Ever wondered why some good product ideas still fail in the market?

A staggering 30,000 new products are introduced to the world every year, and 95% fail, which shows just how crucial the pre-launch phase is.

You'll need more than just a good idea to succeed – the connection to users makes a difference. That connection is made by creating a product roadmap. It's a route toward solving your customers' problems. That, of course, requires an in-depth understanding of your target audience. 

The most efficient way to get that info is straight from the source–through user research. Talking to your future users will get you the information to improve your product roadmap and, therefore, your product. 

There are various ways of getting them to reveal their thoughts, wants and needs. In this blog, we'll explore eight ways user research helps you create a more effective product roadmap–and how to do it.

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What is a product roadmap?

A product roadmap is a tool used by product development teams. It is a high-level plan that outlines a product's development direction. Product teams use it as a strategic document that sets out a product's goals, timelines, and milestones and guides them toward a shared vision. 

A well-designed product roadmap should align with the company's overall business objectives and the needs and wants of the target audience. That's plenty of people to please, but a product roadmap can make a huge difference if used correctly.

How user roadmaps are created

But how does a product roadmap come to be? There's no one-size-fits-all format, and every product will need its unique route. The one thing all have in common? User research.

User research is a vital component of any successful product development process. It involves gathering insights about users' behavior, needs, and pain points through various research methods such as surveys, interviews, and usability testing. 

These insights are then used to inform product design and development decisions, leading to more user-friendly, effective, and profitable products.

Using tools like top Productboard competitors, you can bring it all into one place: data, user research, feedback, ideas, and product feature ideas. Using a specific product management tool will elevate your roadmap, ultimately helping you reach your goals faster and better!

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Eight ways user research makes a Difference in product roadmaps

User research helps you deeply understand your users' needs, preferences, and behaviors, allowing them to create products that truly resonate with your target audience. 

But underneath that already great-looking surface, there are many more advantages to consulting your users for a better roadmap. 

User research allows for informed decision-making

User research takes out the guesswork in your roadmap. It'll help you confidently make decisions about your product (which stakeholders will also love).

A benefit of informed decision-making in the product development process is that it'll be easier to make and communicate decisions to stakeholders because you depend on data, not gut feelings.

An example of how this benefits your development team is that feature prioritization is easier. Let's say you're developing a website for e-learning and are considering adding a new feature that allows users to collaborate on documents in real-time. User research can help you understand if this feature aligns with your target audience's needs and which ones don't. You can cut out features in the road map and focus on the most important ones.

User research saves time and resources

User research will, over time, lead to quicker decision-making in your roadmap, although it requires a time investment upfront. However, informing your decisions with user research means you are less likely to launch an unsuccessful product that doesn't sell well or requires a lot more budget in marketing–so overall, you will save time and money.

This will not only inform but also streamline your decision-making process. It eliminates the need for prolonged discussions, debates, or trial and error, as you can rely on the data and insights obtained through user research to guide your decision-making. This streamlined process saves time and ensures that your product roadmap progresses swiftly.

An example of what this means for your team is that they'll be able to adopt an iterative approach to design and development. The cost of communicating with your users throughout the development process will always be lower than fixing mistakes afterward. 

User research helps to prioritize features and functionalities

Small details in features can set you apart from your competitors. Ask your future users what they'd want and incorporate this into your product roadmap. 

This benefits you because it'll give you a strong competitive advantage: In a competitive market, the smallest details in your product's features can set you apart from competitors. User research helps you identify those unique selling points that can make a significant difference. 

An example of this is identifying pain points in competitor products. User research can also involve evaluating your competitors' products. Informing your roadmap with what to avoid will help you create a product faster, and the result will be better – and you'll be able to communicate how your product differs from the rest. 

User research facilitates innovation

User research can help you identify unmet user needs and pain points that represent opportunities for innovation. By incorporating these opportunities into the product roadmap, you can create products that provide unique and valuable solutions for users.

