User Research

Are You Making The Right Thing? User Research and Risk Management

Years ago, I was interviewing for a research director position at a company in the medical field, that saw research trials as the last step before release of a product. And although a new leader was trying to evolve the culture it wasn’t easy. I was struck by something that this new leader asked me in the interview process: “How do you know you’re making the right thing?”

At first, I didn’t understand. After all, she was the head of the insights group; if she didn’t understand the powerful impact that contextual research has on setting strategy and product development, the team was in trouble. But on reflection, I realized that what she was doing was voicing the anxiety that so many people have when engaging with user research. How do you know that you’re right? How do you know the insights that you are arriving at are true and correct?

It’s actually an excellent, even fundamental question—one that must be answered in different ways depending on the project phase. And although understanding if you’re making the right thing doesn’t have one simple approach, the investigation always starts with the user.

We think of research at BeyondCurious in a simple, three-part framework: understand, create, and track & evolve. The techniques, methods, and deliverables in each phase are designed to answer “How do we know we’re making the right thing?” in a way that is uniquely suited to the phase at hand—from broad strategic vision to tactical implementation. Answering that question from the perspective of users in each these phases is a significant risk management activity. So, how does experience research manage risk in each of these three phases?

Understand Phase:

During this phase, we manage risk by making sure we’re getting the big picture right. The goal is to understand the experience at a broad and holistic level, and translate that understanding into experience models and principles that identify opportunities and drive concept development. By using the following techniques, we get at the big “why” understanding the larger context and identifying the big opportunities.

  • Secondary research (literature reviews, heuristic analyses, competitive analysis, academic theory scaffolding research)
  • Primary research with end users (Ethnographic techniques, Contextual observation, prototype testing, UX research, usability research)
  • Generative techniques (participatory design with end users, generative techniques with end users)
  • Analysis, theme identification
  • Modeling (experience models, customer journeys, etc.)

Using these techniques, we get at the big “why” understanding the larger context and identifying the big opportunities.

Create Phase:

During this phase we conduct Agile UX research to ensure we create the right experience for users. Unlike waterfall methodology, Agile UX is a rudder to the boat of design, constantly keeping the solution on course. We manage risk not only by involving users in design research, but by using hybrid quant/qual methods to measure the effect of differences in the user experience.

  • Hypothesize: Collaborative hypothesis generation with xStrat/xDesign
  • Test: In-context concept and prototype testing with users
  • Evaluate: Evidence-based experience principles and recommendations to improve experience that drive next round hypothesis generation

Because we test hypotheses with end-users throughout the create phase, there are no surprises when a product launches; we know exactly how users are going to react to the solution because they helped build it. Involving end users in this way is a magnificently effective way of managing risk.

Track & Evolve Phase:

We manage risk during this phase by making sure we take the product in the right direction going forward. Simply put, we evaluate the experience and evolve solutions. The goal is to take the product forward by understanding where it has been; to understand the experience in its context, and to dig deep into the data—both quantitative and qualitative–that can help us understand where it needs to go next. Techniques include:

  • Quantitative and qualitative surveys, heat mapping
  • Competitive and industry analysis
  • Usability testing to determine usability
  • Quantitative UX research
  • Qualitative research, including process flow analysis
  • Analytics to track progress

Thinking about contextual research as a risk management activity isn’t sexy. But it’s accurate. Because in our experience, products fail because the product manufacturer didn’t understand the end-user–what they’re willing to spend money on, what they’re willing to invest time in, what gives them a sense of joy, and what leaves them cold as a stone.

Using these techniques gives us a jumping off point to help organize and prioritize the product roadmap from both a strategic and tactical perspective. By taking the time to understand your end users and to build things for them that solve their pain, you not only manage risk, but you also give yourself the freedom to create things that you know your users will love, because you will know that you are making the right thing.

Subscribe for more insights.

Related Insights

What is Living Strategy, and Why Do You Need One?

  Carrie Yury  / 

What companies have done for decades is put together a strategy. This is their best guess for how to achieve their vision for where they want to go. They have done that at planning meetings once a year—built 3-5 year strategies, gone out and tried to execute to that strategy, then met up again at the end of the year to see how they performed against their goals, tweaking their approach if needed. This approach to strategy doesn’t work anymore. The world is moving way too fast to have a set-it-and-forget-it strategy.

Read more