Everything you need to know about user research

Product Management
July 21, 2022
18 min read
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User research looks at how people use a product or tool by using data-driven methods to determine what they want, need, and why.

The methods used in user research include both quantitative such as surveys or multivariate testing and qualitative such as focus groups or interviews.

In this challenging environment, many young Product Managers (and often Senior Product Managers) sometimes give up on user research or just expect another team to pick up the slack and run with it.

Don't worry if you don't understand the significance of conducting user research. Here, we're going to go over what UX research is and why it's so crucial.

To help you get started, we'll show you how to organise your user research and introduce you to some of the most common user research methods. 

This blog post about user research in product management is broken up into sections to help you understand it better. 

What is User Research? 

User research in a layman language is gaining a more in-depth understanding of your consumers, including their needs, their reasons for using your product, and the way they are using it. 

It provides  Product Managers with a better understanding of whom the product is intended for and the reasons why it is valuable. 

Why is User Research so valuable for businesses?

Companies should prioritise user experience because it focuses on satisfying the requirements of its customers.  It aims to keep customers devoted to the product or brand it is promoting by providing them with exceptional experiences. 

In addition, having a meaningful user experience enables Product Managers to create customer journeys on the company's products that are most beneficial to the business's success. 

As a result, there are several other reasons why user research is necessary and valuable for business success. 

1. Focuses on resources

User research enables teams to more effectively prioritise their work via focusing on the resources to increase the product's overall value. It helps guarantee that Product Managers are focusing on the relevant problem(s) to solve and increases the product's compatibility with the market.

2. Avoids redevelopment

The idea that research takes an excessive amount of time is a prevalent criticism. However, research frequently results in time savings because it enables teams to construct things right the very first time.

3. Reduces costs associated with deployment

User research is a useful tool for mitigating risk in projects and rollouts. Research conducted during the development process may ensure that the product truly satisfies the demands of users and is valuable, which will improve the likelihood that it will be adopted. This is preferable to producing something in a vacuum for a number of months. 

What are the objectives of User Research for Product Managers?

The user research phase of the product development life cycle is the single most important stage of the process. It's the single most critical link that helps product managers empathise with their users and their wants and demands. 

User research can assist product managers in the following ways:

  • Determine the needs and requirements of the user
  • Determine whether or not your hypothesis about your idea or product is correct. 
  • Use iterative processes to guide the improvement of your product.

Here are some more objectives of user research that Product Managers should know of: 

1. Make better decisions

This advantage needs no more explanation. Having a pipeline of user research insights integrated into your roadmap as additional input for your prioritisation process will help you make smarter choices (in addition to metrics, intuition, strategic direction, the competitive landscape, and other factors). 

This does not guarantee that you will always make the best choices, but it does ensure that logic informs your choices, and it makes it much simpler to justify those choices to teams and investors.

2. Discover prospective prospects

Through research, one can acquire new knowledge and become aware of prospective prospects for the development of new features and opportunities for the enhancement of existing ones.

It's possible that your pricing structure doesn't make any sense or that particular features are too difficult to understand for most of your customers.

When combined with research, the possibilities are virtually limitless.

3. Improve your understanding of your users and customers

You probably make it a point, as a product manager, to keep your Voice of the Customer programme in mind at all times so that you may come to more informed judgments. Research conducted on an ongoing basis makes it possible to maintain this at all times.

Your capability to provide feedback on the user experience (UX), text, and any other aspect of the experience that interacts with the user or customer will improve.

4. Identify attractive test possibilities

Continuous user research is suitable for identifying attractive chances for A/B testing and being ideal for identifying feature opportunities for the product.

As can be seen, conducting user research confers several significant benefits to your product plan.

Benefits of user research for product managers

How User Research helps different functions in the product team?

Anything in management seems worthless unless there is a solid understanding of what the end-user sees, feels, and experiences. Even though it is the first phase that no team should overlook, user research depends on the work, design, and development process with in-depth user research for a reason for executing it.

The product team will likely work alongside product managers, designers, and developers. It is critical to cultivate these ties and collaborate with a team to build a mature user research organisation. The lack of support from these team members makes integrating user research within the company extremely difficult.

Treating these teams like you would users while working with them is beneficial. You want your product to be easy for people to understand, readily available, and pertinent to their needs. To establish a successful working partnership, you must engage early and frequently to ensure that research is prioritised, insights are heard, and decisions are taken. 

When  a Product Manager's aims are aligned, they can form partnerships that benefit the entire team. By being aware of the areas in which all product team members can benefit.

Here,  a Product Manager ensures that he will do the most crucial user research to aid these teams in making quick decisions.

