Talking to Users

13.02.2016 |

Episode #3 of the course Intro to Product Management by Ellen Chisa


One effective way to get a foothold in the “design” sphere of Product Management is by talking to users. The techniques underlying design come from liberal arts disciplines: ethnography and anthropology. “Users” is just a word to summarize anyone who is using your product and adds some clarity. Some Product Managers use “people” internally as a more human term.

In starting to research your users, you want to get a sense of what they’re doing now, why they’re doing it, what their pain points are, and how your product could possibly address them.

A good place to start is open-ended questions. This is easiest if you have a consumer-facing product and can practice in day-to-day life. If you’re working on travel, for instance, it’s easy to say, “What’s your next vacation?” If you’re working on a product like Highbrow, you can say, “What are you hoping to learn next?” or “What’s the most interesting thing you learned recently?”

When having these conversations, try to avoid directing the user. The worst types of questions to ask are closed-ended or leading questions—“How much would you pay for this?” “Would you use X?”

A good rule of thumb is that after about 10 conversations, you’ll start to see common themes come up. Those are likely the biggest areas to focus on as a Product Manager. It might even start to happen after as few as six conversations.

It’s easy to do this if you’re at the very beginning of a product’s development and aren’t committed to anything yet. That might lead you to an insight like “people are interested in learning in small chunks, rather than investing in a giant class,” which would foster a product like Highbrow. It’s more challenging if you’re already working with an established product and are trying to add new features. In this case, the research can still be valuable to get up to speed and start to build underlying intuition and empathy with your users.


Recommended books

“Inspired: How To Create Products Customers Love” by Marty Cagan

“Just Enough Research” by Erika Hall


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