Photo by Mikkel Bergmann on Unsplash

Don’t Interview Users in Groups

I’m writing this on Black Friday, having just finished up the Thanksgiving holiday with a topic fresh on my mind. Anytime I’m talking to product teams or founders, I always advise them to interview their users (or potential customers) in one-on-one situations, never in groups. Thanksgiving dinner gave me another reminder of just how important this is.

In groups, people tend to “average” their personalities, responses, and reactions. People will agree with a sentiment simply because others have vocalized it, not because it actually aligns to what they believe. This is magnified by having a superior or manager involved in the conversation. Folks will tend to agree with what the “hippo” says, simply because they said it. (In this instance, I’m using the word hippo to mean the highest paid person.)

I’ve led user interviews that were completely wasted, simply because the person we were talking to was joined by their direct superior, or a program stakeholder. If the person signing your check is sitting next to your interviewee, you can’t count on honest feedback. It’s not that the individual is intending to lie to you, it’s that their mindset is totally altered from a “let’s fix this” attitude to a “don’t rock the boat” attitude. It’s almost as if someone is trying to gather your feedback on the Thanksgiving stuffing, except you know who made the stuffing and they’re sitting right next to you. If you’re looking to build a new product or improve an existing one (or make better stuffing), you need the boat-rocking feedback.

When you’re scheduling user interviews, always strive for one-on-one. Ask to record it, if possible. Ask them to speak freely, ask them follow-up questions, and make sure they know their feedback is anonymous.

I do consider “group interviews” to be different than surveys. I’ll write another post about the danger of using surveys a bit later. Speaking of writing, you may notice I’ve been posting more than usual as of late. A few days ago, I made it a goal to write a post every day until 2018 starts, hopefully as the start of a new habit.

Are you looking for more insight into how to build better products? Are you a non-technical founder looking to get an MVP out the door? Maybe you’re just lonely and want to talk to someone…feel free to reach out on LinkedIn, shoot me a note at, or reply directly in the comments. Hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving!