In my work with start-ups and product teams, those who have successfully developed initial traction are at risk of getting stuck in an increasing amount of inbound feedback from users/customers and their team. Often this results in lack of clarity on prioritization, trying to build several things at the same time and generally spreading efforts too thin.
I’ll outline an approach that will allow you to cut through the noise and get a super clear sense of what to focus on. You’ll be able to clearly manage feedback, translate it into actions and communicate with others why you think this deserves a higher priority. Eventually, you’ll be able to maintain a fast development pace while staying highly relevant to your users. Prioritizing feedback does not have to be rocket science! Here is a four-step approach that I found to be helpful time and time again.
1. Gather the input
Where does feedback come from? In our work with entrepreneurial teams and startups, we often encounter situations where multiple sources are available: from surveys to customer support emails, tweets to interview transcripts, and even call logs. See these sources as streams rather than static, one-off, states. Once you’ve gathered the sources, make sure to document that inventory or even better, visualize the streams of feedback. You could use Figma, Sketch or Draw.io and share that with your team. Or if you are physically working in the same room, sketch it out on some paper or on a whiteboard. You might immediately find there are more sources of input than you initially thought.
Unify and collect all the data you have. Ensure you can go through the data without having to jump from WhatsApp to email to slack. That could mean having it all in one (living) document, or, even better, in a combined view. This can, for instance, be achieved with zapier or if you don’t want to use yet another service, manually paste it into a sheet or doc to start with.
2. Organize the data
To get a feel for the content, start browsing and read through the data that comes in. Be careful because this might be a highly addictive exercise. For me, this is one of the best parts of the process. Depending on the situation you are in, it can also be frustrating or nerve-wracking to read the same feedback you’ve heard many times before, or that you might feel is misplaced. Write down things you observe as sidenotes and try not to jump to conclusions just yet. Also, write down what feedback sparked joy and what feedback made you less than happy.
Categorize the input
While reading the data, structures and ideas might start to form. Let’s start with the structure as it is something you can apply to all the data from now on. Was it a complaint, a compliment, an idea or a feature request? Make a clear structure and find an easy way to tag your content. In case, for example, you have a bunch of support emails in front of you, you could highlight sentences that stick out and then label those with one keyword. “I love your microcopy” becomes “compliment”.
Sort the input
By sorting all your input you’ll be able to clearly identify patterns and make those actionable. You’ll also be able to distinguish the large from the small stacks, and the clear from the fuzzy ones. This will typically be input for design as it will help inspire and inform very specific design challenges.
A small practical sidenote: In case you are working on paper, you’ll need plenty of copies of your content. The main document and the copy that you’ll put on the side to add to a category. So, for instance, if the password ticket also contains a compliment about customer support, make sure it is there as well.
3. Make it actionable
Now that you have a neatly organized dataset, this step is all about understanding. Some things might be obvious, and there is no need to overcomplicate, a checkbox that does not work in chrome is clearly a bug. End of story.
Some things, on the other hand, can be tricky to fully understand. Several people mentioned that they felt the app was a bit sluggish or they were confused by the pricing model.
Dig in and understand what people are saying. Always remember, solutions users propose should not always be taken literally.
A clear example of such a statement (although the quote was debunked) is “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
See threads, patterns. Things that belong together and are recurring throughout your data. Start asking why people are saying these things. Label each stack with a name and a description. Also, add quotes or video/audio from the data, if you feel it represents the underlying data well.
From narratives to insight
Then start to formulate your specific insights from these. What is new about the feedback and why is it important? What have you learned that you did not know before you started? Instead of jumping to solutions, formulate “how might we”statements. As an example, “How might we provide a sense of transparency in our subscription pricing?”
Write a story/todo
Each insight might lead to one or several ideas. Some might as clear as “fix xyz” others more ambiguous such as “people feel uncomfortable about their own behavior in relation to this technology”. Write a todo, a user story or an epic that can be used for the next build cycle.
Connect to your mission
Not all insights are created equal, therefore carefully weigh the importance of each insight. Ambiguous input might seem less important due to a lack of clarity, de-prioritizing based on that criterium is a mistake.
A great way to order your insights by importance is how closely the insight connects to your mission. What are you trying to achieve and what stands in the way of that success. If you feel your team is still unclear about where you are headed, spend more time there.
Share and validate
Share your most important insights and what you have learned with your users or customers and with your team. This is the fastest way to see if, what you have synthesized, actually makes sense to people. If not, ask yourself if it is because of the content or the presentation of the content.
A few ideas on how to do that:
- The all-hands or townhall meetings a predestined for sharing and having your findings challenged. Keep the number of insights low and back them up with video/audio/snippets.
- Keep an internal blog and share the stories there.
- Put them in a slack channel. This way your team can consume them in ‘by the way’-mode
5. Rinse and repeat
Now that you have set-up a structured approach to user-insights repeat the process and make it a part of each iteration. You’ll become more aligned with your users’ needs over time.
A few tools that might help you and that your team might already be using:
Trello: a great way to collect and organize your data.
Github, Asana or Jira: add your epics/stories here. It can also be used to collect your data.
Coda.io: a new type of doc that I have come to love. Great for collecting and organizing data.
Figma or Sketch: visualize your process.
Google docs: mainly sheets to capture and organize data.
User/Customer feedback tends to get overwhelming and hard to make actionable. The outlined approach supports the user-centric design approach and proposes a way to get back on top and deliver value for your users.