Key theme of our recent trip to NYC was product development. We aimed at benchmarking our process against some top performers in various tech spaces (not necessarily similar to ours). We had a chance to speak with product people from leading group of Q&As, global live stream video chat, K12 parent-teacher communicator, online recruitment software and innovation labs of one of top 10 banks in the USA.

We listened a lot, talked a bit and learnt a ton. Below couple of remarks about networking and user research.

Strategic decision? Ask your network!

When you have to make a strategic decision regarding what technology to choose or how to optimise user flow – remember – you are probably not the first one to face such problem. Reach out to other companies to learn how they’ve approached such challenge and listen to their recommendations. Of course, you shouldn’t rely on a single suggestion because it can be biased. Talk to couple various companies and try to understand deeply their train of though.

To give you an example: let’s assume your product is web based and you decided to test how would your audience respond to mobile app. Typically you would think about starting with native app for iOS, Android or Windows. Each of these technologies requires different skill sets in terms of development, design, analytics or even marketing in app stores. Creating an app for each of these platform would be pretty costly from both: hiring and process management perspectives. Well, assuming that you do not want to invest too much without clearly understanding the business value – this may not be the best decision.

That was the consideration for some of the companies we met. After discussing this issue with other companies in their network, they were strongly recommended to think about alternatives to native apps – particularly: web or hybrid apps.

Two heads are better than one. Ask your network for help in strategic decisions.

Two heads are better than one. Ask your network for help in strategic decisions.

Web apps use web platform languages to create a mobile app. They package websites inside compressed containers and install them on a mobile device. Hybrid apps use web technologies wrapped or packaged inside native containers. An example of such native wrapper around web technologies is PhoneGap. Both offer huge time and money savings if you think about quick testing rather than life long relationship.

Thanks to your network you are able to look at your problems from a new perspective. Leverage experience and knowledge of other professionals you know to make better decisions.

User research – continuous, personal, cheap

AB testing and data mining is good, but it cannot give you a full understanding of your users. All of our interlocutors paid a huge attention to user research. And they didn’t mean single high-budget research done by professional agencies. All of them does it continuously, on their own and with pretty reasonable spending.

There suggested some unconventional low-cost methods of getting feedback from users like:

  • interviewing users invited through Craigslist for some small fee,
  • analysing and answering app reviews in app stores,
  • reviewing user feedback on NPS score,
  • organising weekly Customer Success meetings with people who work directly with customers.

Some of them used dedicated software to observe real user behaviour e.g. User Testing or HotJar. Each of these methods offers pretty good ROI when you think about how much you can learn versus how much they cost.

Product Managers we spoke to were rather sceptical about outsourcing this process. From their experience focus groups (organised often as a standard form of user research) tend to be heavily biased by group thinking. Also getting 100-pages report is completely different experience from directly speaking with users, seeing nuances of their behaviour or looking at raw data.

User research is key. Keep it personal, regular and... reasonably cheap.

User research is key. Keep it personal, regular and… reasonably cheap.

However, if you do it in-house the right design of the study is key. Some of the companies we met had even a special role of research designer in their teams focused on designing interviews or experiments to maximise their information value and minimise bias.

User research is critical so do not outsource it, do not overpay and do not do it once a year.