“Test early and test often.”
That’s the mantra that notable product-focused books tell readers to internalize. While the concept sounds great on paper (or an ebook screen) putting it into practice can often be a challenge particularly as we look to minimize inefficiencies moving through a project lifecycle of ideation to development and launch.
Solving the challenge of meshing ideation, design, and development into a well-oiled machine starts with having a cross-disciplinary team participate in a design sprint. A design sprint is the Swiss Army knife of product development. It's a flexible tool that can help you not only ideate but validate solutions for your product in as quickly as five days. The beauty of a design sprint lies in its ability to incorporate user testing and feedback and walk away with a data-backed solution for your user's biggest problems so you know you are on the right track before development begins. As an added bonus, having your design and development team members involved in the design sprint also allows you to have a greater understanding of the feasibility of the solution, and provides perspectives on more efficient ways to build the solution for maximum results once you move into development.
At the end of your design sprint, you have a user-validated prototype but now it’s time to bring the idea to reality. At this phase of your product’s lifecycle the need for validation doesn’t stop. Welcome evaluative research to the stage. This form of research ensures the product team is not only building the right product but that your solutions are user-friendly and even enjoyable for your users to interact with.
By including qualitative and quantitative research as checkpoints throughout your product roadmap your team can validate their design and development work as it is completed, and pivot as needed. The research learnings can also reshape your product roadmap and feature requirements to drive you towards an ideal end state that your users will love. Research in this phase provides the data-backed insights you need to build confidence in your product decisions by minimizing the level of risk associated with each one. But wait, there’s more! Research late in the product lifecycle can even show the area(s) to focus your next design sprint or round of research on as it illuminates areas of friction your users experience that need new solutions.
While both design sprints and evaluative research have their ideal research methodologies, they both share the need for a well-seasoned researcher to navigate the matrix of possible methods to ensure you are able to answer the right questions to drive your product forward. These methods can include:
- In-depth Interviews (IDIs) - A researcher meets with participants one-on-one to discuss in depth what the participant thinks about the topic in question. This can include generative questions to better understand the participant’s needs or evaluative questions to validate solutions and assumptions.
- Usability testing - Participants in this form of testing are asked to complete a set of tasks within a product to make note of any areas where the user’s experience is not as smooth as desired. This can be done remotely through video conferencing software, like Zoom, an online testing platform, or in person in a laboratory setting.
- Pricing analysis - By leveraging frameworks like the Van Westendorp pricing model we can position the pricing of your product with maximum effect, ensuring that your customers deem the value of your product as equal to its pricing.
- Diary Studies - The participant interacts with a developed product over an extended period of time and reports back to the researcher on their experience at set intervals throughout the test period. This method allows your team to identify insights, changes in user needs, and areas of opportunity that may exist with extended use of the product.
Regardless of the exact methods used, or even when they are used, they all serve to reduce risk in your product solutions by grounding decisions in user-centered research throughout the product lifecycle. Testing early and often will help ensure you stay on track with the user’s needs and desires before, during, and after you get to launch.