UX Method of the Week: Listening Tour

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  • A listening tour helps you learn what your team’s priorities are, and how much awareness and support for UX currently exists.

    Especially for teams of one, knowing the priorities of others will help you identify where there are opportunities and problems to solve, and where user-centered design practices might be a good fit. A listening tour is time set up to gather information and learn what matters to your colleagues. Sometimes, UX practitioners describe this as stakeholder interviews, and they usually take the format of you and a colleague chatting in an office or conference room. Whatever the label, the goal is the same: to learn about your colleagues’ priorities and goals, and to formulate a point of view on the role of UX in helping them accomplish those goals. If you’re lucky on your listening tour, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much people already value human-centered products (as evidenced by code words like “user-friendly,” “intuitive,” and inevitably, “Apple”). If you’re less lucky, you might find that people have a wary and seasoned caution about what can and cannot be done. But that’s valuable information, too.

    These interviews should help you see what parts of the product you should be focusing on, and what sacred cows are truly sacred (versus those that can be challenged). They may also help you see what technical and practical constraints you will need to work within. Without a doubt, they will give you a sense of formal and softer measures by which success will be judged. Finally, they will help you gauge how much support and enthusiasm there is for user-centered improvements. The art of the listening tour, and interviewing in general, is to accept and believe what your interviewee is telling you, but also to ask probing questions to try to understand what’s really underneath their beliefs. When in doubt, keep asking “why?”

    Ever done a listening tour? What tip would you share with others? 

    Post your reply as a comment below by Tuesday, 10/29, midnight PT. The best reply wins a free copy of The User Experience Team of One.

    6 Responses to “UX Method of the Week: Listening Tour”

    1. When listening, wait 10 seconds after the person has spoken; if that feels awkward, write something instead of just looking at them. You’ll find that the person will add something extra, which will invariably be more valuable than what they have previously said.

      Also, if the person starts to vent their frustration about something unrelated, let them do it. Even if it’s off-topic, it will be time well spent: they will engage more with you, and open up more, after they’ve gotten that tension off their chest.

    2. Great advice, Leah. I like the informal approach and the term that you came up with “Listening Tour” – brilliant! I think the most valuable message here about this method is to not be afraid of feedback and be courageous enough to venture out there and really listen to people about the priorities and what they need to achieve with the product. If you product is satisfying their needs and works well with their flow, you’re half way there, if the is something to fix and improve, then you’re getting there. It is all about being in-tune and listening to the needs, watching the workflows if possible, and understanding people as they explain the “why”.

    3. Wendy Castleman

      Treat your listening tour just like any other research. Your goal is to understand their perspective, what’s motivating them and what success feels like. Ask “why” and “tell me more” to get to the deeper issues. This is not the time to debate or influence.

      After you are done talking with each person, spend some time reflecting on what you heard, highlighting the key points, and identifying the unspoken needs implied by their answers and explanations.

    4. Darn, another tough week to choose a winner.

      I love Alan’s recommendation to wait 10 seconds (because this is something that I personally struggle with — always wanting to rush in to fill the silence).

      Terry gets right to the heart of the method in acknowledging that it’s about a willingness to listen, and be curious about other people’s goals.

      But it’s Wendy’s advice to treat it like any other research that fascinates me most. It gets me thinking about what the ‘user experience’ of working with a UX team of one is, and makes me realize that many of the techniques we employ when designing a product could also be useful in our internal processes. How interesting to think in terms of personas, task flows, and even design principles for how we engage our non-UX colleagues! Thanks for the provocative idea, Wendy. (And congratulations. That means free book for you!)

    5. Too late for the book, but another tip: don’t be afraid to interview people again. You’ll learn things as a project progresses that you didn’t know in your first few interviews. Ask whether people would be interested in talking again, and use your new found insights to try to find out more, or ask new questions you may have.

    6. hilaryos

      this is all really helpful, thanks!