The Importance of User Research in Project Design

The Importance of User Research in Project Design

Project design is an early phase of a project where the project’s key features, structure, criteria for success and major deliverables are planned out. It is a subset of project management according to write. Breaking down this definition reveals that the project design phase is the phase where the definition of a project, its scope and its purpose are justified. It is something like a model helicopter or sports car.

The question then is this; what informs the project design? Do project managers and their teams sit together and arbitrarily come up with the design of a project? Or does it come to them in a vision in the night? This is where user research comes in. What has user research to do with project design? It is the hub of project design. User research informs to a large extent the design of a project, so it is indispensable no matter how experienced and brilliant the project manager or project team is.

What is user research? Careerfoundry says that user research is the systematic investigation of your users in order to gather insights that will inform the design process. It is the use of different techniques to understand your users’ needs, attitudes, pain points, behaviours and the jobs they are trying to get done. While it is typically done at the beginning of the project, it is valuable throughout the lifetime of the project because so many factors are today affecting the behaviour of customers and their behaviours are changing rather quickly.

Some of the importance of user research is discussed below;

1. User Research Gives Context to the Project:

The project of a pharmaceutical team may be to motivate a person to do tests before taking medications, i.e. to reduce self-medicating. This project sounds wonderful but it is vague, there is no context. The team probably does not understand the context around which self-medication happens. Every plan of the team, every strategy that the team would have to employ to achieve their aim must be woven around the context that sponsors self-medication. They can only understand the context through user research.

2. It Uncovers Insights Formerly Hidden:

Every project needs insight to achieve its aim. Our pharmaceutical team needs insight to gain a competitive advantage in the market. In the user research process, the pharmaceutical team may discover that single mothers are more susceptible to self-medicating. This is an insight that will have a great bearing on their project and would enable them to achieve their aims.

A discovery that single mothers are more likely to self-medicate gives them a roadmap, they can now choose to either niche down on single mothers or come up with strategies targeted at the single-mothers population. Things would however be different if they were working without user research, they would come up with all sorts of ideas that sound wonderful on paper but are in fact not realistic in their environment.

3. It Validates Assumptions and Clears Doubts:

Before the inception of any project, the manager and even the team already have assumptions. This is in fact the reason why some very brilliant project managers go along with a project without user research. These assumptions however have to be validated if the team is going to be focused and work without doubts.

Work done in confidence is likely to yield more fruits than one that came about from a myriad of doubts. The development of a hypothesis needs facts; user research provides the facts that become the foundation on which the project stands. It gives direction to the efforts and resources of the team.

It should be noted that some assumptions will remain as assumptions because, after the user research, it would be discovered that they are not true. However, some assumptions will lead the team in the right direction and eventually to the success of the project.

4. It Helps all Stakeholders to Come on Board:

It is rare to find projects that are carried out entirely by one person or two. Projects usually involve a whole team of people with different ideas, backgrounds and beliefs. Everything that the team agrees with must be justifiable to them. User research justifies ideas and decisions and brings everyone on board because it contains facts not just assumptions.

Even more critical are the other stakeholders of a project like clients if any is involved. They would like to know that their resources are not being wasted. To bring them on board with the decisions and actions of the team, facts must be presented to them, facts come from user research. To make sure that the stakeholders are aligned on the values and goals of the project, user research is essential. It should not be underestimated.

5. User Research Saves Money:

User research, especially when conducted at the inception of the project- i.e. the project design phase and when incorporated throughout the lifespan of the project saves not just money but all other kinds of resources like time.

If our fictional pharmaceutical company goes ahead to exhaust resources on the assumptions they have without proper user research they are likely to lose money. For example, if the team decides that young adults, especially students are more likely to self-medicate, maybe because in the environment where the team leader formerly worked that was the case and then strategize to reduce self-medicating among young people in the new environment only to realize eventually that in the new environment, the people who are susceptible to self-medication are single mothers, then there would have been a tremendous waste of resources and money by the time the team tries to backtrack. User research at the project design stage prevents all this.

6. User Research Insures the Project and Project Team:

The only constant thing in life is change. At this time in history, change is almost happening at the same rate at which we take our breaths. The market is always changing, people’s behaviours are changing rapidly, the value of money, people’s value, and business models are changing quickly and businesses have to adapt to all these. The best insurance for any business carrying out a project would be to not just conduct user research at the project designing stage but to put in place systems that would enable them to keep up with the tide of change throughout the project cycle.

Wanna learn how to become a better researcher or a better project manager? head over here. At Heels and Tech, we give the best. You think project management is just not for you? Find out what’s just for you!

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