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January 3, 2021

5 Common Reasons PMs Skip User Research, Debunked

User Research

Most PMs can rattle off a list of reasons why user research is valuable. It takes the guesswork out of product development, sparks new design ideas, flags potential usability issues before they get out of hand, and so on.

Most PMs have also likely dipped their toes into user research, too, either by skimming usage analytics or holding occasional customer interviews.

But many of those same PMs — especially those with smaller teams — believe a meaningful, sustained commitment to user research is too big a task. They’re afraid (for good reason) of spending weeks at a time chasing down customers and conducting in-depth surveys, then spending hours pouring over data to find a clear takeaway.

“To many people,” writes Arin Bhowmick, global VP of design at IBM, “conducting user research is a bit like cleaning up the garage: they know it would be a good thing to do and would bring some real benefits, yet somehow they never quite get round to it."

Plain and simple, user research isn’t the time and budget sinkhole that many product managers fear. By weaving bite-sized research queries into your product, you can establish a line of communication with your users to gain continuous, valuable insights without the time-consuming legwork. We call it continuous research.

Below, we’ll take a look at some common knee-jerk hesitations about user research and see which hold up under close inspection, which don’t, and why.

Let’s dive in!

“We don’t know where to start.”

When you hear the term user research, images of focus groups and in-depth surveys might come to mind. But asking your users to take additional time out of their day, even if it’s just 10 minutes to complete a survey, can feel like a homework assignment. Surveys get rushed, abandoned partway through, or ignored altogether as a result.

But continuous research offers a more manageable and contextualized approach. Here’s how it works: while your users are immersed in your product, targeted in-product surveys pop up at key moments, determined by triggers you program ahead of time.

These in-product surveys are easy to create and even easier to answer, and they catch your user while your product is at the top of their mind. The result? Better response rates, timelier insights, and more useful answers.

“We don’t have time for user research.”

The right approach to user research can actually add time to your calendar, not take it away.

Without user research, product development depends on assumptions, intuition, and guess-and-check. Some talented PMs can make this work, but it’s a gamble at best. User research reduces some of that guesswork by surfacing valuable insights about your product and user experience.

With traditional user research, those insights can take weeks (or months) of chasing down customers, conducting in-depth surveys and interviews, and poring over data. But with continuous research, that work is sprinkled strategically and sparingly throughout product, surfacing customer insights while you focus on developing better and better products.

“We don’t need to ask our users what we already know.”

Here’s the problem: until you’ve tested your assumptions, they’re just that. Assumptions.

Good PMs have a knack for intuiting their customers’ needs, but great PMs know that isn’t enough. User research helps you make products your users will love that, in turn, drive growth, improve conversion rates, reduce churn, and much more.

Check out our gallery of survey templates, which contains over 75 unique in-product surveys, to see a longer list of the potential business benefits.

“We can’t afford user research.”

User research might not be as expensive as you think.

Not every business can afford a team of full-time researchers to find, study, and analyze your users. That’s where continuous research comes in: it automates that process, delivering regular actionable insights at a fraction of the cost.

Also, the money you do allocate to user research is well-spent. A dollar invested in improving the end user’s experience yields an average return of $100. Continuous research has helped companies of all sizes reposition their products, shorten development cycles, increase conversion rates, and more.

“We don’t know how to conduct user research.”

This is a real, worthwhile concern; there is such a thing as bad user research.

Whenever you engage your users, you must be thoughtful about when and how. Ask yourself: Am I targeting the right users? Am I asking them at the right time? Am I using open-ended questions? Check out The 5 Mistakes That Are Ruining Your Survey Data to learn more about making the most of your user surveys.

Another tip, especially for teams with limited time and/or research experience, is to use AI-powered text analysis. It combs through open-ended survey responses to gather user insights quickly and without risk of bias.

At Sprig, we use a combination of AI text analysis and expert review to ensure our users receive accurate, comprehensive, and actionable insights from their user research data. Instead of endless scrolls of survey responses and a word cloud, you get specific, actionable prompts. Think of it like a customer-generated to-do list.

Build user research into your product for a low-effort, high-payoff solution

The trick to user research? Like most things, it’s to work smarter, not harder.

The aim of continuous research is to maximize the amount of high-value information PMs can gain from their users while minimizing the number of hours spent chasing it down. It’s easy to install and even easier to manage once it’s up and running.

About the author

Ryan Glasgow

Product guy. Early team member at Weebly (acquired by Square) & Vurb (acquired by Snapchat); UCSD alum. I founded Sprig to help others build the best products possible.

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