Using Mental Models for Product Success – November Wrap

Can you believe that another year has flown by? With so much happening, it’s not surprising that it has gone by so quickly. Eight meet-ups, ranging from roadmaps to Wardley Maps, exploring continuous discovery and mental models, diving into OKRs and NPS, and putting ourselves in the shoes of some entrepreneurs. Amongst all this goodness, we also had another Leading the Product Conference and Product Camp!

For our final event of the year, Tafida Negm, an independent Human-Centred Researcher and Designer with a background in Marketing and Psychology, took us through the Mental Models framework by Indi Young.

The Problem Space and the Solution Space

Most of us will be familiar with Gartner’s Design Thinking, Lean Start Up, & Agile Delivery diagram. However, according to Indi, that’s all part of the Solution Space where past work informs future work. Why do we feel so comfortable here? Because we’re rewarded for ideas – and we’re rewarded for speed of delivery.

With mental models, we try to move earlier in the cycle and focus on the person and what they are trying to achieve.

  • What are they thinking?
  • How are they reasoning their way towards their intent?
  • What are they feeling?
  • What are their beliefs that underpin their (in)decision or actions?

If we can understand this & develop true empathy, then we can have a better opportunity to design an aligned solution and have the customer think:

‘Wow, it’s like that product was made for me’

What are Mental Models?

This is a bit of a loaded question, as it is applied in so many different contexts, from psychology, to machine learning and behavioural perspectives, there are little different nuances.

Indi Young defines them as: “Mental models give you a deep understanding of people’s motivations and thought-processes, along with the emotional and philosophical landscape in which they operate.”

You may have seen them represented as a skyline, but we’ll delve into that a little more in a moment.

Listening Sessions, Cognitive Empathy and Patterns of Intent

Tafida led us through a few exercises because what better way to learn than to get hands-on? We started with listening sessions, where we used active listening to try to develop cognitive empathy. 

The aim of cognitive empathy is to gain that deep understanding of people. You want to understand so well that you could walk in their shoes and make decisions exactly as they would.

How many listening sessions should you do? As many as you can, until there are no new themes coming through.

After conducting listening sessions, it becomes time to document and synthesise the results by grouping or looking for patterns based on intent (which creates the towers in the skyline visual). We group the towers into mental spaces.

Next comes identifying the different mental spaces that people are going through. Then you can start arranging the concepts into your own skyline.

Once you have built your mental model, which includes the thinking styles that people go through, you can use it in many ways:

  • Map your organisation’s support underneath the respective towers to show where you have gaps.
  • Overlay competitor capability for analysis.
  • Broaden your market by supporting more thinking styles.
  • Overlay other data (usability metrics)
  • Many more…

When to use Mental Models?

There is a range of scenarios where researching Mental Models can be useful, such as:

  • When you want to innovate in a new direction;
  • Strategise broader and farther than your current solution;
  • When you spend a lot of time re-architecting / re-inventing;
  • When your existing user research is fragmented; or
  • You recognise you are out of touch with your audience:
    • You think everyone is your user
    • Make-believe and assumptions drive design decisions
    • No improvements after test and iterate cycles.

Another great benefit is the research can be re-used for other problems, as we’re not focusing on solution space.

Resources and Further Reading

Tafida Negm’s key takeaways from Indi Young’s Mental Models Methodology

Thank you Envato for hosting our last event of 2019, and all our Prod Anon volunteers that have helped throughout the year.

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The next Product Anonymous will be February 2020. Sign up for the newsletter, follow on Twitter or Meetup to stay in touch over the break. Have a festive amazing couple months!!

Using Mental Models for Product Success

Lately ‘outcome, not outputs’ is the subject of lots of conversation within product & agile circles. How do you know what those outcomes should be and what will truly support your customers?

RSVP for ProdAnon’s November session on Thursday November 21st to find out.

No single methodology will help you create the perfect product, but you can increase your odds by understanding people’s deep, messy thinking and reasons for doing things. Mental Models gives you the tools to uncover and design for those reasons. 

Developed by Indi Young, this framework helps you curb assumptions & cognitive bias through a bottom-up approach to data analysis. With less bias and greater clarity of opportunities, this approach will help you more closely align design possibilities to your customer’s needs and your organisation’s capabilities.

Our speaker, Tafida Negm will walk us through some of the important concepts within Mental Models after introducing what it is and why you should incorporate it into your toolkit. There will be a few activities to aid you in having a go and gaining some confidence in trying it yourself when you get back to the office.