This mutually beneficial collaboration can help steer the product in the right direction while supporting the product manager in doing the most impactful research possible. 

In what ways can Product Managers  benefit from user research?

User research can assist Product Managers in their day-to-day work in a few different ways, including the following:

  • Create a research roadmap that is congruent with the one they have in the works.
  • Allow for the quick request of research through the use of simple ways such as an intake form.
  • Bring relevant research to light by creating research summaries or establishing a freely accessible research repository.
  • Create deliverables (such as personas, journey maps, and reports) to aid product managers in making more informed decisions about what to focus on next. 

How can user research benefit product designers?

It is important for the product designer and the user researcher to work together. When proper user research is done before the product design is put into action. Along with working together closely, this helps product designers make the user experience better. 

Below are some of the point explaining how user research benefits product designers in precise:

  • Increase product client satisfaction.
  • Improve the product's usability by increasing efficiency and effectiveness on the user's primary tasks and goals.
  • Reduce the number of reported problems and support tickets related to the experience

How can user research benefit product developers?

With the help of in-depth user research the product developers are able to make user-centric decisions. Understanding the product developers' goals and making insights work well to develop a product that is good for the end-users.

Some of the benefits user research generally offers to the product developers are discussed here:

  • Able to create something valuable and pleasant for customers.
  • Reduce the number of errors and issues encountered by consumers 
  • Help deliver new feature updates or new products on time 
  • Constantly improving the current product

What contributions can Product Managers, Product Designers, and Product Developers make with user research?

Working closely with the entire product team including the product managers, designers, and developers improves the user experience and lays the groundwork for future growth in user research. Product team alignment is critical to product success.

Product Managers can conduct interviews to learn about significant consumer issues and how to solve them in a way that corresponds with corporate goals.

To build a frictionless user experience, Product Designers do user research to study and learn from user behaviour. Product Designers, for example, might utilise quantitative tools such as heatmaps and session recordings to identify roadblocks or pain points in the user journey and determine which UI elements should be modified or polished to better the user and customer experience.

When the product team collaborates, they create a terrific solution that addresses the customer's most pressing needs while providing an exceptional user experience. Finally, all user research contributes to one common goal: creating a fantastic product that solves a problem for your customers. 

User research has major benefits that help the product team leverage optimal results out of it.

Types of User Research

User research in product management should foster a user-centric design and thinking culture, informing everything from the product to marketing campaigns, brand design, and social media.

Different user research types assist teams in acquiring insights for each position.

Let's examine some popular types. 

1. User interviews

User interviews are a well-known kind of research that enables you to collect information by talking with the people who will be using your product. User interviews consist primarily of conducting a few questions on a particular subject and analysing the responses participants provide to those topics. 

The quality of the questions you formulate and your ability to follow up on the responses provided by participants will determine the accuracy of the results you obtain. As researchers, the PM must highlight consumers' daily issues.

Users should be allowed to talk freely while they are telling an incident. "Incident narration can reveal concealed user behaviour facts"

  • Set the scene. Don't begin queries with your product.
  • Ask about user tasks
  • Analyse: Share your team's transcripts.

Because research is a team sport, it is essential to establish the objectives and presumptions that are unique to your organisation. "Our views about our users' behaviour help structure effective inquiries and get to the source of the problem and its solution," the researcher said. "Our beliefs about our users' behaviour"

Tips for formulating more compelling questions for user research:

  • Never request user opinions. People will say "Yes" to "Will you use this feature in the future?" to make you feel good. Options may change after the feature's release.
  • Know user behaviour. How did you solve a similar challenge in the past? Observe people's behaviour by asking to see their process.
  • "Why" reveals needs. Asking "why" after a statement can help you understand something.
  • Maintain objectivity. Don't answer questions with your opinion. Pain points are a common trap. If the person doesn't have any pain issues, this query will introduce prejudices and make them look for some.
  • Use open-ended inquiries. Ask Yes/No questions sparingly. Closed-ended inquiries don't provide many insights or explain answers.

2. Usability testing

Users execute tasks as a researcher watches and makes notes during usability testing.

3 reasons to conduct usability test

You can use moderated, unmoderated, qualitative, or quantitative usability testing. Your strategy will rely on your research's objective, resources, and time.

Usability testing assesses if your design is intuitive and usable. Your product should help people perform actions.

A researcher observes and notes during a moderated usability test. Qualitative and quantitative data can indicate usability concerns.

