The importance of User Research at the beginning of a project

Wrong decisions in the first phase of the project require 35% more time, development and budget than expected. Why to take into account User Research from the very beginning?

Author: Jorge Adrian López

UX experience User Research at the beginning of a project

Taking the first step and beginning a software project is always a crucial moment, and it might also be a point of uncertainty. Actually, according to a study by IAG consulting, wrong decisions in the first phase of the project require 35% more time, development and budget than expected.

Here is where we work on understanding the problem in order to make feasible proposals that meet both the business’s objectives and the user’s expectations. At this point, decisions establish the groundwork of everything that will be built during the development phase.

In the development of digital solutions, such as Desktop, Mobile, etc., mobilizing an entire team (developers, functional analysts, designers, and testers) in pursuit of an objective involves a great effort for any company. It would be a huge loss of opportunities if that objective was not previously well defined.

Another problem that large companies might have is the fact that many people would be involved in making decisions around the project. This could lead to seemingly simple definitions quickly becoming a real crossroads or a reason for endless discussions that will affect what has been planned.

To avoid this kind of inconvenience and reduce this uncertainty, we draw on the approach called User Research. This is a set of techniques on User Centered Design (UCD) that means any design solutions will also incorporate the user’s vision. After all, they will be the main beneficiaries of the final product. This is the best way to ensure that the objectives defined are the right ones and are set according to specific goals that serve real people.

User Research focuses on understanding user behaviors, needs, and motivations through observation techniques, task analysis, and other feedback methodologies. It is all about incorporating the vision of those users we are targeting by applying techniques that give us reliable and verifiable information about people’s experiences when using the product or solution.

So, how does this work? Let’s see the main techniques we can use in the User Research stage to collect the proper data and offer high-quality services.

UX experience User Research at the beginning of a project

  1. Interviews with stakeholders: There are interviews with each one of those involved who will have decision-making power in the project. They are vital and will be the starting point to establish and understand customer needs and the first ideas about user behavior.
  2. Benchmark: It is about doing an analysis of all competitors (direct and indirect) the client has. By comparing the product or service with the competitors, it is possible to obtain some conclusions that will give you the opportunity to add value and stand out from the rest.
  3. Card sorting: This consists of asking users to group content and functionalities in categories that are either open (at their choice) or closed (previously defined by the design team). This allows us to understand the mental model that people have when interacting with the product.
  4. Interviews with final users: These are interviews with one person or a group of people that will eventually use the solution. They are asked about the feelings, opinions, and even the language used when they are using our product or service.
  5. Creating personas: By analyzing the information from the interviews, it is possible to find common patterns in answers. This is used to generate a profile of the users in order to identify their needs and motivations.
  6. Customer journey: This is a diagram that explores the different steps and actions that people must take during their interaction with the product. This graphic allows the understanding of that interaction process by framing the motivations and customer needs in each step.

Is it possible to do User Research without a user?

Sometimes, there is no possibility to access users since we are physically away from them, or simply, due business reasons, it is not allowed. Despite this, it is possible to gather useful information for the development of the application by using some other techniques of User Research. Let’s look at them.

UX experience User Research at the beginning of a project

 

  1. Forums: Online communities are a place where people can comment both positively and negatively about the product or service developed. This brings the opportunity to discover, for example, what the user’s attitude and lifestyle are, what their requests are, features that no one else is giving them, or people that are using the product/solution in an unexpected way.
  2. Customer reviews: As in the forums, users’ comments can also be a great source of information since it is a scenario where they express their level of satisfaction.
  3. Customer support: Large companies usually have a support area (customer or technical support, call centers). This is a great way, maybe one of the most important, to collect information about the client/user. What comments are the most frequent? What do they think about the product? All these insights and answers will help to enhance the understanding of user needs.
  4. Analytics analysis: In the case of web applications, it is useful to know the acquisition and the audience of the page. Google Analytics or any other method informs us about the usage of our tool. Statistics such as visited pages, amount of time spent on each one, points where users leave the navigation, etc., can be known thanks to this. In the case of mobile applications, there are other key indicators and tools to measure users’ actions. The key point is to gather all this information and analyze it to understand their behaviors.

To Sum Up

 

At the beginning of this article, we mentioned that the first stage of a project could be a moment of uncertainty, but with all we have seen that can be done, it is possible to avoid this. Also, the cost of this approach is less in comparison with the cost of changing directions in the development phase.

When you are considering outsourcing your software development needs, it is crucial to ensure that the IT partner chosen follows work methodologies and processes that guarantee the quality of the product. Taking into account the importance of User Research from the beginning of the project will make the difference in the success.

Make sure your project involves these techniques and do not forget that an error in the first stages of development will slow down the entire project. Successful opportunities depend on good decisions and good decisions must be based on good information!

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