinated schedules, and blocked 40 minutes out of her day. When we shared her story with the product team, we knew that we were on the right track and this kept us moving in the right direction.

Moving from now to next

Why does user research matter? At its heart, it has nothing to do with business outcomes and everything to do with serving the end user. When we view a digital product as an act of service, it elevates the importance of user research and changes the way we approach continuous improvements. This mindset is what moves organizations from now to next.

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