Early and frequent usability testing informs design decisions. Consider these criteria before conducting usability testing:

  • Before you start designing
  • Once you have a wireframe or prototype
  • Before the launch of the product
  • At regular intervals after launch

When planning usability test activities, be realistic and provide a scenario.

For instance: Your new account tracks product signups. Create a dashboard project for this.

Encourage users to interact with your design by using action verbs like "create," "sign up," "buy," "subscribe," and "download." Be careful when using leading language like "click here" or "go to that page" These instructions bias the findings by helping users complete their assignments, which isn't realistic.

3. Card sorting

Participants sort topic cards into meaningful groups in card sorting for user experience research. This research is vital to creating a user-friendly information architecture (IA).

What is card sorting?

You can sort index cards or use a digital tool. During a card sorting exercise, participants are given cards and told to sort them into categories.

Open, closed, and hybrid card sorting exist.

An open card sorting session produces new concepts and category names as participants sort.

Open card sorting process for product managers

In closed card sorting, you give participants a set of predetermined category selections and ask them to arrange the objects.

Closed card sorting process for product managers

A hybrid card sort allows participants to sort cards into categories supplied by a researcher and define their categories.

Hybrid card sorting process for product managers

4. A/B testing

A/B testing is simple. You start by identifying a problematic component (for example, a page with a high form abandonment rate). You study and analyse to build a hypothesis, and finally, you publish a page variant with a revised component to test. 

And: Having more individuals watch the A/B test will improve the outcomes. 

Example of A/B testing for product managers

Pinterest continuously conducts A/B tests. 

Chunyan Wang, a software developer at the company, says, "We always have hundreds of A/B trials running in the background as we launch new products and improve user experience." 

We expanded the methodology so we could perform trials and make data-driven decisions quickly. 

When outlining goals for their testing framework, the company said it should be "Scalable to process and store a vast amount of data created by a growing number of trials, users, and metrics to measure." A framework requirement.

How can Product Managers do User Research?

User research is grounded in observation, comprehension, and analysis. 

User research process for product managers

Product Managers will be able to do the following with the assistance of a variety of user research methods:

  • Pay attention to your customers and look for non-verbal cues that can give you an idea of how they are feeling;
  • Gain an understanding of the user's mental model by asking yourself what the user anticipates will happen when using a specific product. How do they anticipate that this particular product will function, given the history that they have had with similar items?
  • Analyse the information you've acquired and make an effort to recognise patterns and trends. 
  • In the end, the decisions the product managers make regarding the product and how it is developed will be influenced by these insights.

How to set-up a User Research framework for your team?

First, define your framework's purpose. What's the goal? Knowing why you're designing a framework will help you do it well.

Prioritise your goals to answer this question. Then rate each goal's importance for accomplishing your overarching aim.

After scoring all objectives, construct a user research framework. Put high-priority issues first and low-priorities last.

What tools will help attain these goals? Want feedback on your product's features? Usability tests provide more concentrated data than market analysis surveys. Do any practical frameworks or models exist? You may find it beneficial to look at other firms' frameworks.

List what each user group needs (demographic, behaviour/interest). Research sessions must use relevant data.

Otherwise, it may distract participants or pose time constraints during testing. Not everyone has the skills or expertise to answer questions appropriately.

Once found, the list required information under "what," "how much," and "when."

Examples: How often does X get used? Weekly? When do they meet? Why do they use this feature? When was it last used?

Tracking user emotions is key. Emotions capture how users feel about the product and design.

Another crucial factor is user-friendliness. Usability testing measures this. 

User convenience is based on characteristics like:

  • How easy is navigation?
  • How easy-to-understand UI.
  • Time is the final factor.

This can be done by usability testing or simply observing and learning what they use, why, etc.

Utilise user research benefits to enhance your product

User research frameworks are vital.

  • First, it helps you reach your audience effectively.
  • Second, it ensures easy comprehension. So they won't be overwhelmed by information.
  • Third, a solid framework will let you deliver these messages effectively and without ambiguity.

User research framework helps you understand user wants and needs. Say you were building a new product and wanted to see what users liked best.

You can determine which features they'll utilise and how with a user research framework.

You may then compile this information into an easy-to-read report or design document.

Creating a user research framework is also important for a business's success because it helps users feel safe and secure when utilising apps or websites.

Imagine someone created a website where users may download and post material. They'd need to know what people desire on such a site and which features they'd find beneficial for personal use.

Without a user research methodology, no one can determine if the product turned out well. Users may feel excluded and confused without knowing why.

By taking time every day to establish your user research framework – whether after work or in your personal time – you'll have enough information about how other people prefer utilising different platforms and designs to your advantage when developing the product yourself.