The benefit of this is that you can identify unmet user needs, which can become a catalyst for innovation, as it presents opportunities to create new and improved products that address those needs uniquely and impactfully.

An example is the discovery of emerging trends, which can happen when you truly dig deep into your user research. By looking at microtrends, you can get your hands on data that will turn your product roadmap into a recipe for success.

User research can help you get a competitive advantage

Incorporating user research into the product development process can provide a competitive advantage by ensuring your product will be better than what's already on the market. 

The benefit of this is that your competitive advantage will be much clearer to communicate. Not only will you know your users and your competitors, but you'll also know how users feel about your rivals. This will make it easier to find the language that resonates with them. 

An example of this is uncovering what people complain about regarding your competitor's products. By using that same language in ads, you can catch their eye, make them feel heard and communicate on a level and with words that match their minds. 

User research improves user experience

User research can help your product development team design and launch intuitive and easy-to-use products, which will lead to a better user experience. This will boost customer satisfaction and loyalty, positive reviews and peer-to-peer recommendations–there's no better marketing than that.

This will massively benefit your business: enhanced customer satisfaction and loyalty will be felt throughout your organization. Less churn, lower marketing costs, sales hitting their KPIs and more – happy customers will have a true snowball effect. 

An example of this is that you may uncover that users struggle with onboarding or face challenges during certain key actions. This insight allows you to make targeted improvements in those areas, enhancing the overall user experience.

User research reduces product development risks

It's crucial to identify potential issues early in the process, but every so often, your team will overlook them. That's why real users are so important to consult. Using user research in various stages of the product roadmap makes it possible to still introduce changes to the product before development begins, avoiding costly mistakes and reducing the likelihood of product failure.

The benefit is that you can mitigate development risks by fine-tuning the product concept, features, or user interface before committing significant resources to development. For example: let's say you are developing a mobile application for a new task management tool. Before diving into full-scale development, a prototype or mockup tests certain features. If your user's feedback is that they simply won't use specific features or some are wrong, you won't have already invested in full development. 

User research provides a customer-centric approach

Countless companies preach that they're all about the customer, but how many of them are asking users what they hope to get?

Incorporating user research into the product development process ensures a customer-centric 

approach throughout your business.

The benefit of this is that it will be easier to communicate with your prospects and users because you have access to the language they use around your product. For instance, you can use the language used in feedback for copy in customer service responses or ads.

Understanding user needs: how and why to dig deep

Understanding what your users' needs are is critical for a good roadmap–but that all starts with understanding what types of needs to even look out for, to begin with. 

User needs to refer to their requirements, desires, and expectations when interacting with a product. It's not just that a product needs to 'work' or 'fit'. It often goes a little deeper than you might think. Here are some examples:

Functional needs:

  • The need for a product to be easy to use and navigate
  • The need for a product to be compatible with a specific device or operating system
  • The need for a product to have fast load times or low data usage
  • The need for a product to have certain features or capabilities

Emotional needs: 

  • The need for a product to provide a sense of security or safety
  • The need for a product to evoke a certain emotion or feeling, such as excitement or happiness
  • The need for a product to align with a user's values or beliefs
  • The need for a product to provide a sense of belonging or community

Truly understanding user needs is essential for creating a product that meets or exceeds your target audience's expectations.

Identifying user needs is crucial for several reasons. By understanding user needs, you can create products that are more likely to be successful in the marketplace yet differentiate from what competitors are offering. 

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How can you find out what your users really need?

The best online UX design courses will teach designers what looks good and works great and how to conduct research with their audience because there's a lot more to it than simply testing products.

If you simply ask users: well, what do you need? They might not even know the real answer from the top of their hat. It's important to combine research methods and to ask specific questions. There are a few methods that you can use to identify user needs, including surveys, user interviews, focus groups and usability testing tools.

How Spotify uses user research to stay culturally relevant

Let's take Spotify as an example to showcase just how profound user research can go. An insightful article by Alexandra Hornsby from Spotify's very own User Research Team (well, one of the teams) reveals how the company is trying to stay on top of constantly shifting trends in culture at a macro and micro level–all to keep their beloved app relevant and useful to everyone, everywhere. 

