Insight to MVP

Techniques to analyse user research and find inspired solutions

Ben Ralph
Ben Ralph
Feb 26, 2017 · 16 min read

This article builds on topics covered in Part 1 (Intro to UXD) and Part 3 (UX Research).

The value of user research is in the insight and understanding it can provide your team. It should influence and lead to better designs and better products. Research is not valuable if conducted but never used.

Your company may have spent many thousands of dollars on user research where you observed user behaviour and collected valuable insights about your customers …

… but sadly, over time this insight can be lost.

How UX Research is often shared and stored:

  • a Powerpoint presentation with handouts
  • hours of video footage featuring user interviews and focus groups
  • lengthy research reports
  • spreadsheets or quantitative data and survey responses.

This permanent documentation is a great reference, but it is often shelved or saved on a share drive, never to be thought of again. When your team sits down to start designing, you need a way to get this research back off the paper and into the short-term working memory of your team.

This article details a simple step-by-step process to achieving just that.

Convert research findings into testable prototypes

Let’s get started

Set a project goal

Start by setting a goal for the project.

Ask yourselves, ‘If this project is a success, what will have changed?’ Perhaps selling more products per month, or losing less customers on the home page? Getting more email subscribers or more monthly visits?

The goal can be as broad or as targeted as you like, but make sure it is measurable. Without a measurable goal it is hard to know when you have finished or if you’ve been successful. Often these kinds of projects just continue until the money runs out, or it is time to move on to something else.

Measurable goals

  • Movie theatre: increase the number of tickets purchased for off-peak session times
  • Online retailer: increase the average number of items per order
  • Publisher: increase the average time a reader spends engaging with content per day

Anti-patterns (what not to do)

  • Movie theatre: improve the visual design of our website to appeal to more people
  • Online retailer: improve the checkout experience
  • Publisher: make more engaging content

Clear goals lead to clear project outcomes; fuzzy project goals lead to fuzzy project outcomes.


Next up:

Gather ‘all’ the research

Gather all the research, whatever you can find, in any format. This might include but is not limited to: notes or reports from contextual enquiries, user interviews, expert or stakeholder interviews, competitor analysis, results from surveys, analytics reports, personas, user journeys, personal notes, case studies and anything relevant you could find via a Google search.

Audit what you have to see if there are any research gaps or bias. It is important that your research is gathered from a variety of sources using a variety of qualitative and quantitive techniques.

  • Avoid using a single source
  • Make sure your research hasn’t all been conducted with a single department in mind
  • Make sure that the research covers most, if not all, of your potential users

Also avoid only using quantitative research like analytics or user surveys. It is important to talk to and gain insights from real users and not just assumptions based on general trend information.

We discuss conducting research in this previous post.


Next up:

Affinity Mapping

Affinity Mapping is a well-recognised and highly flexible UX technique for summarising large amounts of research.

Advantages of Affinity Mapping:

  • It is an efficient way of finding and summarising insights from a large and varied data set
  • It gets information out of the heads of a few and into short-term working memory of the whole team
  • It accommodates different perspectives from a varied team
  • It limits dominant personalities from taking over which can silence less confident team members
  • It is highly flexible and can be easily adapted to fit any situation

Method

Step 1: Work individually
Divide up the research artefacts between each member of the team for review.

  • Take note of anything that seems relevant and interesting
  • One insight per sticky note
  • If you are not sure, write it down

Better to have a few irrelevant things captured than a gem hidden on page 6 of a report you may never open again!

This should be done quietly. No need to discuss each insight as you find it, just take note of it and move on.

Rough format for writing on sticky note:
Summary — optional notes — source

Examples

  • 45% of off-peak movie goers are over the age of 55 — Industry survey
  • People are 5 times more likely to spend over $60 than they are to spend below — free shipping kicks in at $60 — Google Analytics
  • “If the video is longer than 5 minutes I won’t watch it” — Paul, 17 y/o — User interview conducted in 2015

Step 2: Validate in pairs
In pairs, review each other’s sticky notes.

