As a product manager, you know how to adapt to complex situations. However, it’s impossible to predict exactly how a new product feature is going to perform before you launch it, and product validation can feel like it’s out of reach, especially if you don’t have extra time and resources available in your department. That’s why at UserVoice, we use creative ways to gather the data and insights we need without getting bogged down in an overly complicated process.
Product management is always going to include some degree of risk and uncertainty, but the best way we’ve found to reduce that risk is to continuously validate your product’s features—and in a way that’s flexible and fits your organization.
User feedback is invaluable for understanding the problems of your customer base, but when you’re working with finite resources, it can be a challenge to determine:
When we validate a new idea for a product feature, we scale our feedback collection method and sample size to meet our specific needs at that moment. Scaling your feedback collection efforts to fit your needs ensures that you get enough useful data to inform your feature development.
For instance, if we’re launching an entirely new product, we’ll invest in more research at a larger scale. We may conduct several rounds of surveys that target thousands of prospective users so we can be confident in the data we gather. However, if we’re working on a small feature update, conducting a few focus groups or analyzing existing customer feedback might generate enough data to inform our work.
We try to stay flexible during this phase: if we start small and realize we need more data, we’ll return to this step until we’ve gathered the information we need to move forward.
As Torre Matthew, one of our product managers, says: “Be very open-minded to not understanding the problem as well as you think you do.” You won’t fully understand every part of your customers’ problem until you dive into this process and start learning more.
“Be very open-minded to not understanding the problem as well as you think you do.”
It’s also beneficial to seek out as many perspectives as possible while you’re gathering feedback. In fact, we’ll often reach out to prospective end-users who aren’t familiar with our product at all because they offer a unique point of view compared to our existing users.
UserVoice Tip: If you’re struggling to determine how many users you need to talk to, take a look at SurveyMonkey’s guide to determining survey size. If you’re serving a small niche, getting 50 to 100 responses from your target audience might provide you with enough actionable information to take the next step in your validation process.
After we collect enough data, we analyze our results for common themes to determine if our hypothesis has been validated or not. Sometimes, we uncover themes that don’t match our initial feature idea and have to adjust our development plan.
Adjusting your plan sometimes feels uncomfortable—especially if you and your team have to deal with some internal resistance or confirmation bias—or if user opinion shows your initial idea isn’t resonating in some way. Try to keep in mind that the purpose of product validation is to learn—even when it’s tough—and make changes that help you create a valuable product.
It may also take you a few tries of data collection and analysis to create a validated feature. At UserVoice, it sometimes takes multiple rounds of surveying, studying, and feedback collection to fine-tune an idea enough that it’s ready for launch.
After you launch, there is a very powerful way to confirm that the features you’ve developed solve the problem you intended to solve: conduct usability testing. Allow users to interact with your new features in a variety of ways—remote, in person, and within the context that they would normally use your product. As you observe and collect data, pay special attention to the intention-action gap. The intention-action gap describes the difference between which features people intend to use (and say they’ll use) and which features they really find valuable.
Your customers don’t use your product in a vacuum. During a survey or interview, prospective users are typically focused on their task and free from other real-world distractions. It’s an entirely different story after launch: your users now have to juggle your product alongside their day-to-day lives. As our Senior Product Manager Rob Ridgeway describes: “When people are in these interviews, they’re thinking of the best versions of themselves, and not the version that has a sick kid at home and a boss with a deadline.”
“When people are in these interviews, they’re thinking of the best versions of themselves, and not the version that has a sick kid at home and a boss with a deadline.”
We also recommend keeping your features simple to start. This can be hard. It’s natural to want to present a truly final product to users that solves every problem and fills every need. However, your features don’t have to do everything right away, and keeping them simple and streamlined helps you deliver value to your end-users as soon as possible. For example, a new email integration feature doesn’t have to immediately sync with other communication tools like Slack—you can stick to email.
Problems evolve over time. The nature of your users’ problem may change, or an entirely new one can develop. A formerly sticky feature can start losing users if it doesn’t continue to respond to their needs. If you’re not continuously validating, that can pose a problem, but “the solution is to keep talking to customers as much as possible,” says Jared Shaffer, another of our product managers. At UserVoice, we never stop validating our products.
“The solution is to keep talking to customers as much as possible.”
It’s important to continue testing with your customers and potential customers in all phases of the product lifecycle. Keep open communication going with your customers and continue engaging in product validation even after you’ve built your software and acquired users. As Torre says, “Never stop that process.”
It’s tough to learn that your proposed feature doesn’t really solve your end-users’ problems. Scrapping the time spent iterating on an idea and prototyping can feel like a failure. However, part of being successful at product validation means keeping an open mind—and learning to get comfortable with being wrong.
Here’s where a mindset shift can help: see those “failures” as chances to learn. In fact, making mistakes and encountering failure is how we learn. If your proposed feature doesn’t solve the problem, what would? What information did you gather from your users that showed you something you didn’t know before? How can you take that new information and apply it to another feature—one that really meets their needs?
As Jared advises: “Fail fast. That way, you can learn even faster.”
“Fail fast. That way, you can learn even faster.”
Never stop asking, “why?” The answers you get can directly challenge your beliefs about your product or your ideas about your customer, and that’s the key to getting in-depth, actionable information.
At UserVoice, we always try to help our customers find creative ways to do more with less. That approach defines our customer feedback tool, and it defines our newest product, UserVoice Validation. We developed UserVoice Validation to offer a simple, streamlined way for you to gather data on user preferences and apply it to your development cycle without having to sink a lot of time and resources into a lengthy, tough-to-handle research process.
Anyone can undertake product validation with the right support. I hope it’s been helpful to learn more about the way we approach product validation, and I encourage you to reach out to me or our expert product managers, Torre, Jared, and Rob, with any questions you have about our process.