A PM’s guide to conducting 1:1 user interviews

Your users have needs, goals and pain points. As a PM you should create products or services that resolve their pain points, fulfill those needs and enable them to meet their goals. This is how you can create value for your users, which in turn will provide value back to your business.

But how can you find out your users’ needs, goals and pain points?

Why conduct user research?

You cannot build great products if you do not understand your users.

Ever found yourself in the following situations?

  • You get a problem statement to solve but you are not sure if it’s the right problem to solve
  • You already know that your users are having a certain problem but are not sure on how to solve it because you do not know the root cause
  • You have a vague sense of an opportunity and want to figure out what it exactly is
  • The current quarter is almost coming to an end and your management is expecting a roadmap for the next quarter from you
  • You are launching a completely new category and you have not figured out your business model
  • Your business owners ask you to implement a certain solution to a problem but you know that the solution will not solve for the root cause
  • You are launching a new category and want to check for product market fit
  • Your product is in its early stages of development, and you need to test the concept and designs with your users
  • Your feature has been launched, and you want to know how people are interacting with it and what they think of it

You will most likely find answers for all the above situations if you talk to your users.

Before you start building any new feature/modifying an existing feature, it is very important for you to understand what your users think about it/if your users even need it. One of the best possible ways to understand your users is to directly talk to them.

Defining your objectives

You cannot have multiple objectives for an interview as you will not have enough time to dive deep into each one of them. In this case, ask your stakeholders to prioritize the problems that you need to solve first.

You also cannot have a vague objective, good user research objectives are specific. If you are building a feature, make sure your specifics cover everything from awareness to conversion.

Bad Objective: Understand why assignment submissions are low

Good Objective: Understanding why assignment submissions are low

  1. Do kids know that they are given an assignment to solve after every class?
  2. Do kids know the deadline to submit their assignments?
  3. When do kids sit down to submit their assignments?
  4. How long does it take for them to submit their assignments?
  5. What are the barriers that they face while solving their assignments?

Logistics of conducting an interview

Which segment of users are you speaking with?

Different user personas have different problems and needs that they need solutions for, you need to ensure that you have a set of users covering all target personas in your research study.

Example: For a study that involves understanding low assignment submissions, you should ensure that your research group involves a good mix of students from various grades, countries, number of classes per week and assignment submission%

Mode of interview

It is always better to invite users to your office/ go to their usual environment to conduct user interviews, but with the pandemic, most of the user interviews and focus group discussions have been happening online via Zoom/Google Meet.

Make sure that your users know the medium through which the interview would be done. If you need your users to be present on video and need them to share their screen, make sure you communicate the same to them.

Reminders

After you have a set of users who are willing to participate in your study, make sure you drop them a reminder on the day of the interview to attend the call because people tend to forget.

Discussion Guide

After you have defined your objectives, spend at least 30 mins to create a discussion guide. List every aspect starting from Introduction to all the specific details you want to know from your user. Otherwise, you might miss asking important questions or you might actually forget what you want to ask during your interview.

Insights

Create a template with all the questions that you need answers to and fill that in while taking your interview.

Ideally, there should be at least two people taking the interview, one person whose sole focus is on asking questions to the user and listening to what they are saying while the other person is taking down notes. If that is not possible, you can always record the interview (After taking the user’s permission) and transcribe it later on to get all the insights you need.

Asking the right questions during the interview

Customer conversations are bad by default, they are very generic. It is your job to dive deep into their opinions and behaviors by asking the right questions. Not asking the right questions will result in wrong insights, which would lead to building the wrong products which won’t move your metrics. This will lead to a complete waste of time and effort, and might put your team behind by months.

Do not bias your users with your opinions. Do not ask leading questions.

Your conversation with your user needs to be as open ended as possible (Try to frame your questions using How, Why, What, Where, When, Who). Based on their answers, ask them further questions and dive deep into their responses. Nudge them to tell you more.

Incorrect: Is the “Ask a Doubt” feature helpful in resolving your doubts?

Correct: What do you think about the “Ask a Doubt” feature?

In the first case, you are already biasing your user into thinking about the “Ask a Doubt” feature in terms of helpful/not helpful but in the second case you are asking them what they actually think about it.

An example of diving deep by asking the right questions

PM: What is your usual schedule after your class?

Kid: I sit down to complete my assignments and then I go to play

PM: Can you show me how you solve your assignments?

Kid: I access the assignments page from top, and then I click on view assignment. I check the instructions on the assignment page and then start it. After I finish, I past the solution link in this box and click on submit assignment.

PM: How many pending assignments are you having right now?

Kid: I think I have around 5

PM: Why have you not been able to submit those assignments?

Kid: Because I find it boring and it takes me a lot of time

PM: Why is it boring? Why does it take you a lot of time?

Kid: I get doubts while I’m solving my assignments so I cannot finish it, and then I get bored and I go to play

PM: What do you do when you get a doubt?

Kid: I message my teacher asking her to help me solve it

PM: What happens after that?

Kid: She takes sometime to get back to me

PM: How long does she take?

Kid: More than 2 hours

PM: What do you do after she resolves your doubt?

Kid: It’s usually late by the time she gets back and I’m playing. So I solve my assignments along with the assignments from my next class.

An example of deriving wrong insights by asking wrong questions

PM: Do you not like solving your assignments?

Kid: No, I do submit my assignments , I like solving it

PM: It seems like you have not been submitting your assignments for a while

Kid: I don’t find the assignments interesting enough, it’s also tough for me to solve it.

Based on the conversation with the kid, the PM might ask the curriculum team to make assignments easier for kids to solve, or include virtual rewards that the kid can win after submitting assignments. But the real issue, as we saw earlier was with doubt resolution.

Tone & Body Language during the interview

As humans, we have this natural tendency to get influenced by those around us unconsciously. Your users’ answers will be affected by your facial expressions, the way you ask your questions and your body language

As a PM, you should always remain neutral through out the interview. Your users should not feel that you are expecting a particular answer from them, you should not make your users feel that they are answering your questions incorrectly.

Example: Let’s say the kid is accessing their latest assignment from the assignments page instead of the homepage like you expected, you should not show a shocked/confused face expression which would indicate to them that something is wrong with the way they are navigating on your platform.

How do you know if you had a useful conversation?

Actionable insights. Has the conversation with your user given you concrete facts which would help you solve their problems and help you move your target metrics thus improving your business?

Eg 1 (Non actionable insight) : Kids do not feel like completing their assignments as they are not motivated enough.

Eg 2 (Actionable insight) : Kids are interested in completing their assignments. However, when they sit down to complete it, they often have doubts and need their teacher’s help to resolve them. The turn around time from their teacher is currently more than 2 hours and the kids do not want to wait that long to finish their assignments. By the time, they get a response, they lose their interest and move on to another task that catches their attention.

Eg 1 does not give us a concrete fact on why kids are not completing their assignments but Eg 2 tells you that kids are not completing their assignments as the teacher is not resolving their doubts on time. That’s what you need to get from your users, start with an open ended question and dive deep till you get those actionable insights.

Not all problems/needs require solutions

Sometimes, you might also find users unconsciously exaggerating their needs or problems. Sometimes, their concerns would be genuine but not something that needs to be solved immediately. You can broadly categorize your insights that need to be solved as follows.

P0: Important and Urgent

P1: Urgent but not so important

P2: Important but not urgent

P3: Not urgent, not important

Always solve the P0 problems first, these are the ones that will also move your metrics the most.

References

  • The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick
  • Escaping the build trap by Melissa Perri

Thanks for reading! 😃 If you have any questions or anything to share, leave a comment!

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