  • Rewrite any that are illegible or don’t make sense (don’t worry, it happens)
  • Split up large or complex ideas into multiple sticky notes

It is really important that this doesn’t turn into a discussion or a debate of ideas. Stay focused on making sure the cards are legible and comprehensible. Spend no more than 10 minutes.

Step 3: Back as a full team, gather all the sticky notes together

Team members should start to randomly select notes from the pile and place them on a nearby wall. As you go, try to find similar notes to stick yours next to. You will start to notice clusters forming. Continue until all notes are on the wall. Once a note has been placed on the wall, resist the urge to move it; you will have a chance to later.

This activity needs to be done in silence — we don’t want dominating personalities taking over.

Step 4: Organise the sticky notes into themes

Now that all the notes are on the wall, take a step back and review as a group.

  • Split any large clumps of notes (>10 sticky notes) down into smaller chunks
  • Try to find a home for any outliers
  • Move any sticky notes that have clearly ended up in the wrong group

Step 5: Label each theme

  • As a team, write labels for each ‘chunk’ or group of sticky notes
  • If you find a group that seems too hard to label, it is a good indicator that the group needs to be split up or rearranged

Facilitator notes

  • Make sure you use a wall where the Affinity Map can remain untouched for the entirety of the project. Don’t just take a photo and move on — you will forget about it.
  • Time-box the activity to keep up team momentum and reduce fatigue

Next up:

‘How Might We’

We have sorted through our research, found insights and then organised those insights into themes. We now need to reframe these insights so they are expressed as opportunities. To do this, we use a technique called ‘How Might We’ (HMW) notes.

Rewriting can at first seem a little forced or unintuitive but press on — it makes for a much more efficient ideation phase.

Method:
1. Take a sticky note and write the initials ‘HMW’ in the top left-hand corner
2. For each theme, select a few insights that ‘stand out’ as worth exploring in the ideation phase
3. Re-write each insight (1 per sticky note) so that it follows on from the prompt ‘How might we..?’

Example:

  • ‘45% of off-peak movie goers are over the age of 55’ would become ‘How might we encourage the over 55’s to visit the movies more?’
  • ‘People are 5 times more likely to spend over $60 than they are to spend below’ would become ‘How might we encourage shoppers already spending $60 or more to shop more frequently?’
  • ‘“If the video is longer than 5 minutes I won’t watch it” — Paul, 17y/o’ would become ‘How might we convince younger viewers that longer videos are worth watching?’

Learn more about ‘HMW’ note taking pioneered by GV


Next up:

Selecting a focus

Now that we could have anywhere between 1 and 100 HMW cards (depending on the project), we need to select a few to focus on first. This doesn’t mean forgetting or deleting everything else, but we have to start somewhere!

There are a few ways of doing this depending on the team: either a straight-up vote of all team members (democracy), or leaving it up to the product owner to decide (leadership).

Another option is to do a little bit of both (democraship).

Method:
1. Everyone in the team is given 3 small round stickers
2. Everyone should then spend a few minutes reviewing all the HMW cards and reflecting on the project goal
3. They can then place each sticker on the card or cards they think are most relevant to explore
4. People should feel free to use their stickers however they like and if they want to place multiple stickers (i.e. votes) on the same card they can

The product owner then has a visual indication of what the team thinks is important, which can help inform their eventual decision.


Next up:

Ideation

Now that we have a focus, it is time to get creative. There are always more than 1 or 2 ways to solve a problem and it is time to find them! There are many fun ideation techniques and activities, but below I have listed three of my favourites.

Technique 1: Alter Ego
This is a fun way to break the ice and get into a creative mindset. Don’t spend any longer than 10-20 minutes on this activity, the focus is to get the team thinking and collaborating.

Method

  1. Give everyone on the team an A4 piece of paper and a pen
  2. Get them to think of a company they like or admire
  3. On the piece of paper each team member should write down the name of the company and 2-3 bullet points why they like or admire that company
  4. Quickly (no more than 30 seconds each), everyone takes it in turns to pitch their company to the group
  5. Stick the sheets of paper to the wall
  6. Now for the fun part: the product owner selects a single HMW note from the wall
  7. Everyone in the team then gets 4 minutes to try to channel one of the companies on the wall (it doesn’t need to be their own), and come up with a creative solution to the HMW as if they were that company

Example:
How might we encourage the over 55’s to visit the movies more?’

