For a product to succeed, it must have a product-market fit. That means understanding the gap between the market — “a bunch of people with a common problem” — and the business, Naren Katakam, principal product consultant with Thoughtworks in Singapore, said during the recent INMA Methodologies to Launch and Innovate Products Master Class.
The smaller the gap, the higher the rate of success the product will have. But to close the gap, company must understand the needs of its users. With these user needs at the heart of the product development process, product teams can work through an empathetic lens and embrace human-centric design.
Katakam and other product leaders at Yahoo, Schibsted, News Corp, Nexstar Digital, and MediaNews Group shared case studies and methods of gathering user feedback to illustrate the crucial role audience knowledge plays in product development.
Katakam introduced what he called The Mom Test, a process he credited to the book by Rob Fitzpatrick. This process is about crafting good questions in a way that “when you ask this question to your mom, even she cannot lie to you about,” he explained.
It relies upon making the questions pointed and exact, thus taking the bias out of the question and creating fewer options of how it can be answered: “This will help you eradicate this bias and it will really enhance the quality of your user research, which is very, very important.”
When it comes to creating the perfect user experience, Yahoo takes a multidisciplinary, comprehensive approach, Ilana Westerman, head of user experience research and consumer insights, told INMA members. A combined user experience research team and consumer insight team look at the whole experience — “everything from the marketing materials all the way through to the product experience” — to get a 360-degree view of the problems and the solutions.
The first fundamental step in this process is understanding the user, which Westerman said is one of this most critical. Before creating this approach, the team often made the wrong choices, she added.
“The problem was we didn't have a deep understanding of who the audience is or who our audience could be,” she said. “…[T]oday we want to have … that real deep understanding of how they behave, but also understand what are their underlying goals and motivations and what's driving those needs.”
This includes learning pain points, which Yahoo interprets as areas of opportunity. In some cases, the customer may not even realise they have that need, but “if we built something, they would see that and be like, wow, that does fulfill a need.”
Before a news media company even thinks about building and launching a new product, it needs to first understand what user problems and needs it is looking to solve. Aftenposten in Norway collects user feedback and insights in the “Discovery” stage of its new product development process, Hilde Maartmann-Moe Sommerstad, senior product manager at Schibsted, said.
User interviews are a very important part of this process, and the team feels that no one is better at interviewing people than journalists.
In the first stage of the interviews, editorial team members talked to young, non-subscribers — which gave them a few surprises. For example, these users described themselves as very interested in news, but mostly discovered news through social media. Many of them would talk extensively about news without ever mentioning Aftenposten as a source until asked.
“I think this really gave the journalists an outside look at themselves because it is easy to lose track of how your product actually exists in people’s real lives,” Sommerstad said. “And having people talk with such engagement about media, without even mentioning your product, is a real wake-up call.”
This is an important part of building relevant products. User insights were also obtained through workshops, and Sommerstad acknowledged that these were often difficult for the editorial team to find time to do.
In late 2019, News Corp started revolutionising the digital experience for four subscription-based services: The Daily Telegraph, The Courier Mail, Herald Sun, and The Advertiser. Julian Delany, the company’s chief technology officer, said building this product from scratch had a lot of technical considerations. He knows customers have high expectations and want their news service site and app to work like all the other websites and apps they use outside of news.
“Rather than asking internal business questions, perhaps the most important one we should do is what does the audience need,” Delany said. “We really wanted to understand our audience way beyond what we thought they were so we could eventually create the foundations for UX, UI, and design frameworks.”
News Corp’s challenge was to deliver a premium digital product experience across both Web and app. To do so, the company would have to embrace a human-centered design. Enter “Project Bob.” Delany says the name “Bob” doesn’t have much meaning except he wanted a simple name because he wanted his team to attack the challenge in a simple way.
“The power of the human-centered design approach comes from getting a really diverse range of voices, views and perspectives, and providing a safe place for people to exercise their curiosity and their instinct and get empathy to make sure we translate the verbatim observations and feedback into meaningful insights,” Delany said.
Jeff Moriarty, currently the chief product officer at Nexstar Digital, shared three case studies from various points in his career. One case study highlighted an effort to develop a mobile-first news product at The Scotsman. The company received funding from the Google News Initiative to test the hypothesis that users wanted a curated experience bundled like a newspaper with daily updates.
After outlining some initial concepts, the team at The Scotsman started going out and asking people how they would interact with the news and collected feedback.
“We started taking some of these concepts literally to paper into coffee shops, pubs, and talk to people and started to tackle some of these problems like local news sites can look like crap and how do we fix that,” Moriarty said.
In the end, The Scotsman decided not to launch the product but was able to leverage this research, pivoting the topic of the product from news to football to great success.
C.J. Jacobs, head of product and technology for MediaNews Group, explained in great detail the three phases her team uses and what she recommends for companies to launch products. She calls them the Minimal Viable Product, Minimum Marketable Product, and Minimum Lovable Product phases.
In that third phase, Jacobs’ team is testing full adoption and go-to-market capability. They keep close tabs on users with the understanding there must be a focus on the needs of later adopters and consideration of every touchpoint in the customer journey.
“You also continue your customer outreach,” Jacobs said. “You’re always trying to talk to your customers to get feedback from them throughout every stage in the life cycle.”
Jacobs considers a release an experiment with a hypothesis to prove: “We are scientists. We are forming a hypothesis. We are trying to test it in the wild. We are proving or disproving it through research or direct testing.”