Career Advice

My User Research Journey

John Smith

Following his training as PMO Consultant in our Leeds Academy, James Kazie was placed with DWP carrying out user research. He tells us about his experience with DWP and the user research journey.

User research focuses on understanding user needs, behaviours and motivations through a variety of qualitative and quantitative techniques. The DWP recently moved towards agile delivery methodologies with a focus of delivering products that are user centred and delivers value to end users.

The first project I was involved in was designing, building and implementing an appointment booking system for a number of the DWP’s internal teams.  Our biggest challenge was making sure the system didn’t negatively implement any processes already in place and that we could streamline implementation to ensure it generates value. That’s where user research comes in.

The role of the user researcher spans the entire project lifecycle and is important for a number of reasons:

Challenging assumptions

At the very beginning of the project a user researcher needs to understand the end-to-end process. I did this by going through desk research,  and speaking to some of the subject matter experts. This allows me to map out the user journey and identify other user groups involved. If you don’t learn something new you are doing something wrong. This highlights touch points, pain points and allows the multi-disciplinary team to make a more informed hypothesis. It also allows the team to start questioning the process and supports creative solutions.

Validating Hypotheses

Desk research and speaking to subject matter experts is not enough to fully understand your users and the process they support. You are usually left with a number of assumptions, which as more information is gained are turned into hypotheses.

A useful tool for validating hypotheses is usability testing. The design team creates a prototype to be taken to users and a researcher would observe how they interact with the system. By ensuring the users come from a variety of demographic and social backgrounds, the research becomes valuable in validating our hypothesis.

Iterative improvement

With each round of usability testing, the prototype is refined. This reduces costs as it is much cheaper and less time consuming to change the prototype than to change the final product.

Making sure the team is user focused

An important yet easily overlooked aspect of user research is to ensure that the team is always thinking about the impact to users. This also extends to making sure that stakeholders understand the rationale behind this approach and is why the way research is fed back is important. Whether it’s through presentation, reporting or a face-to-face meeting, we must be clear on what the how the end users are impacted and why that’s important. If the research isn’t presented properly, it becomes worthless.

My time with the DWP has taught me a lot, but these are just a few of the many benefits I have learned about user research. My role has also greatly improved my communication, problem solving, analytical and presentation skills. My first placement with FDM has been incredible and I cannot wait to see what my future holds in this exciting field.

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Featured image credit: Photo by Cytonn Photography on Unsplash 

Updated 8 February, 2017