Immerse yourself in the real world
Whether you’re identifying new opportunities or evaluating existing ideas, breakthrough ideas are born from a deep understanding of the real-world problems we’re solving for our users. This understanding isn’t gained by sitting at our desks and conference tables. It’s gained by getting out of the building and meeting our users where they are.
Observing users in their world gives you the opportunity to empathize with their experience, understand their context, uncover hidden needs, and hear their honest and unfettered feedback. As you investigate their world, soak up what you see without judgement and observe the obvious with a critical eye. Great discoveries often begin with an observation you can’t explain.
Understanding can’t be delegated. Observe as a team when you can and share your findings with each other when you can’t. Everyone on your team should have chance to see their users’ world so they can contribute their unique perspective to the situation.
Get to know users
Empathy begins with getting to know people as people, not just as users. Ask open-ended questions about how they live and work. Listen to their stories to understand their hopes, fears, and goals that motivate them. Better yet, put yourself in their shoes to absorb the highs, lows, and nuances of their lived experiences first-hand.
Your users don’t live in a bubble. They’re often part of complex, interdependent systems of people and processes that work together to achieve a greater goal. Watch users interact with the people and tools in their environment. Find out who they rely on and who relies on them. Sometimes the most effective way to help your users is to help the people around them.
Your users won’t always be able to express their needs, so it’s your job to read between the lines and uncover them. Reveal their challenges and figure out what’s at stake if they fail. Find out how they measure success and where their existing solutions fall short.
Listen for feedback
Test your ideas, assumptions, and prototypes by putting them in your users’ hands. Observe their interactions, listen carefully, and capture their feedback as faithfully as you can. Take care to avoid leading questions.
Remember: this isn’t about selling ideas or seeking approval. It’s about discovering new opportunities to improve your project’s outcome.
Ask each other
If you don’t know where to start, begin with your unanswered questions. Flag answers founded on untested assumptions or answers that may have changed since your last observation.
Who are our users?
- What’s their story?
- What’s their experience?
- What influences their experience?
What’s their context?
- Who do they work with?
- What processes are they part of?
- What’s expected of them?
What are their needs?
- What problem are they solving?
- How do they define success?
- What do they stand to gain or lose?
What’s their feedback?
- How do they feel about us?
- What’s working and what isn’t?
- What ideas do they have for us?