If I was Amazon, I would make it easy to buy movie tickets in just ‘one click’ and based on the movies the customer watched, suggest others they may like.

If I was Uber, I would add a feature to the app where you could click to have a driver pick you up from your house, drive you to the movie theatre and have your ticket and favourite flavour of Choc Top ready and waiting on your arrival.

If I was Tinder, I might allow you to swipe though lists of famous actors until you and your friend matched on the same actor, then BOOM!, it’s a movie date!

This activity it just a bit of fun, but it can be interesting to see what themes come up. Maybe there is a need to simplify the payment process, or come up with a fun way to select movies with friends. You never know.

Technique 2: Design Studio
Running the ‘Design Studio’ activity is all about trying to collaboratively come up with as many solutions to a specific problem as possible. Working in small groups, you focus on one HMW card at a time and in a fixed chunk of time (say 5–10 minutes), come up with as many ideas as possible.

There are many benefits to this way of designing but my top 3 are:

  • It is energising and fun
  • You are forced to consider alternative or multiple solutions (not just fall in love with the first idea that pops into your head)
  • You don’t rely on just 1 person to have all the ‘ideas’. Getting the whole team involved allows different experiences and perspectives to bounce off each other.

There are a few variations for running this activity. Here are some good articles that walk you through the process:

Technique 3: Persuasive patterns
Now that you have exhausted the team’s creativity (at least for the moment), it is time to introduce some external prompts to help the team think of the problem from alternative perspectives.

Again there are a few different ways of gathering these external prompts, but a good place to start is to buy this deck of ‘Persuasive Patterns’:

Each card contains a different web design principle based on an insight driven by psychology.

Method
1. Select 1 HMW card to tackle as a team. It is fine to use a HMW card that has already been used in Technique 1 or 2.
2. Each team member randomly selects a card from the deck and has 4 minutes to come up with a design solution to answer the HMW, inspired by the information on the card.

After completing some, all or alternative ideation exercises detailed above, you should have 10’s if not 100's of ideas: some good, some bad and some AMAZING. In the next step we filter through to find the gold 🥇.


Next up:

Evaluate your ideas

In this task we will focus on finding the ideas that best hit that sweet spot of ‘good for the business’ and ‘good for the user’.

  • Each individual idea should be on its own card
  • As a group, quickly discuss each idea before placing it on the above matrix

Select the idea/s that in your opinion have the best chance of:

  • Achieving the business goal
  • Fulfilling a real user need

Don’t move on with any more than 3 ideas. Again, this doesn’t mean forgetting or deleting all the other ideas. Keep them in your back pocket and if the first set of ideas don’t test very well, you can always come back to them.


Lastly:

Find your idea’s MVP

High on the fumes of your new creative idea, a common mistake is to rush that idea into development.

“We have an idea that is based on research, why would we need to validate it again…right?” — Too many people

An unvalidated idea is like Schrödinger’s cat. You have an idea but no way to know if it is good or bad (alive or dead) until you test it. In other words, until you test the idea with 5 people you don’t know if it is worth spending significant development effort on.

There are many reasons an idea might be flawed

  • Customers might not experience the problem you’re solving
  • Your idea doesn’t actually solve the customer’s problem. The problem might be more nuanced than you initially observed, or your solution might introduce new issues.
  • Customers might not care. The problem users experience might be just too insignificant to warrant the complexity and/or cost of adopting your solution.
  • It might be possible to solve the problem in a simpler way. This is the most common. Often in the ideation phase of a project we get excited and design something large and all-encompassing, but often the simplest solutions are the best.

Note: If you work in an environment that is adverse to change or wary of approving large digital innovation projects, the problem may not be the idea, but the risk of investing in the unknown. Many companies have been burnt in the past with over-budget, underperforming digital projects and often opt to dance with the devil they know. You can overcome this objection with a solid MVP and user testing.

