Prepare to conduct a user interview on the fly
Hello Friends, In today’s letter
Exercise: Be ready to talk to users anytime even if interviews aren’t your strong suit.
Links: Product research for the Santa Fe SUV, how to write better copy, and more.
Technique to try: Ad-hoc user interviews
As product managers, we have opportunities to talk to users outside of research sessions. Demos, sales calls, conferences, support calls, and PoCs all have the potential for information sourcing, and even if you have one conversation per week you can build a strong foundation of research.
This exercise is inspired by the book The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick.
In a nutshell
“Pre-plan the 3 most important things you want to learn from any given type of person (e.g. customers, investors, industry experts, key hires, etc)." The Mom Test
Step 1. Identify user groups
Who do you interact with the most? Identify types of users to prepare questions for each group.
Let’s take a marketplace for start-ups as an example, and imagine that users of that marketplace who we talk to regularly are enterprise buyers looking for businesses to acquire.
Step 2. What do you want to learn from each group?
You don’t need to formulate the question you will be asking yet. Think of what you want to find out.
Try to find questions a user can answer in under 5 minutes.
Pick something that isn’t time-sensitive.
We want to understand how enterprise buyers evaluate start-ups— what information is important for the initial screening of businesses. Understanding which information is important will help us design the page, listings, and filters, to prioritize the necessary information for this type of buyer.
Step 3. Prepare questions for the interview
To get reliable information, we need to ask the right questions. Maybe in your case, it won’t be a question. Card sorting or testing a prototype is also possible.
We want to find out: What information is the most important when looking for a start-up?
Interview questions: Tell me about the last time you were looking for a start-up to buy.
Clarification questions: What made you select this business? Is this how you usually select businesses? What were the biggest pain points in this whole process?
the right questions
If you want to learn how to write interview questions, read Asking the right questions during user research, interviews, and testing
Examples of questions
Questions recommended by researchers and UX designers. Links at the end of the exercise.
Clarification of a problem
Tell me about the last time you...
Which products or tools have you tried out to help with...?
Why is (problem/task) important to you?
What is the biggest pain point related to (problem/task)?
What does success look like to you? / How do you measure your success?
B2B: you can ask for corporate guidelines for the task and how closely they are followed.
Tell me about last time you...
What’s the most challenging part of (the task)?
What do you use this tool for?
Tell me about a time when you failed to complete (the task).
What would you do if (product) was no longer available?
What does your typical weekday look like?
What’s your main area of responsibility?
What apps/websites do you use regularly?
How is your work evaluated?
What's the main KPI you're working towards every day?
What changed in your workflow recently?
What are your goals for the quarter?
What stresses you out? / What keeps you up at night?
If you had an assistant who could do part of this task for you, what would you delegate, and what would you keep doing? 
Step 4. Avoid bad questions
Formulating questions is the hardest part for me. To make it a bit easier I’m using this checklist to avoid getting unreliable or useless replies.
The list is a compilation of advice from Tomer Sharon’s Eliminating bad user interview questions and Krishan Gupta’ The User Interview Checklist.
The question is open-ended. Not yes/no.
Instead of: Do you use our tool to find start-ups? Use: Tell me about the last time you were looking for a start-up to buy?
I’m not asking to predict the future.
Would you use this tool next time you buy a start-up? Ask about the facts. How do they do it now? What are the guidelines in the organization?
I’m not influencing an answer with a question.
I’m asking one question at a time.
I’m not showing personal interest by using phrases like “our product”, or “our design”.
I’ve tested questions with power users or colleagues.
Step 5. Prepare to write down answers
If you have just a few minutes asking permission to record can waste valuable time. Prepare a structured document to take notes.
Do a dry run of your questions and you’re ready to go.
Eliminating bad user interview questions by Tomer Sharon
100+ User Testing Questions, From Idea Generation to Usability Tests by Olivia Seitz
Better ways to ask 5 common user interview questions by Taylor Nguyen
🧠 Worth Learning
Articles, podcasts, and products I found useful, and maybe you will, too.
📖 Find out what motivates designers.
🎧 Listen to a product research case study. How a group of researchers followed seven women to design a car for glamor moms, resulting in the Santa Fe SUV.
✍️ Analyze good and bad copy to be a better writer. Find a chunk of time and lose yourself in Copywriting examples.
🚀 Check out a design studio that creates sci-fi interfaces for movies like The Martian. If you find it fascinating, listen to a podcast with the studio founder about the design process.
👩💻 P.S. What I'm reading
Last year I read the The Mom Test. I loved its simplicity and absence of product buzz words so I asked my friend Sasha Koss, who also loved it, to recommend something similar. He suggested The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout. This short book is an intro to marketing for people with little or no marketing experience. You can apply these laws to your product while reading the book.
Please help me make this newsletter more useful by answering four quick questions.
🎧 Do you like podcasts? Every month starting May I’ll be sanding podcasts recommendations with the best new episodes, one episode from the vault, and favorite episodes of different product managers. Subscribe to Product Playlist.