To consistently create successful products, development teams need to truly understand the real needs of their customers.
Too often however, customer requirements are not properly identified, not captured or not defined clearly enough. As a result, poor product definition is a major reason why so many products are late to market and don’t sell as well as expected.
Spending a little extra time upfront to properly research and define user requirements will help your product stand out in the marketplace after it is launched.
Identify and Target Your Specific Customers
Before a product definition is created, a marketing position and product strategy decision is first required. For example, is this product intended to expand into new market shares or will it grow existing market shares?
What are the needs of each customer segment and which segments will allow your company to meet its performance objectives? Once a corporate strategy is determined, all specific customers and users for each market segment should then be identified. Customers typically fall into the following categories:
- End User
- Service Technician
- Internal Customers (ex. Manufacturing, QA, etc.)
Visit Your Customer and Walk In Their Shoes
Once customers have been identified, it’s time to perform user research to discover your customer’s real needs. The following tools are commonly used to gather user data:
- User Focus Groups
- Product Market Testing
- Data Sources (field failure reports, spare parts shipment records, service calls, etc.)
Of these tools, visiting and conducting interviews where the customer actually uses the product tends to produce the most meaningful data (since it also gives the interviewer contextual knowledge of the user’s environment).
Customers should be interviewed individually rather than formally in groups. Interview teams should consist of at least two team members and ideally include an engineering representative (or someone who can see user requirements through a technical ‘lens’).
One team member should serve as the interviewer, while the other is the note-taker (which allows the interviewer to be an engaged listener and ask more thoughtful questions).
Probe and ask open-ended questions using ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ to uncover their real needs. Also encourage customers to describe the importance of existing product features and any ‘pain’ they are currently experiencing (which will help identify potential unmet needs and create more innovative products).
Define Key User Requirements
After customer data is gathered, it must be developed into meaningful user requirements. One technique that is gaining in popularity is the development of user personas, which are profiles of example users who represent a larger group of users with similar personality characteristics and goals.
To create personas, begin by reviewing all user research data and looking for patterns in attitudes and behaviors. As these clusters of patterns start to appear, assign each a name and continue to add detailed behavioral traits to finish out each persona.
Major use cases and user workflows should also be documented to ensure that critical requirements are accurately captured. Once these steps are complete, use this compiled information to create a market user requirements specification that captures key user needs found.
When writing user requirements, make sure to clearly define them in user-centered terms (ex. “As a (user name), I want to (describe task) in order to (describe goal)”).
Validate Using Concepts and Prototypes
To ensure you’re on the right track, validate these user requirements by quickly creating initial design concepts and soliciting customer feedback early and often in the design cycle.
Best practice is to use rapid prototyping to create simple, semi-functional mockups for actual users in real-world conditions. Use iterative design refinement to hone in on any design ‘sweet-spots’ (i.e. optimizations such weight vs. performance) to create the greatest customer value for your product.
Creating highly desirable products doesn’t happen by accident. A company’s ability to quickly define accurate customer requirements in order to create a more user-centered design will improve market share and help avoid project scope creep and delays during later stages of development.
Filed Under: Rapid prototyping