One of the ways they are doing this is by layering in additional research methods that accommodate cultural understanding, such as Semiotics — the study of signs and symbols. Showing they understand that these can have different meanings in different cultural environments shows exactly how detailed your roadmap can be with the help of your customers.

Identifying user pain points: finding the sore spot and fixing it

A doctor knows that a sore throat doesn't necessarily mean there's something wrong with your throat–they know what questions to ask, hit the spot, to find the real problem. Similarly, the best user researchers know that when a consumer says they want the product to work more simpler, it could mean a myriad of things–from a cleaner UX to faster loading. Then it's time to ask the questions that will reveal the true 'want'.

User pain points refer to the frustrations, difficulties, and challenges users experience when using a product. These pain points can range from minor inconveniences to major obstacles that prevent users from achieving their goals. They're all important, and they add up. Knowing and solving them will mean you can ​​promote repeat purchases and positive reviews, which will have a great snowball effect. 

Methods for identifying user pain points

Like user needs, pain points aren't always as easy to spot. You sometimes have to read between the lines in reviews or see a customer work with a product before you can identify their struggle. Here are some ways you can uncover pain points:

  • User feedback: Asking users for feedback can provide valuable insights into their pain points and frustrations. This feedback can be gathered through surveys, one-on-one interviews, or focus groups.
  • User testing: Observing users while interacting with a product can reveal pain points and areas for improvement. User testing can be done in person or remotely and involve various tasks and scenarios.
  • User analytics: Analyzing user behavior and engagement data can provide insights into pain points and areas where users struggle. This data can be gathered through tools like Google Analytics, heat maps, and session recordings.

When you test too late: user pain points that remain unresolved

An example of a pain point that was only discovered after a product was launched can be found in Norman Doors

Have you ever wondered why some doors have Push/Pull signs, and others don't? It's because the ones with the signs have been designed in a confusing way. Metal bars on both sides, for instance. The only way they could 'solve' this pain point afterward is with the signs–which is far from ideal.

This shows two important lessons about pain points:

  1. Test and research vigorously before you launch a product–or you'll have to stick an ugly sign on it.
  2. Never assume a specific product or feature doesn't need to be tested. Doors seem pretty self-explanatory, but as it turns out, they're not.

Evaluating user feedback: acting on the data

If you're unwilling to make drastic changes based on user feedback, there's almost no point in gathering any feedback. This especially goes for feedback collected to inform a product roadmap.

User feedback refers to the comments, opinions, and suggestions users provide about a product or service. You can use feedback that's been given on your products, but also the products of competitors, to get a more holistic picture. Then, you'll evaluate and interpret this feedback and turn it into action points.

Evaluating user feedback for your roadmap is like following directions and warning signs on an actual road: if you want to succeed, don't ignore what your users say–they know the road best. By analyzing and interpreting user feedback, you can identify areas for improvement and even opportunities for innovation, so your first launch will immediately be a great success. It's also a way to benchmark and monitor customer satisfaction if you keep an eye on feedback over time.

Methods for evaluating user feedback

There are a couple of methods that companies can use to evaluate user feedback, including:

  • Sentiment analysis: Using natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning algorithms to analyze the sentiment and tone of user feedback.
  • Text analytics: Analyzing user feedback for common themes, keywords, and phrases to identify patterns and insights.
  • Data visualization: Using charts, graphs, and other visualizations to make interpreting and later communicating user feedback data easier.
  • Qualitative analysis: Conduct a detailed analysis of user feedback to gain a deep understanding of user needs and preferences.

How user feedback made a difference at Slack

Slack understood the value of user feedback and made users practically a part of their design and development team. 

And they asked for feedback about anything: every button that could be clicked on, every feature that was shown, sizes, shapes, you name it. They let users (both experienced and complete newbies) work with Slack and tell them what they did and didn't like. Based on that, Slack completely revamped its tool–and it shows. 