User research frameworks are great tools, but they're only as valuable as the data and insights you provide. Take your time, do thorough research and analysis, and keep users in mind.

This framework helps people attain their goals. Following explicit directions is faster than doing random things on their own. Based on scientific best practices verified by hundreds of other users with similar projects.

When should User Research be included?

User research is the first step in the product design cycle. So, you will waste all your team's time, money, and effort if no one uses your product. User research should precede the user research approach to eliminate unnecessary design assumptions. 

It helps you locate the proper people to drive your product ahead, make adjustments, and iterate on its design.

Skipping user research due to time constraints or other reasons might hurt companies. Can you design a product without knowing what problem it solves?

Most products fail because corporations lack user research. They started with a feature list or idea but didn't consider user difficulties.

Here are several reasons to conduct user research early in your product's lifespan. 

  • Allows you to construct user-friendly, efficient designs that reduce errors.
  • Easy-to-use products reduce the learning curve. 
  • Helps you understand the ROI for user design, identifies early adopters, validates your assumptions, and learns about rivals' products.

How to do User Research without users?

User research reveals the user's wants, emotions, feelings, and challenges. User research helps develop a product that meets the target audience's needs. What if you can't contact users? 

How can user research be done without direct user access? This section answers these questions. 

Begin…

Users may be unavailable owing to time limits or reluctance. Unable to communicate with users is a problem we'll all face. This sounds odd, but it's true. What shall we do?

Well, be flexible and adapt. There are ways to acquire user knowledge even without direct access.

1. Call on the reviews section

When you can't connect with users, read the reviews. Product reviews give you true information about the product you need to focus on.

Positive or negative customer feedback might improve a product's features and operation. It's crucial to consider your users' feelings and difficulties. 

Start with these questions:

  • Missing features?
  • Confused by the UI?
  • Product performance difficulties rendering it unusable?
  • Should we make a secret feature that was added as an afterthought more prominent?
  • Is the product user-friendly? Need the first-open tutorial?

2. Analyse data

Analytics data can help you understand users. Google Analytics tracks most website visitors and can help transform a business. 

An image showing visitor data in Google Analytics

You're one clicking away from user insights if you're already set up. Use this setup to answer the following questions.

  • Which parts are popular?
  • Do users find what they need?
  • Do mobile and desktop users differ?
  • Contact front-line staff

Speaking with front-line employees can assist you in learning about specific user difficulties. Front-line employees have the finest grasp of clients because they interact with them daily. They stay in touch with people to understand customer pain points.

Even if your help centres receive unfavourable feedback (the aim is to listen to user problems), the data is still valuable.

  • Ecommerce websites have customer service for issues.
  • Workers communicate IT complaints and help requests.
  • Intranets: Stuck employees email HR for help.

3. Trend-reporting industries

It's a good way to start user research without actual users. Industry reports show how digital items operate in the tech industry. Modern industry forums are a good way to get internet-based information. Most quality online reports are expensive. You can readily find free resources online.

Quora is a fantastic destination for quality crowdsourced responses. Quora includes daily and specific scenarios and lets you target specific industries, firms, and niches. The knowledge can be used to improve or create new concepts. It's a great tool for getting qualitative feedback.

4. Looking over the rival

Improve your user research by studying your competition. This exercise is not to examine the implementation but to identify what customer demands competitors address. Users may not have the same issues. Keeping an eye on your competition can provide new ideas for user research interviews.

It can also help product managers decide what to avoid doing and implementing. Don't compare your items' functionality to your competitors' and imitate their features.

The Final Takeaway!

Even without a formal user-research phase, you can analyse existing research and other studies to make predictions about your users. 

Reading relevant research helps. Make it clear to stakeholders that back-end work is needed. It's unlikely you'll create exceptional designs when you design on the fly without user research.

User research is as important as establishing your product's visual identity and interactions if you want to produce a great user experience. Zeda.io is on a mission to make the product management simpler and smarter. So, if you want to make your product look smarter, try managing it via our management tools. 

User research isn't always prioritised. User research is crucial to identifying problems and gathering the data needed to design perfect solutions. Still, it can be challenging to convince clients to include it in the Scope of Work. When a team is pressed for time or money, it's the first task.

It's a shame that the software business doesn't see how user research can help solve product design problems. User research is required and ensures seamless, valuable user experiences or product failure.

So, collect → analyse → plan → execute – under a single platform, i.e. Zeda.io.

Jacob Koshy
Product Marketer at Zeda.io
A marketer in love with SaaS products. When away from work, I'm either spending time with my cats or adding miles on my motorcycle.
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