Improve your product by analysing the responsibilities of your users
Mapping out the goals and responsibilities of your users can be a great way to identify opportunities to solve problems for your market. This is useful if you want to pivot your product towards solving a more valuable core problem. It will also help you to expand the scope of your product to solve new problems in addition to your current area of focus when trying to differentiate your offering. This is best workshopped in a hands-on fashion with a sample of your existing customers and can be done easily with just a whiteboard.
To begin this process, spend some one-on-one time with each research participant to identify their various work-related responsibilities. To make this easier for users, I like to start with time-based headings/categorisation like daily tasks, weekly tasks, monthly tasks, etc. Include estimates for how much time each task typically takes. During this phase of the workshop, your job is to listen (and scribe) — the list does not need to be perfect, but it should be pretty extensive and honest.
Next comes the collaborative analysis. With the user, start to dig into each task and identify their goal for this task. This is all about the desired outcome and needs to be solution-agnostic. For example, when walking the dog, your goal is not to take the dog for a walk, but rather to keep the dog healthy and happy (i.e., walking the dog is a solution, health and happiness is the desired outcome).
Now that you have an exhaustive list of your users goals, you should be starting to get an idea of some of the problems you could be solving for them. This is when I like to do a little more analysis to look for goals that seem related to each other and are consuming a lot of time or causing a lot of pain for the user. Call these areas out as themes and keep a record of how much time they are taking up in total.
Your job now is to rinse and repeat this process with more research candidates to diversify the viewpoints you have received. For some products, all users play a consistent role within their respective organisations. For other products, diverse organisational roles with overlapping responsibilities will lead to more unique opportunities and edge-case results. After you've conducted a number of these workshops, you can bring the results together. What were the most consistent themes across all of the workshops? Did certain time-consuming goals standout as particularly frequently encountered? These prevalent problems to be solved could be your best opportunities to delight your users with future solutions.
Your eagerness to jump in and solve the user challenges identified through this exercise will vary. Mature companies may want to be highly confident in the return-on-investment for any major new initiative — if this sounds like you, I recommend validating these results with prospects within your market who don't currently use your product. This could include churned customers, businesses who have only recently entered your sales funnel, and previous lost sales opportunities. Early-stage startups, however, may have less access to data and instead prefer to move ahead with more urgency.
- Participants should be active users of your product, not managers who purchase your application but don't spend time using it first-hand.
- As the customer base for a startup grows, it becomes more representative of its target market. If your customer base is small, listening too much to existing customers rather than the broader market could lead you to develop features that are too niche to adequately monetise, which can increase your maintenance burden more than it increases your revenue. If your customer base is large, the insights gained from it could be one of your most valuable assets.
- As great as proactive research activities like this can be, the best startups capture insights throughout the customer journey and make decisions based on data from diverse sources. Learn more about operationalising insights from customers.
- This exercise works best for B2B products and B2C products that aim to solve problems for users (to either make them more money, improve operational efficiency, or simply make their lives easier). Many B2C apps can be more data-driven, so are better off experimenting with new features through A/B testing.
- This exercise also works great for internal stakeholder users. For example, you could run this exercise if you want to build internal tooling and automation to help your internal teams to work more efficiently.
- Solutions to issues identified here don't always need to be product features — education, a change to ways of working, technology partnerships/integrations, and professional services are other options.
- This exercise is heavily derivative of the Jobs to Be Done framework.