Common Project Pitfall Series

You are not the user

Part 1
by Steer73 product team

BlueInk_Development illustrations_LIGHT_by VIGE.CO-24

In the spirit of continuous improvement, we recently asked our product managers, “what’s the most common pitfall you have to avoid while building technology?”

The answer is by no means original, but it is definitely pervasive… “You are not the user.”

Referred to in Psychology as the false consensus effect, this cognitive bias causes people to “see their own behavioural choices and judgments as relatively common and appropriate to existing circumstances”.

However, the minute you start working for a company, your viewpoint becomes so biased that it is essentially no longer valid as the voice of your user. You are perhaps one of the least objective people on the planet to make decisions on a user’s behalf.

Furthermore, and probably closer to the traditional definition of the phenomena, you are probably just not that like your typical user. You are probably more technologically savvy, and you probably have a very different set of priorities, fears and objectives. You should certainly have a much better understanding of your offering and how it works. All of this significantly reduces the value of your opinion as the voice of a consumer.

Great products come from the intersection of three key areas:

What a business needs (you are well placed to answer this question)

What users expect/demand (you are terribly placed to answer this question)

What the available technology is best placed to deliver (your team may be able to answer this question. If not, an agency such as Steer73 is very well placed to answer this question with you)

So, part 1 is taken care of. Part 3 should also be taken care of, either internally if you have good technical staff or with the help of an agency such as Steer73. Part 2 is where there is a gap.

How do you solve this? Quite simply, you need to speak to real users.

We have many former startup founders on our team at Steer73. Some of them joined Y Combinator’s startup school. In this process, there is one metric that is perhaps drummed home more than any other “how many prospective users did you speak to this week?”. It is one of the very few questions that startup founders are asked to report on each week. It is that important to the success of new technology.

At Steer73, user interviews are an essential tool for building great products. Doing them right and doing them often will significantly increase the chances that your project will be a success.

Whatever you’re building, whatever stage you’re at, figure out how to speak with real users and be humble enough to discount your own opinions.