Leo’s War Story: No, We Really Meant the User
Product Design Manager Leo Frishberg underscores the effort required to ensure you’re seeing the right user in the right context.
Our team was embarking on an ambitious, multi-country Contextual Inquiry effort. We had created our sample cells, identified the right industries, established a great relationship with our sales team and done All The Right Things Up Front to make the effort a success.
Working from Oregon with prospective participants in Bangalore is never an easy prospect; introducing a new research technique at the same time raised the stakes.
Several weeks in advance of the interviews we had contacted our sales team in-country explaining the process: we needed individuals who were currently working with our equipment and willing let us observe them working in their labs, in situ.
Everyone claimed to understand. We arrived in-country and I confirmed the arrangements, on the telephone, with the sales team. “Yes,” they confirmed, “we’ve found exactly who you are looking for…”
We arrived at our first interview in a gorgeous sparkling new office building and were led to an upstairs glass-enclosed conference room. Presently, a manager-type entered, clearly expecting to hold court with us.
I began the discussion with a recap of our expectations and a quick sanity check with the individual.
“So,” I began, “we are looking forward to working with an actual user in the lab. Are you going to work with us today?”
“No,” he said, dismissively. “I’m the team manager. I can tell you everything that’s wrong with your equipment. I’ve polled the team and have collected answers from all of them.”
It’s at times like this, having flown 10,000 miles, having spent as much time as I had setting things up, that I lose a part of my conscious brain. I could feel the anger rising, but I knew that couldn’t help improve the situation.
Instead, I signaled to the sales guy sitting next to me that as far as I was concerned, the interview was over and we could pack up to go to our next meeting. Here’s where the details get sketchy, but I know he said something, in English, to the manager, and whatever magic words he uttered, the manager smiled and nodded, suggesting he could definitely get the lead engineer to help us. He left to find the guy.
A few minutes later, the engineer entered the room, curious as to what the group was doing there. We began the front part of the interview, and it was clear he was the right guy. After explaining what we were planning to do, we asked if he had any questions or needed any further explanation.
‘No,” he said, “you want to see me work with the equipment. I don’t have anything to do today, but I could show you what I was doing last week.”
That was fine, we agreed.
“Okay. Just give me a few minutes and I’ll bring you back…”
Imagining what he might be doing in those few minutes I stopped him. “Uhhh, what would you be doing between now and then?”
“Oh,” he assured us, “I’m just going to get the equipment all set up.”
“Great!” We practically shouted. “That would be great! We’d be happy to watch you do that!”
He smiled as if hoping we had taken our medication and led us to his lab. “I’m not sure what you’ll find so interesting about my pulling the machines off the shelf, but come on along…”
The take-aways remain the same:
- Persistence and staying on track no matter what the situation throws you
- No matter how much you prepare, nothing will go as planned