How to combine product management and user research

productfernAugust 19, 2020

If you are a product owner, then one of the best things you can do is combine product management and user research. User research and user experience will provide extensive value to your product. Your product could be anything from an internal software product used by a handful of users, to a product out on the web used by thousands. It doesn’t matter – if your product has users then you will benefit from user research.

By listening and incorporating insights from user research, you will truly get to the heart of providing value. I’ve seen many products and met many product owner or product managers, those who listen and incorporate research are always the most successful.

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Why should you combine product management and user research?

User research focuses on truly understanding your users and gaining insight from them. It can be easy when working on a product for a long time to get blinkered from end users.

It is far too easy to become biased and think that your views are the right views.

Only by continually validating and challenging your views, will you know if they are correct. It’s so common for product managers to be surprised when the user research comes back totally opposite to what they were thinking.

Alongside that clear benefit, consider the following for why you should combine product management and user research:

  • User research allows you to test things which you might consider left field or a risk. It can be scary to include things which you aren’t sure about. User research allows you to test and validate things before you release them on a large scale.
  • User research brings your product to life for your whole team. Alongside all the insights you gain, being able to see and watch users really helps connect your whole team to your users. Get your devs, testers, BAs and everyone else in your team involved!
  • You will get back what you spend in the value it brings. It can sometimes be hard to justify additional budget for user research, but with a great team, you can quantify this. You will get the expense back in value added to your product. Not only this, but user research can help you build out a future budget / business case. By validating ideas and features, it is a quick and easy decision to give the budget you need.

Top 5 tips for combining product management and user research

#1 Utilise your user research team – if you don’t have one then get learning!

Your organisation may have some user research / experience resource. If they do, then get involved and see what you can use or work with them to test. User researchers may only be engaged on a certain type of product. If that is the case, then make sure you are prepared and can make the business case for why they should work with you.

If you don’t have any type of user research or UX team then that shouldn’t stop you! By doing some user research yourself or with your existing team, you can show the benefits quickly. There are so many excellent user research training courses or resources out there. Even by starting with some user interviews, or some wider surveys within your organisation, you can gain valuable insights quickly.

#2 Test as much as you can and have a strategy for managing it

Once you’ve got your hands on some user research, or you’re ready to do it yourself, then get testing!! Especially at the beginning of your research journey, you need to test as much as you can. Even if there are aspects of your product which have been around for awhile, or which you feel confident about, you should consider testing them.

Ideally you should test your key user journeys throughout the product. Once you have these validated then you can zoom in on testing for specific features.

The key to testing is to make sure that you know what you are going to do with these insights. These might go go straight to a designer, be used to tweak stories or to create a business case. At the beginning of your testing, define what you want out of it and how it will be managed.

#3 Balance out user needs and business needs

Testing is excellent, as argued by this whole article! But you must keep in mind the balance between user and business need. Even if many users come back and request a feature, if it costs more for you to deliver then you need to consider what to do.

There will likely be some key principles which your product or service needs to meet. Make sure you have these defined so that you can test your user insight against them. If any user need conflicts a business principle then it is an insight which you won’t use. That is okay! Keep those insights in a backlog and review them periodically, as the business evolves, some might become viable.

#4 Learn when to stop testing

Once you have tested as much as you can, it’s important to learn when to stop testing specific features. When you feel comfortable you have the right amount of data which can be tricky to determine, then pause on testing. Once it is out there and being used, you will be able to get feedback directly from users in other ways – such as through surveys or service desk tickets.

By prioritising your user research, you will be able to spend the right amount of time testing the things which matter.

#5 Leave time in every sprint for continual improvement

Now you’ve got into the habit of using user research, make sure you keep it as part of every sprint. When you are planning, make sure you leave time in every sprint to build something which comes from research. It can be tempting to put all of your time into building big, new features. But keep in mind small tweaks which come out of testing which can change a users perception of your product.

What next?

If you’re reading this then you’ve already taken the great first step to combine product management and user research. Keep reading, digging and thinking. Adding in user research will be one of the best things you’ve done to improve your product. And keep in mind, this isn’t true just for product manager – other roles such as business analysts or consultants can follow the same themes.

What do you think? How do you use user research?

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