When Should You Leverage User Research?

When user research is new to an organization, it’s tough to know when to leverage user research.

When leveraged correctly, user research can help make decisions easier and can deliver the right product updates to your users.

When leveraged incorrectly, user research can feel like looking for a needle in a haystack with no clear direction on where the haystack even is.

It takes time to develop a sense for when you should leverage user research while building your product, but once you do, you will find that there are a few common themes that allow you to identify when it’s necessary to get input from your users.

When you need to make a decision on what feature to build, what UX pattern is correct, or really anything that may come up while building a product, there will ultimately be many opinions you’ll need to take into consideration.

If you’re lucky, you’ll even have some analytics that help support one opinion or another.

However, often times product teams base a lot of their opinions off of historical understandings that have been accepted at your organization or by the preferences their stakeholders have.

In simple terms, most opinions are based off of your product team’s internal understanding.

This is why it’s hard to build a product for an end user that doesn’t work at your company. Because your opinions are formed internally at your organization while your user may use your product very differently and have different preferences that you could never know unless you were able to observe them using your product.

This is why when a product team needs to make a decision on what feature to build and why, user research is critical to understanding what direction the team should go in.

Without bringing your user into the conversation, what you’ll be deciding on will come down to who has the loudest opinion or the person with the highest title.

Neither of whom, may actually use your product the way your users do.

Maybe you aren’t making a specific decision right now. That’s fine, but that doesn’t mean that user research can’t help.

Before the team puts pen to paper or has written any code, there’s a lot that can be learned about your users to inform decisions that may happen down the road.

Very often, some of the most insightful findings are discovered by asking questions about how your users interact and see your product everyday. Questions that only your users will be able to give you the answers to.

Answering these questions don’t have to help you make an immediate choice on the direction of your product, however, they can help you gain a better understanding over time as you continue to ask questions about how your users behave.

Doing discovery research that helps you get ahead of the important questions surrounding the motivations and emotions users feel when using your product will help you make informed decisions in the long run.

By doing this, you are being proactive in learning about your users so you have research to lean on when these same questions arise down the road.

For products that have close competition, user research can be a good gateway into how users think about your competitor’s product and what you can do to build a better product than your competitor.

Just like like your product, users of other products have thoughts and feelings about how your competitor’s product is built and what they could be doing better.

This is tremendous insight that you can leverage to steer clear of your competitor’s mistakes or close any gaps in areas that a user may think your competitor does better than you.

Best of all, the users opinion is unbiased.

Of course you could go through your competitor’s product yourself, but if you don’t use it everyday, you won’t have the same insight into how well it meets the needs of the people who use it.

As a bonus, if your competitors don’t leverage user research, this can be a big advantage for you and will allow you to understand your competitor’s product better than they do.

When you build a product, unless you are always copying what someone else has built, you’ll need to deal with the unknown.

When you deal with the unknown, you’ll find that there are a lot of opportunities at your disposal.

How can you narrow down what to go after next?

User research is a good tool in your toolkit to prioritize what work you should tackle next. Doing this can present itself in two ways:

  1. Prioritizing the work you already know you want to do
  2. Discovering new work you didn’t know you users wanted you to do

By leveraging user research to help you prioritize your existing backlog as well as adding to it, not only will you be able to understand what the most impactful work is, but the users you gather input from will feel empowered that they were able to help you build the product.

When user research helps you figure out what to tackle next, it’s always a win-win for you and your users.

The research you will conduct is ultimately going to be determined by what your goals are.

One goal that is often overlooked is to simply gain empathy for your user.

How can you design and build a product when you can’t look at your product from their perspective?

Make sure you are always allocating time just to gain empathy with your users even if that’s the only goal you have. You would be surprised how much this helps you do great work on a daily basis.

There are many reasons to leverage user research and the above is a good list to start with.

When you’re not sure if user research can help, it usually can. Talk to your organization’s user research team to understand all of the tools they have in their toolkit and at what point you should loop them in to what you are building.

More often then not, they will be able to make your team’s life easier so that you can launch something your users truly find special.

Product Manager > Product Owner > User Researcher