A Minimum Viable Product (MVP) (or sometimes referred to as a Minimum Testable Product (MTP)), is the answer to the question:

“What is the smallest amount of time and money required to make a product realistic enough to test with users?”

The problem

  • Developing the full product will take 6 months
  • You don’t want to spend 6 months making something that might not be successful
  • Without building the full product, how can you really know if a user will want to use it or not?

The solution
You guessed it: a MVP. MVPs reduce the risk of building the full product upfront by building something small and getting it into the hands of real users as quickly as possible. Sometimes as quickly as 7 days.

A MVP is not just an excuse to make something crappy!
The MVP should appear to users as a real polished product (or a very close approximation), but it only needs to perform a small subset of features or function in a very controlled set of circumstances.

MVPs explained

Common approaches for creating an MVP
Depending on the product you are building, there are a few different options for building your MVP.

The traditional MVP. Create just a very small subset of features and get them into the hands of users as soon as possible. Although it might not completely solve the user’s problem right away, it should provide the user with some real value. You should then observe how they use it: what do they like? What don’t they care about? How does it fit into their life? Once it is live you can then iterate, providing more and more features over time guided by real user needs.

The Wizard of OZ MVP. This is where you create a version of your product that appears to function fully to the user but in the background only works because there is someone behind the scenes pulling the strings.

Imagine you want to create a product where users can upload holiday photos to your website and then your site automatically sorts, ranks and captions the images with advanced image recognition. Instead of spending a lot of late nights over a series of months developing the advanced image recognition algorithm, you could instead build just a single page where users can upload their images. Once the images were uploaded a person could manually go through the photos, organising and captioning them just the way the machine would. The users would then receive an email in a few hours letting them know their updated photos were ready to view. You could then survey the users to see if they liked the service.

If they say ‘The service is great, just a bit slow’ then you know you’re on a winner, but if they say ‘It is cool, but I don’t really see a use for this and I definitely wouldn’t pay for it’, then move on and spend your time finding another problem to solve.

A Prototype MVP. A functional prototype is a very common way of testing ideas with users. They are easy and quick to make and can be highly effective. A prototype (usually) doesn’t require any programming and is made up of a series of images linked together to give the impression of a working site.

Prototypes need to be presented to users in a controlled environment, usually under the supervision of the UX researcher or facilitator. This is because although it appears to be a fully-functioning site, if the user strays too far from the intended user journey, they may find buttons that don’t go anywhere or functions that don’t work.

Imagine a movie set: it only needs to look real in the places the camera will see, although just out of frame is the crew and duct tape holding the whole thing together!

Marketing Material MVP. This is the simplest of all and is a great fall-back for testing projects that don’t lend themselves to prototyping or the other MVP methods. With a marketing MVP you create just the promotional landing page for your product. You talk about its features, benefits and price, then place a big ‘Buy Now!’ button somewhere prominent.

You can track the number of people who click the ‘Buy Now!’ button, and even though you can’t ship it to them right away, you will get an idea very quickly if people think it has a good value proposition or not.

Crowdfunding services like Kickstarter or Pozzible are a very popular and effective way of doing this.


We have now reviewed and consolidated our research, found interesting opportunities, brainstormed potential solutions and started thinking about how we can test our ideas and assumptions using a MVP.


If you’re interested in some context on me as a UX designer, check out my LinkedIn account. Also feel free to get in contact through the regular channels (Twitter/Web) with any questions or suggestions.

Beaker & Flint

We are a team of passionate Experience Designers, Product Managers and Agile Coaches sharing our thoughts, feelings and what we are up to @ Beaker & Flint

Ben Ralph

Written by

Ben Ralph

Founder / Head of Product & Experience @ Beaker & Flint⚡️. Forming opinions 140* characters at a time.

Beaker & Flint

We are a team of passionate Experience Designers, Product Managers and Agile Coaches sharing our thoughts, feelings and what we are up to @ Beaker & Flint

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