Two User Research mistakes that will sink your product

Last Update : 18 octobre 2021

People tend to think User Research is just a matter of talking to customers. It's actually much more complicated. Here are two classic mistakes even Product Experts make and a way to avoid them.

Walking through the alleys of Money2020 last September, we had a chat with dozens of product experts on the mistakes they made building their product. And we often heard that "the biggest mistake we made was to build a product for us and not for the customer", followed by their advice to "talk to your customers". Just like you, I've heard this advice many times but it seems that even though we all advocate for user feedbacks, learning cycles ... product experts still struggle to follow this advice.

We've highlighted 2 main product management mistakes we heard of, and we'll try to give you hints that we use at Sipios to overcome them.

1. Ignore your user's Jobs To Be Done

If you fail to understand what your user actually strive for, you will end up building the wrong product. Then how to understand your user's goals?

Jobs To Be Done (or JTBD) is a concept introduced by Clayton Christensen to understand the profound and underlying goals (and so needs) of your users. It comes from two observations : human beings intrinsically want to evolve, and people don't buy a product, but rather what the product enables them to do. People buy the growth that comes with the use of the product, not the product itself. In other words, they hire the product to get a specific job done.

Now that we have the concept, how to identify these Jobs to Be Done?

During his Money 20/20 conference entitled "How do we observe and understand edge cases to design intrinsically inclusive products", Khalid Maliki, co-founder and COO at Tykn B.V, gave us a very good example of how he and his team had missed the Job to be done of his users.

Now being a key player in decentralized identity systems, Tykn B.V's team started with helping a community of refugees in Turkey that missed identity papers. They first built a product to help them get identity papers more easily. But as they talked to more and more refugees, they realised that identity papers were merely a means for them to get what they actually wanted the most : a job. They finally understood that they had to negotiate with regulators in Turkey so that they would simplify access conditions to working visas.

Conducting a user interview in a refugee camp may be difficult, but whatever the context it's crucial to get out of the building and talk to customers. Besides, we learn that talking to your users is actually much more difficult than we think. It's not only a matter of soft skills, it needs experience and practice. Here are a few tips, that we also use at Sipios.

#1 - Ask open ended questions

Any business or product idea is basically a list of assumptions about the market or the users. The first mistake most beginner interviewers make is to expose these assumptions to users.

For instance, let's say I want to create a frozen yogourt company. One question I could ask is "Would you rather eat ice cream or frozen yogourt ?". But this question is based on many assumptions among which the fact that ice cream is the only alternative to frozen yogourt. A much better way to investigate would be to ask "When was the last time you bought a refreshment during a warm Sunday afternoon ? Can you tell me what you bought and why ?". That way I might end up realising that my interviewee actually likes sorbet the most in those moments, and that I should maybe shift my initial business idea.

#2 - Be on the lookout for emotions

You know you've found good user insight once you're able to notice the emotions of the person you are talking to. The more intense, the better (I mean, for user discovery purposes). Let me use Khalid's story as an example again :

  • Talk to refugees about how hard it is to get papers, and you will get a mixed response between boredom and frustration.
  • Talk to them about how hard it is to not have a job, and my bet is that you'll see them burst into anger or tears.

Witnessing those emotions is the sign that you are actually discovering your users.

#3 - Dig deeper

You'll never be able to get proper user insight if you stick to the surface. Here are the symptoms of surface level conversations :

  • Blank statements: "My biggest need is this."
  • Compliments: "Your idea is awesome."
  • Hypothesis about the future: "Should it exist, I would definitely buy a product that does this."

One simple tool that we use every day at Sipios in order to dig beneath the surface is the 5 whys rule. Every time we are faced with these surface level statements, we ask why. 5 times. At least. Until we get to the bottom of it.

There are plenty more tips that you can apply in order to have better user conversations, but these three are the most important and actionable ones to me. They are largely inspired by Rob Fitzpatrick' excellent book The Mom Test, which I recommend.

2. Underestimate your user's environment

You might think that GAFAs know the way to get customer insights. Well, remember Google glass.

This 1500$ augmented glass concept Google launched in 2013 seemed really futuristic in the launching video but Google stopped the project 2 years later in 2015. One of the main reasons of this failure is privacy concerns. Indeed, Google Glass allowed its users to record a video and audio of their environment, which made people highly uncomfortable. People around the user felt invaded in their privacy and the glasses were forbidden in a lot of public spaces...

Google basically did not take into account the user's environment in their product design process : Google Glass answered certain needs of their users for sure, but made other people feel uncomfortable, and it backfired. Google Glass wanted to look smart and connected, they looked voyeur and disrespectful.

A successful second life is offered to Google glasses in BtoB with the Enterprise Edition in 2017. It proved really useful for employees in the engineering sector who needed to access information while using their 2 hands, boosting productivity by 20% ! This target's need is indeed much clearer and users' environment is more "Google glass-friendly".


To summarize, if you want to build products with impact, talk to your customers in a way to find their deep functional, social and emotional goals using your product, while making sure your product will fit in their environment.