CommonLounge Archive

User Research

December 30, 2017

Take a look around you. Every product that you see began with an idea or need. Many people think that product managers and executives sit in big conference rooms and come up with grand ideas, but that’s not the case.

Product managers don’t think of ideas. They collect ideas and needs from outside sources. Your job is to separate the good from bad, figure out why good ideas are worth building, and determine the right timing for development.

Where PMs get great ideas

First of all, your company will probably already have a big list of products or new features that they want to implement.

It’s great to have a list, since you want a backlog of ideas to draw from in the future.

There are four main sources of ideas for a PM:

  • Employees: Your managers and coworkers will have their own ideas for products
  • Metrics: You’ll often pick up problems or points for improvement from the data
  • Users: Users give helpful feedback through social media, emails, and surveys
  • Clients: Your clients (the ones who pay you for the service) may not be your users. For B2B products, one decision-maker may purchase the software (the client) for an unrelated team to use it in their work (the users)

Internal PMs will get most of their input from stakeholders.

B2C PMs will get input from users, metrics, and coworkers.

B2B PMs will get input from employees and clients.

Uncovering core pain points

After getting a new idea from a manager, don’t rush into building it right away. It’s important to find out if the user really has the problem you’re trying to solve.

To do this, you’ll need to uncover their pain points and needs by talking to them. The wrong way is to simply ask, “What do you want?” Or worse yet, “Do you want this feature?”

Let’s imagine that your friend comes to you with an itchy rash on their arm, asking for an anti-itch cream. If you give them the cream, will that solve the problem?

Not entirely. After asking them a few simple questions, you discover that they have a weed growing in their front yard that gives them an itchy rash every time they leave the house. In order to solve the real problem, you need to remove the weed.

Many products or features look good, but they only fix the symptoms of a problem—not the root cause. Whenever you receive a feature request or new idea, ask yourself: “Is this solving the real problem?”

And another important question: “Can this have unintended side effects?”

A popular feature request for Twitter is an option to remove all Retweets from your feed. This makes sense because some people want to see 100% original content—not a ton of Retweets that fill up their feed with the same information.

However, Twitter’s core value is in its ability to show what’s popular right now. Without Retweets, Twitter would have no way to know what people like and agree with. At the same time, users wouldn’t be able to use Twitter to find the latest trends.

That’s why it’s important to ask: “What’s behind this request?”

A simple way to find the real reason behind an idea or request is to keep asking “Why?” Each time you ask, you’ll uncover a deeper layer of the person’s needs. Asking at least 3 times should get you pretty far.

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