Image source: unsplash.com

Prioritizing product features: figuring out what makes the cut

You don't just want to pile on product features and hope there's something in there your users like. Prioritizing product features is a critical part of product development and can be informed by user research. 

Product features are the specific functions, characteristics, and capabilities a product offers users. These features include anything from basic functionalities to more complex features and integrations.

So, why not just fit in as many features as you safely can and make a product that fits a large 

audience? Firstly–it'll be technically tricky. Second of all, it won't be easy to market a product that doesn't have a clear USP. But moreover, customers want to feel like a product is a perfect fit for them and not have to dig through features to find what they need.

Prioritizing product features helps you allocate resources effectively and deliver the most value to your customers based on what they want, need, prefer and dislike. It's a crucial part of the product roadmap and will determine whether your product will be a hit or miss. 

Methods for prioritizing product features

There are several methods that companies can use to prioritize product features, including:

  • User feedback: Gather feedback from users to identify the features that are most valuable to them.
  • User testing: Conduct user testing to gather feedback on specific features and identify areas for improvement.
  • Market analysis: Analyzing the competitive landscape and market trends to identify the features that are most in demand among users.
  • Data analysis: Using data analysis to identify the most used and most effective features in driving user engagement and satisfaction.

How Netflix Prioritized the Download feature after user research

We probably all take this for granted nowadays: the Download button on Netflix. Whether for a long flight or a train ride with flaky internet, we're still able to watch our favorite guilty pleasures.

But that wasn't always the case. Even when YouTube and Prime offered downloading content 

for offline watching, Netflix did not–and at first, they didn't believe they even should. But Netflix isn't built on assumptions, so they started researching.

They quickly uncovered that the feature wasn't just a nice little extra. It was something some users needed to use Netflix at all. They heard of users who downloaded content in their kitchen, so they could watch in their living room where the Wi-Fi was weak. 

Stories like these helped Netflix make an important decision about this product feature, and even though it was hard to install (they had to negotiate content rights, and downloads require users to have certain storage space), they went for it–successfully.

Let user research improve your product roadmap

Even if your business or product is not as big as Netflix or Spotify, that doesn't mean you can't benefit greatly from user research. You will need to use user research to enrich your product roadmap to grow your business based on a great product. 

Through user research, you can make data-driven decisions about product development and create a roadmap that delivers the best possible user experience at the lowest possible cost and with the smallest risk involved. 

In this article, we explored the significance of user research in shaping a successful product roadmap. From informed decision-making to saving time and resources, user research proves to be a valuable asset in every stage of the roadmap.

User research allows us to gain insights directly from our target audience, ensuring our decisions align with their needs and preferences. By prioritizing features and functionalities based on user feedback, we can create products that stand out from competitors and survive or even thrive in today's busy markets. User research also fuels innovation by uncovering unmet needs and providing opportunities for unique solutions.

Furthermore, user research enhances the user experience, resulting in improved customer satisfaction, positive reviews, and word-of-mouth recommendations. By involving users early on, we can identify and mitigate potential risks, reducing the likelihood of product failure and saving resources in the long run.

To harness the power of user research for your product roadmap, it's essential to understand user needs, pain points, and preferences. We can continually refine and improve our products by utilizing methods such as surveys, interviews, and feedback analysis. Successful companies like Spotify, Slack, and Netflix have leveraged user research to stay culturally relevant, address pain points, and prioritize features that resonate with their audience.

So, embrace user research, listen to your users, and let their insights guide you toward building exceptional products that will thrive in the market. For your next product development project, create several surveys or set focus groups as part of your roadmap, and just see how different the process will be.

David Malan
Account Manager
A specialist in the field of market analysis in such areas as software development, web applications, mobile applications and the selection of potential vendors. Creator of analytical articles that have been praised by their readers. Highly qualified author and compiler of companies ratings.

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8 Ways In Which User Research Helps You Improve Your Product Roadmap