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User Research for Busy People

Watch Alex Cowan to learn about user research for busy people.
We’ve talked about how important these understandings are. Of who our persona is? What makes them tick? What do they care about? And how do we know what they want to do? We’ve talked about how you only can get at those things by talking to users, talking to customers, doing quote unquote research. Now, you yourself and probably your manager is going to think, God, we don’t have time for, we’re busy, we’re trying to make dates and get things done and we don’t have time for research and things like that, and they probably think that. They probably think that because they’re under a lot pressure.
They probably had a lot of research done that wasn’t very good because it didn’t have a nice specific purpose, it didn’t fit in with the overall picture of what you were trying to do. And you’re going to find this, it’s natural. If you are having this problem, you’re having the problem that everyone else has. And yet, it’s really important because as we talked about one of our biggest issues in software development isn’t that we’re not building enough software, but it’s that so many pieces of software we build, features, product, enterprise software, implementations, IT projects, so many of them miss the mark with the users so we might as well not have built it in the first place.
And that’s not an outcome that we want here. Now, I’m not just going to tell you this and have you copy this down and convince your boss, that obviously wouldn’t work. But what we’re going to do over the course of the balance of this module here, is give you practice.
The more fluent you are in doing these things, the easier they will be for you to do on a small batch basis even if you don’t have a formal period of time allocated to research, they will become a natural part of your every day activities and you do not need to pause, and stop, and go do this to get the benefits of Agile and the benefits of all the related techniques we’re integrating into Agile here. Do the best you can as you go along, keep an eye on all of these things, but layer them in as time permits. And that’s perfectly okay.
So I don’t want you to feel like you’re under huge pressure yourself to do this, but we do want to look at opportunities to do it. We’ve talked a lot about these first two items here, personas and problem scenarios, how do you actually go out and and learn about those things? Well, the first thing you want to do is frame them as experiments. So think about your persona hypothesis because that’s what it is. All the descriptions or personas that we have talked about, everything you learn. A persona is a creation that you used to make better decisions that drive valuable software. That’s it’s purpose. You’ll always be learning about it, it will never be perfect.
Developing a culture of experimentation around all this stuff is really what will help you actually use these things so don’t try to perfect your personas, get in the habit of looking at everything like an hypothesis. Same thing with the problems. So that’s step number one. And the way that we encapsulate our current view of these is with our write-ups on our personas. And we saw the template, and you’ll practice with it in the lesson here, and in the module. And we saw this framing of problem scenarios, alternatives, and value propositions. As a way to keep these integral, and organized, and as you’ll see actionable through the venture design process.
Now I’ll also talk a little bit about a couple of other areas of hypotheses that we’re going to, not really going to focus on. But it’s important to identify them here. So, you can figure out which one you really focus on at the moment. Which one you need to text out and clarify to make a variable decision. When we get here, this idea of value propositions, the assumptions that underly them and discovery will do, we want to encapsulate that in a value hypothesis. And it’s not just because hypothesis are cool that we have so many of them.
It’s because as we move from this area to this area, there’s a very, very, there’s a chasm, a fundamental departure between these two things. The reason is the yellow Walkman. For those of you that may not know what a Walkman is, it is and was a device that played magnetic tapes so you could listen to music on the go. And Sony had this idea of introducing a yellow version of the Walkman. The first version was black. And so they held a focus group, which is something that big companies do when they want to have people off the street tell them what they want to hear. And they ask them, hey, would you prefer the yellow Walkman or the black Walkman?
And tell us about why? Everybody said, I would love the yellow Walkman, and I would prefer it over the black one and here’s why, and they went on about this. And then they got their 30 bucks or whatever and on the way out someone else asked them, okay, hey by the way, as a bonus for being such good participants you can take a Walkman, a black one or a yellow one. And guess what happened? Everybody took the black Walkman. It’s kind of shocking, right? Why did they tell everybody they wanted the yellow Walkman, and then take the black one?
It shows obviously that the research was pretty flawed and wasteful, and I think that the reason is number one, they don’t want to make the moderator feel bad. Clearly the moderator wanted to make this yellow Walkman or their people who hired them did. And if you ask a customer, hey would you like this product of mine. They’ll always say yes. And why? Because they don’t want to make you feel bad. They don’t want to argue with you. Let’s go back to the focus group participants. What they really want is to get their $30, go home, and watch Homeland, Season Three or whatever is on television at that point.
And they know that, the thing that gets them home watching TV the fastest, is a Yes. That a No is going to result in all these questions and arguments, why didn’t you like our thing? So, unfortunately when you’re researching your value hypothesis which is this question of, is your proposition better enough than the alternatives to trigger a buying usage decision. You can’t directly ask the subjects these questions. For the persona hypothesis, the problem hypothesis, you can ask them things. You can ask them, how many times a month do you eat potatoes? You’ll get that. You can ask them, tell me about your work day yesterday and you’ll get that. It’s not that hard to do it right.
And you can even ask them, hey, tell me about how you feel when you go to the dentist or tell me about the last time you went to the dentist. They tell you about it and then you ask them how they felt. And you’ll get that answer, but you cannot ask them, would you like this feature? Would you like this product? You have to create a decision for them and we’ll talk about the difference between testing usability and testing motivation. Suffice to say, for the moment that the techniques we’re learning about here are good for the problem and the persona hypothesis, not good for the value hypothesis.
We have a different set of techniques we’ll use to put decisions in front of the user and that’ll help us get information what they’re actually going to prefer in practice.
And the way that we stitch this stuff together with the value hypothesis is that that product, that feature hypothesis that we saw previously. I will close with mention of a couple of other hypothesis areas in case you’re confused about, well what are we trying to do here? What are these tools that we’re learning good for? And what areas should we use something different? Here you need to use evidence your experiments, the kind of thing they do in lean startup if you’re familiar with that. We also have a customer creation hypothesis which is, if we market to the customer in a certain way, promote the product in a certain way, then the customer will respond and buy or click through.
Those hypothesis also require a different set of techniques and they probably want to go over here. These things will certainly help you make better decisions in this area but the techniques to actually test these types of hypothesis on customer creation are different and then we have the usability hypothesis which is also different. Motivation is one thing, does a customer want a preposition that we have, and we’ll learn how to test that. And then usability is a related but different thing and we’ll talk about the FAD curve later and how those two things interplay to create actionable events for users.
But your usability hypothesis, if we put a red button here, the user will find it and use it in the way we expect. So, as we go through here, we’re going to learn more about how to create guides and conduct interviews to texture out and improve our persona hypothesis and our problem hypothesis.

In this video, Alex discusses how to make research a natural part of your everyday activities, and he discusses the importance of looking at personas and problems as hypotheses.

As you watch this video, think about how you could help make research a part of your everyday activities. Share your thoughts in the comments section and read other learners’ contributions.

You can also access the Week 3 Slide Handout below under “Downloads.”

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