User Research for Developing a Conference Program

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  • We’re working hard to prove that even tiny companies—like Rosenfeld Media—have no excuses when it comes to doing user research (we wrote about it here). We’re at it here, doing the research to develop the program for our next virtual conference. Laura Klein, author of UX for Lean Startups and the forthcoming Build Better Products, helped us with the research and analysis (she’ll be speaking at the event too). Here’s her description of what we did and what we learned.

    Product managers and UX designers understand the need for user research when building a product. Good product managers and UX designers actually DO user research when building a product.

    Rosenfeld Media cares deeply about good product management and UX design, so when they started talking about doing an online conference on February 3, 2016—about the intersection of product management and UX design—they decided to reach out to potential attendees first in order to understand what people want to know. They also recruited some top people working in product management and UX as speakers: Christina Wodtke, Jeff Gothelf, Jeff Patton, Marty Cagan, and Tomer Sharon (and me too!). We all worked together to gain insights into questions people have about product management, UX, and how we can all work better together.

    We all worked together to gain insights into questions people have about product management, UX, and how we can all work better together. (Tweet this)

    Let’s take a look at what we did and what we learned.

    The Qualitative

    First, we had to understand who the users (conference attendees) were hopefully going to be. Too many conferences choose “anybody who will buy a ticket” as their target customers, but frankly that’s what leads to unfocused, boring conferences where very few people learn anything of actual value to them.

    If you try to build a product that works for everybody from students to CEOs, you’ll likely end up not providing much value to at least some of your users, and the same thing is true for conferences. That wasn’t something we were cool with.  We knew we wanted to create a conference that was useful and actionable for people who are currently building things or managing people who build things—working product managers, UX designers, researchers, and their bosses.  

    Armed with a couple of quick, provisional personas, we set out to get some qualitative feedback. A few of us spent some time talking to PMs and UXers we knew who fit the personas, and then we started analyzing the most common questions and problems they had about working together and building products.

    The Quantitative

    Patterns started to emerge pretty quickly; we used them to put together a short survey with questions that were representative of what we’d been hearing. We wanted to know whether the respondents spent more time doing UX design, product management, or something else. We wanted to know their job titles. And we wanted to know which questions or topics they found most interesting.

    We asked them to choose from a set of questions that ranged from “How should Product Managers and UX Designers coordinate and manage discovery work?” to “What does a great Product Manager do?” to “How should UX Designers work with engineering?”

    We heard from over 150 of you. Most were UX designers, but we also got a good collection of product managers and a few people who listed themselves as “other.” Somebody listed himself as a “troublemaker.” We know who you are, Steve, and we’re watching you.

    The Results

    About two thirds of the respondents said that their jobs mostly involved UX, but job titles included everything from user researcher to product designer to innovation catalyst to CEO. We’re taking that as a good sign that people from all parts of organizations are starting to care about user experience design!

    PM/UX/Other breakdown pie chart

    The top three questions people had, by quite a large margin, were:

    • How should product managers and UX designers coordinate and manage discovery work? Over 77% of respondents were interested in that one.
    • How should product managers and UX designers split up the work of product development? That was 65%.
    • How to balance discovery work on new ideas with the demands of supporting teams doing delivery work? 60% of people wanted to know the answer to that.

    But it got interesting when we looked at some of the differences between UX designers and product managers. Over 70% of people who identified with UX were interested in knowing how to split up work, while only 50% of PMs and 41% of “others” cared. Maybe the UX designers are feeling like they’re doing too much of the heavy lifting?

    Over 70% of people who identified with UX were interested in knowing how to split up work, while only 50% of PMs and 41% of “others” cared. (Tweet this)

    Only about 35% of product managers and UX designers are interested in learning how to work better together and only about 12% of people wanted to know how to work better with engineering, so maybe that means everybody’s getting along just fine. Although, 20% of the UX designers wanted to know how they can move into product management, so we’ll see how long everybody likes each other when the designers try to steal the all the product jobs.

    Of course, one thing that always happens when you run a survey is that you realize you left out the most important question. My two favorite write-ins were, “What’s so hard about a UX designer’s work?” and “Why do we need Product Managers?” I think we’d all like to know those answers.

