Why can’t I rely on user research from other departments?
Here’s a question I was asked recently:
In my company, I’m working on a workflow product that will replace a bunch of manual / paper processes used by internal users in regional offices. At the moment, I’m not allowed to do user research with the regional users directly. Instead I have to go through both the Operations and the Process tracks – they’re the gatekeepers.
You talk about doing user research directly with users – does it matter that the Operations and Process tracks are telling me what their users want instead?
Your product or service may have multiple, distinct user groups. Each user group has differing needs, priorities and motivation. To be successful with each group, your product has to address their respective needs or solve their respective problems.
You need to have the confidence that you understand the needs of each user group before attempting to create a product and take it to market. Your goal is to achieve product-market fit with each group of users.
The only way to reassure yourself that you understand their needs is by having direct access to each group of users, and to meet with them regularly to check that you’re not going off track in either your understanding their problem, or your implementation of a solution for them.
In your case, you have the operations and process tracks as two stakeholder groups. These groups are proxies to the actual users. The danger of relying on a proxy to a particular group of users is that they act as a filter both in terms of the information they gather, and the information they then pass on to you. And because the operations and process tracks also have a vested interest in what you build, you have to assume the information they pass on to you is partisan (biased to their own interests).
If there are objections to you and your team establishing a direct link to the members for the purposes of user research, then you need to overcome, work around or ignore those objections. The likelihood of delivering a successful product is significantly reduced if you can’t research and validate your prototypes with each of your user groups directly. You might get lucky, in the same way as you might hit a dartboard blindfolded, but you probably won’t :-)
Here are a few articles that elaborate on the topic, which you might find helpful:
Fast Path to a Great UX – Increased Exposure Hours – Jared Spool
How do you keep user needs front and centre? – I Manage Products
How UK government digital services gather and use evidence – I Manage Products
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The Practitioner's Guide To Product Management
by Jock Busuttil
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