Feb. 3, 2023 | Product Management

How the user research process helps you continuously improve

How the user research process helps you continuously improve

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

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

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

The lesson here? When you look at what users want and make continuous improvements to your digital product to serve that need, it leads to big wins. Slack is one of the many examples of businesses listening to their customers. 

How can you incorporate this process into your digital product? 

Continuous user research in an ever-changing landscape is a must 

A digital product isn’t simply created one time and then finished. It’s a continuously evolving system for helping the user solve a problem and fulfill a need. 

Even though the core problem you solve may not change, the factors around it will. User expectations are constantly changing and must 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 will 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 

As a product owner, what is your North Star? Continuous improvement happens when organizations focus on the problem you’re solving for or the need you’re serving. 

This North Star can be mapped out into an experience map that shows a customer’s different touchpoints. You can then begin to understand the nuance and emotion associated with each touchpoint. That makes it easier to differentiate the product by ensuring users feel the right emotion. 

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 because 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 

All processes are different—and product owners will find that certain choices work better for them than others. That said, there are a few factors that will help you define what that is and follow it: 

  • 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 it 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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