How to Identify the Needs of the User as a Product Manager

The ultimate purpose of every product is to solve a user need, whether or not the user even knows that they have these needs. As the Product Manager, the onus lies on you to identify the user's needs as you develop your product and even anticipate them for further iterations of the product. How can we do this?

Tiwatayo Kunle
August 17, 2022

Spoiler alert: listen to the user.

Identifying the needs of the user should not be some magical process that requires the Product Manager to become a mind reader. It’s literally as simple as asking the user what they need and deciding how that fits into the product you’ve decided to build.

User Needs. What are those??

‘User needs’ are the requirements that a user has of a product or service which that product or service must satisfy for it to be meaningful to a user.

Irrespective of the industry, the product, or the branch of tech, if your product is something that you expect others to use, you have to make sure that it fills a need.

Ascertaining the needs of the user is often the difference between a successful product and a product that doesn’t survive. Whatever your role in building the product- design, engineering or even sales, it is imperative to always bear in mind who you’re building for.

Oftentimes, in product building, the product manager's responsibility is to carry out user interviews, draw out the user pain points, and then communicate that to all those involved in building the product. A rising number of companies are seeking out user-driven Product Managers, and the ability to identify user needs is an important skill appreciated in a Product Manager.

Identifying the user needs is definitely a time-consuming process because although we use the word ‘user’, we’re not referring to one person – we’re discussing a target market. True, their needs might be similar in order to be solved by one product, but there are so many possible angles to consider.

However, consider it an investment in the future of the product. Gaining an early understanding of the user’s needs saves you so much when it comes to building the product, adding features and iterating.

Here’s the thing about identifying the user needs, it must be done. Happy are those who do it at the beginning of the product development because it’s a lot more tasking trying to figure out needs after prioritization or shipping the product.

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How Do You Identify User Needs?

If your company is not one of those that takes on projects from individual customers specifying what exactly it is that they’d like to be built, then it is important that as the company is manufacturing or coming up with its product, everyone on the team keeps at the back of their mind, exactly what the ideal user for that product looks like.

One way that this could be done is by creating user personas which involves describing fictional characters that represent the user types that can have an interest in the future product. In other words, a portrait of your ideal customer. Ascribing such characters' information such as age, gender, education level, average income, life goals, common problems and spending habits will help you to create a product that such a person needs.

An alternative to this fictional route is reaching out to real people and uncovering their needs by conducting user interviews, handing out questionnaires, studying trends or watching current and possible users of the product. Stop imagining what you think the user needs as though humans are a scarce commodity. Seek out users and listen to what they’re saying; you’ll find out what they need. 

For example, when creating DeepDive, the team first identified their users: people working remotely in tech. Then they interviewed a handful of individuals who fell within that category. After understanding what such people were seeking from their remote interactions with co-workers, they could create a product that best served their user’s needs. Where they could easily have created a card game that helped break the ice between co-workers, they listened to their users and realised that people were looking to form deeper connections. So instead, they formulated questions that broke the ice but prompted meaningful conversations between co-workers.

From their research, the Product Manager can draw out a user need statement. This statement aims to ensure that everyone in the team uses the same design approach. It also helps to concentrate thoughts on the requirements and problems of users rather than specific features. 

Kristine Oak, a Product Manager at Yelp advises Product Managers to start with possible personas and detailed use cases. Prioritize the use cases and brainstorm solutions. This is where you have to put yourself in the consumer's shoes and brainstorm unique, delightful, and compelling ideas.

Remember to let go of your focus on the product if not, you can only use the research to make one product. Focus on the user so you can create multiple products. And be prepared for the possibility that investigating user needs might lead to the realisation that you need to make another product.                                                                                             

As part of the principle of building agile, be willing to make compromises on your product. It might not be the exact picture you had in mind, but if you find something else better answers your user’s needs, ship that. Keep adding to it as you learn more and perhaps find a way to make the things your customers need what you want. Overall, don’t look at the process of identifying user needs as a duty; it’s an ally that will help you create a long-lasting product that people will actually use.

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