The end of the year can mean a lot of things. While at home it's about decorating, cooking mountains of food, or reuniting with loved ones, the end of the work year is about looking back at everything you've accomplished — and looking forward to what's around the corner.
As a product manager, you're no stranger to preparing yourself for the expected and bracing for the unexpected. But some areas are trickier to navigate than others. Mainly, the need for user research (especially methods like user testing or surveys) can spring up out of nowhere and hit you between the eyes if you don't watch out.
You may not always have control over your product schedule, but preparing for those inevitable questions that only real-world users can answer ensures you're stepping into the new year with your best foot forward. That's why we've created this checklist: to help you take control over your user research efforts in the coming year.
This guide will help you prepare for a year's worth of learning from your customers, including questions to answer, steps to take, and tips to help you succeed. Let's get started!
Four Questions to Get the Ball Rolling
- What's coming down the development pipeline?
Some folks know months ahead of time what engineering will be working on, but many don't. That said, you've probably got a general idea of what's coming down the pipeline. Use this to make a rough sketch of the products or features in the works. Try starting with your product roadmap and backlog. Take a look at your existing features and what you've got planned, and take stock of anything you suspect might come up (even if it's not a sure thing). Write them all down if you haven't already.
- Based on the year ahead, what user research questions will you need to answer?
This largely depends on the stage(s) your products will be in (or go through) during development. Throughout the course of a year, chances are good that you're going to need answers for different questions depending on where you are in that process.
- Which tactics will you need to use to answer those questions?
With an idea of the kind of questions you'll need to answer, you can start applying different methodologies to them. If you're focusing on developing a lot of new products in Q1, for example, you're probably going to do a lot of concept testing, competitive product testing, and focus groups — meaning you should start recruiting target market users or your competitor's customers as soon as possible. If you're largely focused on refining an existing product, that might be more along the lines of A/B testing or user testing. Whatever you have planned, start researching the kinds of data you'll need and which collection methods make the most sense.
- Based on this schedule, when will you need to perform user research?
Having a rough timeline of how and when your user research projects will come into play allows you to operate proactively instead of being on the back foot when the time comes. Watch for milestones within the development process and use them as signals to act. For instance, when your product is about 70-80% feature complete, you know an alpha test will soon follow.
Five Tips for Staying Ahead All Year Round
Grow Your Community
No matter which types of user research you'll plan to conduct throughout the year, you'll need a reliable community of users from your target market to provide useful insights. Segmenting your community can be especially useful. For example, if you're developing a connected device, will you need both wifi and Bluetooth connectivity or is one or the other going to satisfy the vast majority of your user base?
Armed with this information, you can identify any gaps in your community and fill them by recruiting new users ahead of time. With that community of users already in place, recruiting testers for your projects is really easy come test-time. It'll take a big chunk of the hardship and stress out of conducting user research, especially when you need to turn out results on a dime.
Make Sure Your Users Are Ready to Go
With agile development, you need agile testers. Whether you're building your community for the first time or dusting it off, you'll want to make sure your users are ready right when you need them. One of the best ways to do this is to make sure their user profiles are up-to-date. This means making sure test platforms (like their phones, computers, and any connected products) are cataloged and current (including make, model, OS, and any other relevant details) and that you have the right contact information.
Prep Your Agreements Ahead of Time
NDAs may not be the first thing you think about when you plan to onboard users ahead of an interview or delta test, but they're a critical component in protecting your organization's intellectual property. Save yourself the headache and get it out of the way early so it's smooth-sailing come research time. If it's your first time planning (or you're just a little bit rusty), our free agreement kit has documents and templates to help you get started.
Write a Plan A
Take some time to look at the steps you'll need to take to perform your research. Here are some questions to think about.
- Which question and details (number of users, how long you'll need) about the research will you need to make the test run smoothly?
- What tools will you use to execute this research?
- Which procedures will guide you and your team through the process?
- Are there any templates you can build now to save yourself time later?
Our recommendation? Start with the results you want and work backward building a prep timeline.
Plan for Your Privacy and Compliance Protocols
It's essential to protect the privacy of both your company and your users. Whether you're complying with the GDPR, the CCPA, or other regulatory measures, the time to start thinking about a secure environment for you as well before you start conducting user research.
Full Steam Ahead
Making plans doesn't guarantee that everything will go off without a hitch. But a solid plan and a little prep/consideration ahead of time will put you in a great position to succeed with your user research all year round. You've got this!
Speaking of planning: want more resources for planning and organizing your user tests in the new year? Check out our free Beta Test Planning Kit, which comes packed with templates, step-by-step how-to guides, and other useful resources for managing a smooth beta, alpha, or field test.