PRODUCTHEAD: How to plan a user research interview

PRODUCTHEAD: How to plan a user research interview

PRODUCTHEAD is a regular newsletter of product management goodness,
curated by Jock Busuttil.

yes i product #


Ask your team: what do we actually need to know, by when, and how confident do we need to be?

Don’t ask users what they do. Ask them for an example of a time they have done something, and then ask if it was typical

When recruiting participants, say what the study is for, how long it will take, and what’s in it for them

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When we’re doing discovery or validating what we think we know, we go and find some representative users to chat with … and then what? How do we plan a user research interview?

Someone asked me recently how product managers gather and make sense of the slew of qualitative data and insights that emerge from your user research. I make no claims of expertise in user research, yet I and many of the product people I’ve worked with have found ourselves needing to do user research in the absence of a dedicated expert.

When the alternative is doing no user research at all, how do we actually get out there and start learning?

What are your research goals? #

Erika Hall, whose book Just Enough Research I’ve recommended time and time again, can save you a lot of wasted effort with this advice:

“Get everybody in a room and figure out what you don’t know, which takes an hour. Do that. Question prioritization because that’s the method everybody wants to skip past. It’s like what do we actually need to know? Because the greater clarity you have about your question and then when do we need to know it by?

“If your question is — again I’ll use the same question — how do people figure out what to have for dinner? Okay, we’ve got a week. Great. Start from what you need to know and how much time and money you have and you can learn something.”

Getting User Experience and Service Design Research Right at Scale with Erika Hall”, Michelle Cummings, UX Research & Strategy (16 April 2021, retrieved 2 March 2023)

Steve Portigal also offers this advice to product managers planning their user research:

“Research planning should include three areas:

  • Business question: What challenge does the business face?
  • Research objective: What do we hope to learn to help us answer that business question?
  • Participant questions: What questions can we ask customers to help us achieve that research objective?

“We often skip straight to writing participant questions without addressing the other two areas, and end up with unfocused interviews that don’t fully get us the answers we’re looking for.”

Great User Research (for Non-Researchers) by Steve Portigal”, Emily Tate, Mind The Product (13 September 2019, retrieved 2 March 2023)

Finding people to talk to #

When we talk about finding representative users, that usually implies we have at least an idea of who has the problem we’re trying to solve. If some bright spark suggests that everyone is a potential user, then a) they’re probably wrong; and b) they need to narrow down their focus to the people most likely to experience the problem and most likely to value a solution.

To begin with, you’ll hopefully have some educated guesses of who your users are likely to be. Figure out where you could find them. As you speak to more of them, you’ll be able to refine your definition of ‘representative’.

Make use of your and your colleagues’ social media networks to find people to talk to. Always ask interviewees the question, “who else do you think I should speak to?”

You can of course pay research participant recruitment companies to do the legwork for you, however if you’re still a bit fuzzy on who you should be talking with in the first place, this can rapidly turn into an expensive experiment in time-wasting.

Erika Hall again:

“There are so many platforms now that promise to deliver you research participants. I would say no. Don’t use those. They’re terrible because the quality of your insight totally depends on whether you had participants who were truly representative of the right people.”

Getting User Experience and Service Design Research Right at Scale with Erika Hall”, Michelle Cummings, UX Research & Strategy (16 April 2021, retrieved 2 March 2023)

Let’s assume you’ve got some specific things you want to find out and some representative people to interview. Next you’ll probably want to record the user interview (with consent). This will let you transcribe it and save you having to take notes.

We’ll take a look at some methods for recording your user interviews in next week’s edition of PRODUCTHEAD.

Speak to you soon,


what to think about this week

Getting user experience and service design research right at scale with Erika Hall

How much research is enough? How much research is too much?

How can service design researchers and designers scale their research plans at will in the midst of unexpected scope changes and unplanned environmental circumstances?

How can designers still provide robust and relevant solutions through ideation and prototyping with “just enough research”?


[Michelle Cummings / UX Research & Strategy]

Great user research (for non-researchers) by Steve Portigal

Researchers often have concerns about what will happen when “other people” go out and do work with users. But the demand for research far outweighs the supply of researchers, and everyone wins when more people are enabled to do research themselves. At #mtpcon San Francisco, Steve Portigal, Principal at Portigal Consulting, tells us how to quickly level up our research skills as product managers across the lifecycle of a research effort.

Steve tells us how to be more effective in the three main elements of research: planning research, conducting research, and acting on research.

Planning, conducting and acting on research

[Emily Tate / Mind The Product]

DIY recruiting: how to find participants for your research

One thing is inevitable in user research — at some point you’re going to have to find some people to take part in it.

Finding them isn’t always easy. It can be time consuming and generate a lot of admin overhead that gets in the way of our daily work, but it doesn’t have to be that way!

Track everything!

[Ania Mastalerz / Medium]

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PRODUCTHEAD is a newsletter for product people of all varieties, and is lovingly crafted from all the things I found down the rabbit hole.

Read more from Jock

The Practitioner's Guide to Product Management book cover

The Practitioner's Guide To Product Management

by Jock Busuttil

“This is a great book for Product Managers or those considering a career in Product Management.”

— Lyndsay Denton

Jock Busuttil is a freelance head of product, product management coach and author. He has spent over two decades working with technology companies to improve their product management practices, from startups to multinationals. In 2012 Jock founded Product People Limited, which provides product management consultancy, coaching and training. Its clients include BBC, University of Cambridge, Ometria, Prolific and the UK’s Ministry of Justice and Government Digital Service (GDS). Jock holds a master’s degree in Classics from the University of Cambridge. He is the author of the popular book The Practitioner’s Guide To Product Management, which was published in January 2015 by Grand Central Publishing in the US and Piatkus in the UK. He writes the blog I Manage Products and weekly product management newsletter PRODUCTHEAD. You can find him on Mastodon, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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