Product sense. Product-minded. Product builder. These terms are often associated with our learnings as UX researchers in the field of enterprise software. The term product sense originated from the field of product management and refers to gaining a deep understanding of the product’s goals, business goals, and users to find opportunities to enhance the product experience.
As a UX researcher working within an embedded product team at an enterprise software company, I constantly collaborate with cross-functional stakeholders such as UX designers and product managers. Although we all have different job functions, we have a common North Star: building great products for our users. So what is product sense and how does it relate to UX research?
Product sense focuses on the intersection of the users, the design, and the business.
Product Sense for Consumer Products Versus Enterprise Products
Having product sense is important for UX researchers working in any product space. However, there are some subtle differences when it comes to building product sense for enterprise products. Understanding the enterprise-product space can be a little more complicated for the following reasons:
product complexity—Enterprise products can be highly technical and require a steep learning curve. There may be field-specific jargon and taxonomies with which you might not be familiar. Expect to spend time coming up to speed with this terminology so you can speak the language of the product team.
complex, more specialized personas—In the enterprise space, we often define personas according to job activities and common ways of working. Understanding these personas requires an in-depth knowledge of the job functions, activities, workflows, and tools that pertain to a more highly technical domain. For example, understanding the processes that DevOps Engineers use to accomplish their work versus understanding how users shop on an ecommerce Web site.
domain knowledge—Many concepts and frameworks for building enterprise software are based on software engineering. Building product sense involves understanding the product. Therefore, for someone with little or no background in information technology (IT) or software engineering, the product’s terminology might be unfamiliar. Thus, building domain knowledge could require more time.
A Framework for Building Product Sense in the Enterprise-Software Space
Figure 1 depicts a framework for building product sense: Product sense = People + Design + Business.
Let’s consider each of these key dimensions of developing product sense in turn.
Research approaches—Secondary research, stakeholder interviews, or discovery research
Developing this dimension of product sense consists of understanding your users, your customers, and your stakeholders, as follows:
users and customers—You must understand the difference between the actual users and the customer or buyer. The customer or buyer of the product makes purchasing decisions regarding the product, while the users are employees within the buyer’s company who actually use the product. Depending on the goals of your UX research, you might need to decide whether you should speak with the customer or the users. (For more information about user nomenclature within the enterprise space, check out my article “Navigate UX Research at a Large Software Company with This Easy Primer.” Ask the following questions when you’re building your knowledge of these personas:
Who are your personas? Are there different types of personas?
How do the personas differ based on their ways of working? Do these differences translate into different product needs?
What are your personas’ jobs to be done (JTBD)?
What are your personas’ primary and secondary workflows? Do the product’s current capabilities adequately support these workflows?
stakeholders—These are the people working within the organization, who have a vested interest in building the product and the agency to implement your research recommendations. Understanding their expectations and styles of working is very important to helping you turn your product insights into product impact. Ask the following questions in endeavoring to understand your stakeholders:
What do stakeholders expect from your UX research? How can you leverage their domain knowledge to strengthen your product insights?
How do stakeholders expect you to present your learnings and other information—through pre-reads, an executive summary, video clips, presentation decks, Word documents, or customer quotations?
What are stakeholders’ goals for UX research? What do they want to learn from the research? How would they implement your research findings?
Research approaches—Design-research methods such as concept testing, usability testing, card sorting, or benchmarking
This dimension involves understanding and speaking the language of design to translate your research insights into design implications. Ask the following questions to ensure that your research findings adequately inform design:
What new features should the team design and incorporate into the product? What is their design rationale?
What are the current capabilities of the product?
How would findings from your UX research translate into design requirements, enhancements, or recommendations?
What would be the impacts of the design on the users or customers? Is there a learning curve associated with these design enhancements?
Research approaches—Secondary or factual research, analytics, expert interviews, or stakeholder interviews
This dimension involves orienting your UX research to the business direction and goals. There are several facets to consider, as follows:
product information—Valuable resources could include knowledge bases, tutorials, demos, technical reports, analyst reports—for example, from Gartner or Forrester—competitive assessments, or social media.
product packaging, licensing, and pricing—Understanding product packaging could help UX researchers to tailor their conversations to the needs of specific customers and increase the depth of their knowledge of the product space. While UX research might not directly impact the licensing and pricing of products, it is good to have an understanding of how such products are bundled and priced. For larger Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies that have ten or more product offerings, many customers tend to buy products that span different business capabilities and may have dependencies on each other. Ask the following questions to inform your UX research:
How are products packaged and bundled together?
Are there different tiers of licenses—for example, pro or executive—and what do these licenses mean for different product offerings?
usage analytics—What analytics data should you analyze to answer the following questions?
How are people using the product and how many users are there?
Are there particular features that receive high usage or that experience high drop-off rates?
My Concluding Thoughts
Developing product sense can take you a long way toward delivering impactful UX research insights that are valuable to stakeholders. Plus, it can help you to do the following:
Avoid common UX research pitfalls such as doing research for the sake of doing research. UX researchers must keep their focus on the context of the product and the business throughout the entire UX research process. Instead of just thinking thoughts such as the following:
This research method sounds cool, so I want to use it.
This research topic is interesting, and I want to know more about it.
How could using this method of UX research help answer questions about the product and the business? Would this method be appropriate to our needs? Would the impacts justify the cost of conducting this research?
How would the business benefit from this UX research? Is the business interested in this topic of research?
Track and measure the impacts of UX research at different levels. Consider its impacts on the following:
gaining a deeper understanding of the personas and learning about their processes and workflows
establishing frameworks for understanding these processes
Product sense is an acquired skill. Internalizing and practicing this skill can help you to cultivate greater product sense over time.
Preeti is an early-career UX Researcher with a passion for understanding human behavior. She made the jump to User Experience after graduating with a PhD in Social Sciences. She is most excited about trends in design-research methods and specializes in mixed-methods research. As a UX researcher, she is enthusiastic about advocating for the voice of the user throughout the design lifecycle. She also has a deep-seated passion for incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion at all stages of the design process. Read More