“The customer is always right”: a saying you’re no doubt familiar with, even if you’ve never worked in customer service.
For those working in retail, it’s a mantra that always rings true — even when they know the customer is wrong. For some customers, it’s become a bargaining chip for having things done their way. In the world of software development, it’s a potentially troublesome fallacy.
When an organisation insists on defining the design, features, and requirements of their new software without speaking to its potential users, it limits the value of the end result. Why? Because software shouldn’t be developed to meet the needs of just its owners; it must also meet the needs of its users.
Here’s our take on the importance of understanding user requirements, how you can find out what they are, and how understanding them will help to get the most out of your new software.
Important: The Users’ Needs
Without a customer, there is no product. That’s why businesses invest so much in market research and getting to know their target market. By understanding what people need, the company can design a product that provides a solution.
And that’s what your new software should be: a solution. It should be a solution to:
- Problems your users face every day.
- Complex workflows that reduce usability and uptake.
- Inefficient processes that limit productivity.
If you weren’t aware of these problems, or ignored them, and asked developers to focus on your individual goals and needs, the new software would be less of a solution and more of a vanity project.
Here’s an example:
Your current software is a financial management application for businesses. One pain point for its users is a convoluted workflow for transferring money. By focusing on the users’ needs, developers would design a more efficient workflow that makes it easier for users to complete transfers.
But what if you don’t know that’s a problem for your users, and instead you choose to focus on increasing uptake of your new account reporting feature? Well, the developers will design an interface that guides users toward the reporting feature. As a result, you may find more users accessing the feature, but you may also see users who have become frustrated with the inefficient transfers workflow stop using your software.
So, with that in mind, it’s time to understand your users’ needs, but how do you know what they are?
Getting to Know Your Users
The needs of your users are not always inherently obvious. It is certainly not uncommon for companies to conduct research with a preconceived idea of their users’ needs only to find the results tell an entirely different story. That’s why the research is so important.
There are a variety of ways to approach the quest for understanding your users’ needs. Here are a few of them.
Request Feedback from Existing Users
Existing users know your software better than anyone, and what better way to understand their needs than by going straight to the source. And, in our experience, users have never been shy to share their views on the software they use!
If you have contact details for your users, send them a survey by email. If not, you could consider building a survey or feedback section into the software and direct users to it.
The aim of your survey or questions should be to understand your users’ pains, frustrations, and goals, and where your software could help them make gains.
Monitor User Behaviour
Depending on the metrics available through your existing software, you may be able to use them to gain a valuable insight into the tendencies of users If you don’t have metrics available, or they only offer basic information, then you could consider arranging an in-person user monitoring session.
By monitoring user behaviour, you will gain important information about:
- Which features are used the most and the least.
- How long users spend using each feature.
- Which workflows cause delays.
- How long processes take in real time.
You can then use this insight to help shape where to focus your development efforts.
Conduct Marketing Research
If you’re developing brand-new software and don’t have existing users, you’ll need to understand your target market. That means conducting research into the people you think are most likely to use the software.
Market research is probably a practice you’re familiar with, especially if you’ve launched other products and services before. Through your research, you’ll first look to prove that there is a genuine market for your software. Then, gather the information necessary — through interviews, surveys, and statistics — to understand what your potential users would want from the software.
The Solution Users Need
With a sound understanding of your users’ needs, you can better explain to developers exactly what you need from your new software. In fact, better than explaining your users’ needs, enshrine them in a document and present this to developers. The document can then be used as a point of reference throughout the development that governs decision-making and ensures progress is made toward a solution that users need.
So, what does that mean to you? Well, the popularity of your software will increase with existing users, who are delighted that their problems no longer exist. In turn, they’ll spread the word about your software to their friends and colleagues, resulting in an increase in sales and your software’s user base.
Increased popularity, increased usage, increased sales, and increased users — what more could you want?
Using User Needs to Add Value for ICL Students
When we worked with the Imperial College School of Medicine on the development of a unique curriculum mapping tool, an understanding of their users’ needs enabled us to develop a powerful and valuable application.
The primary purpose of the tool, named ‘Sofia’, was to provide an easy-to-understand map of the curriculum followed by medical students at Imperial College London. As part of our initial investigation, we took the time to understand the requirements of Sofia’s future users, the students, as well as the department.
As a result, we were able to suggest and implement additional features which brought even greater value to Sofia. The application has since been rolled out to all six years of the medical course at ICL.
Everyone’s a Winner
When software is developed around its users’ needs, everyone wins. Users have a solution to their problem, the client experiences increased use and uptake of their software, and the developer has a happy client and a new addition to their portfolio.
In the initial stages of every project the Isotoma team takes on, we prioritise getting to know the client’s users and exactly what they need. It’s integral to our development process, and we believe it’s one of the most important factors in delivering a valuable and effective solution.
If you’re looking to develop a new application that gives your users everything they need and more, we’d love to help bring your vision to life, so get in touch with the Isotoma team today.