Overcoming the Fear of Talking to Users – Understanding the Background

A couple of weeks ago I wrote down the reasons that make me uncomfortable talking to our users, as well as how I try to overcome them by analysing how our tool works. Soon I realised that just by looking at the situation as it is today that didn’t help me much understand why it is as it is. I need to do some synthesis of things that would give me insights on the background of our product.

Getting familiar with THE FOUNDATION

Since I was not around when our tool was first conceived and approved I needed to find out what was the motivation for it. Was it something that just made sense to do or were there concrete requests from users? The answer was that it was both. Our UX team had conducted a thorough research to identify the concrete needs and desires of our users. Their results and a collection of user feedback from various teams laid down the foundation of our tool. As I had just got familiar with Teresa Torres’ Opportunity Solution Trees, I started to “translate” the foundations into Opportunities. This is still an ongoing exercise but already using the framework helps me get more organised.

Getting familiar with the existing backlog

The team was not waiting for me to have a list of things to do. There was already a full (as always) backlog in place. But why was Item A prioritised higher than Item B? Why was item A important in the first place? There, with the help of my co-product owner, who is also the Technical Lead, I tried to map existing items into Opportunities I had already identified. Finally, using Janna Bastow’s Now/Next/Later roadmaps, tried to get a feeling if the priorities that were set would get us where we wanted to go in the future (they actually did!).

Getting familiar with the team’s decisions

Trying out our software I had questions regarding the workflows we had in place. Why were they implemented in a certain way and not in another? Why did I have access to Tool A but I needed a whole song and dance to access Tool B? There were usually good reasons behind each decision. They varied from, “this is what our users told us is the fastest way”, to implementation specific aspects such as no API availability, or simply “we needed a fast solution at the time but we will improve in the future”. Of course, there was even the occasional “Huh, we didn’t know it worked like that”. Understanding the constraints to lead to each decision and finding out if they are still in place, helps me a lot making a better plan for the future.

Analysing and synthesising information about or product helped me gain confidence on both how things worked as well as why they did so. Of course, at the time it didn’t occur to me that this was what I was doing. I was just struggling to figure out how I could do my job. Luckily, I guess professor Ackoff’s teachings on systems thinking surfaced from the subconscious to help me out.

I am still not 100% confident talking to our users, but starting to get better at it.

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