As I wrote in my previous post I am not very comfortable talking to our end users. What helps me become more confident, is to have a better understanding of what I am actually talking about. To that effect, I started analysing our product to find out how its individual parts are working. Here is how I went about it.
Using the system
I knew what our tool was supposed to be doing, but I needed to know how it was doing it. How easy was it to follow the workflow for someone like me who was not well versed in the topic? If I had a question, was there an easy way to get an answer? Where there any limitations in what we promised to deliver? By using our tool, not only did I learn its capabilities but more importantly I started understanding where its real value to our users lies.
Writing the documentation
In parallel to trying out the system, I paired with developers to document new features. In documentation I always follow the simple principle a technical writer friend once shared:
If it’s too complicated to write down, you have built it wrong.
By having to describe the workflows, I had to ask questions about how things worked and what happened when they didn’t (I guess my testing background helped there). This exercise helped me build a knowledge base for the new functionality that I was lacking for the existing one.
Studying support questions
I was nowhere near confident answering questions from our users, but I started gathering the information they provide us with. How could they reach us? Were their questions more about technical issues or functionality that was not easy to understand? Were there any underlying wishes in their questions, even if they appeared to be reporting bugs? Were there any repeating patterns in their requests? I gathered and grouped their questions, studied the answers my colleagues gave so that I am able to answer myself in the future.
Learning what we actually have, actively trying to describe it and studying the most prominent questions from our users have helped me take the first step to overcome my fears. Next step was to understand the background of our tool.