    Favorite (and snarky) write-in questions: “What’s so hard about a UX designer’s work?” and “Why do we need Product Managers?” (Tweet this)

    Some of the other great questions we got asked were around getting both UX and Product to work better with research, including one asking for a session called, “User Research—Why it’s not scary.” I would totally watch that session.

    The submitted questions that didn’t address research often focused on coordination, communication, and collaboration, including a lot of great questions about decision making and setting priorities. Oh, and, somebody just asked for “as much Marty as we can get”, which is perfectly understandable, because we’re pretty excited that Marty Cagan will be speaking too.

    The Conference

    We’re now hard at work preparing talks and discussions that focus on the things you care about. Creating great product development organizations takes a tremendous amount of work and coordination, and we’re excited about helping you do it.

    So that we can reach as many people as possible, we’re running the conference online. That means that you can watch all six talks from the comfort of your own desk, and I can give my talk while wearing bunny slippers.

    Laura Klein's bunny slippers
    What Laura will be wearing during her Big Presentation on February 3.

    We’ll be sharing the titles and descriptions of the talks as they’re finished, but you might not want to wait, since the early bird prices end on December 18. We hope you’ll join us for the Product Management + User Experience Conference on February 3.

     

    Laura Klein is a Lean UX and Research expert in Silicon Valley, where she teaches companies how to get to know their users and build products people will love. She’s a Rosenfeld Media expert and author. Her newest book, Build Better Products, is set for release later in 2016. She’s also the author of UX for Lean Startups (O’Reilly) and blogs about UX at Users Know. Follow her on Twitter.

    9 Responses to “User Research for Developing a Conference Program”

    1. Joe Sokohl

      Thanks for sharing the data! Nicely done.

      I took the results a bit differently: the interest in who does discovery work could be as much to do with the fact that PMs tend to eschew/denigrate/sublimate primary user research. Also, UXers might be concerned about non-UXers having decision power over areas that UXers are trained in. Just a couple of observations that _might_ be a different spin.

      Reply

      • Louis Rosenfeld

        Absolutely; like all user research, questions lead to more questions… 🙂

        Reply

    2. Gena Drahun

      “Over 70% of people who identified with UX were interested in knowing how to split up work, while only 50% of PMs and 41% of “others” cared. Maybe the UX designers are feeling like they’re doing too much of the heavy lifting?”
      “20% of the UX designers wanted to know how they can move into product management”
      Both many UXers and PMs have a broad experience of effective working in the environments where the other party just does not present. They had to carry some tasks that are traditionally covered by the opposite role. PMs who create Wireframes are as common as UXers who write specifications.

      This creates both limited understanding of UX in PM world and the belief that an UXer can substitute a PM / move to PM domain in UX community.

      Reply

    3. Thanks for sharing the results of the survey. When you are thinking of conference audiences, tho, you should remember that not everyone will be attending from home in their bunny slippers. Some people will be attending in a “meeting room” at work. And others will be in a local conference setting, with networking and talking about the sessions with other attendees a crucial part of the experience. I do not believe your survey addresses these other contexts for participating, but I am constantly bugging Lou about the non-slipper audiences.

      Reply

      • Louis Rosenfeld

        Thanks for the nag (though, to be fair, I think we did address some of the issues you’d raised over the past year). But great suggestion nonetheless; will add format (and ties to context of attendance) to the more content-focused research we’re doing for our fall 2016 event.

        Reply

    4. This addresses a lot of the interests and concerns I have in my current work environment. Thank you!

      When it comes to context and format, please bear in mind that some of us are in a far off location – Africa perhas – and may be attending at an odd time of the day (or night).

      Reply

      • Louis Rosenfeld

        Glad to hear it Lynssey! BTW, the recordings are included, just in case you can’t keep your eyes open…

        Reply

    5. […] + User Experience virtual conference program is live! Thanks to the 150+ people who sent in feedback to help inform the final program content. Our six speakers will tackle your most top of mind […]

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    6. […] around how user research should managed. In fact, it was the most common write-in answer on our survey, and a question that comes up repeatedly whenever I give talks. Apparently, there seems to be very […]

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