About the Speaker

Tafida Negm is an independent Human-Centred Researcher and Designer coming from a Marketing and Psychology background. As a consultant, she has gained a wide variety of experience across for purpose and commercial contexts helping lead teams from discovery through to launch. Witnessing the value research has delivered in shaping products and services, she has been on a mission to continually hone her research skills. Having spent the past year learning from Indi Young she is passionate about spreading her love of problem space research.  

RSVP now. Doors open at 6:00 pm. Talk starts 6:30 pm

May wrap-up: Working with User Research

WOW! What a fantastic evening! If you’re interested in user research, I hope you were there! Otherwise read on for the summary.

Big thanks to Fiona Knight, one of our volunteers, for taking great notes!

Using Experience Sampling for Rapid Insights into User Needs

George Cockerill started the evening off with a discussion about how his team approached gathering user research in a project building a smart assistant for students at Deakin University.

The team decided to use the Experience Sampling method. Other methods like interviews & diary studies have participants recall their past whereas experience sampling gave them access to detailed immediate needs.

With experience sampling, you ask short, easy to answer questions throughout the day. For this project, the same two questions were sent to participants eight times a day over a week. Occasionally the team would add an optional question. Experience sampling allowed the team to get to very recent needs & the student’s behaviour.

To collect the data, George used PACO, a free app that builds experiments quickly. It’s great for experience sampling and since it’s an app on participants’ phones they can take photos to include with their answers.

Tips for success

  • Get maximum value for the method – be clear about the research goal
  • Don’t rush, plan meticulously & plan to be flexible. Plan even when you need to go fast (it actually helps you move quickly!)
  • It’s a complex set up – test it; test your questions and mechanics
  • Get the most from people – recruit and onboard carefully. Establish how much data points you need to help determine how many participants you should have. When you screen them, ask questions along the lines of what you’ll be asking during the research. If they can’t answer in the screener, they probably won’t provide good data during the research. Your onboarding needs to have very clear instructions. George made a video to help explain the app and expectations of the participant (including what they needed to do /when they’d get paid).
  • Monitor it! Experience sampling is not a ‘set it & forget it’ method. You can be encouraging to the participants or ask them to tell you more about a specific thing. It’s awesome if you can instill a shared purpose of what’s going to happen with the data they provide.
  • Use the data to help refine the problem. Start finding themes, create categories, map answers to categories to find patterns, map data to graphs and examine categories to fine tune them. Look for trends. With participants using their phones, images will pick up detail the users might not think to say like how they solve their problems, their hacks, etc. You can combine the data with other research (both qual & quant). For this project, George combined experience sampling, resonance testing, journey maps from user interviews and ‘day in life’ models.

Currently the student smart assistant is in a pilot with a set of students. We’re looking forward to hearing how it goes!

George Cockerill on experience sampling #prodanon

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George recommended two excellent references that he found helpful in planning and running the research:

Why is marathon running important when introducing user research to an organisation?

Electronic Arts operates 8 research labs across 4 countries but it’s still early days for the games industry to embrace user research. In the APAC region, Kostas Kazakosis the 1st UX researcher at EA and thus needed to help communicate the value & importance of UX research.

Using ‘The Reflective Practioner‘ by Donald A Schon, Kostas reflected on his journey as a marathon runner and introducing UX research to a company – both ongoing!

Kostas finds there’s 8 stages to long distance running

  • Excitement where anything is possible! The organisation has no prior exposure to formalised UX research.
  • Denial when doubt starts to creep in. Here Kostas realised he didn’t know much about the FireMonkeys’ development process.
  • Shock where everything seemed to be really difficult. Kostas had to show the value of UX research, create a research space and creating research protocols to suit the games industry. Kostas’s plan was relying on the importance of dialogue: talking to people, understand what they do, and showing UX research helps them. This is where empathy is important but how do you do this? You empathise with the data and people and match it to research question.

  • Isolation or the fear you’re not going to make it. Having talked to as many people as possible, you need to accept the feedback and adjust your approach
  • Despair usually happens about mile 19 in a marathon. When you start to question if you really can do this, if you’re ready to do this and will it be ok?
  • The wall at mile 22 is when your brain doesn’t talk to your body anymore. You need to take one step at a time to keep going & identify mistakes and address them quickly. At EA, this meant all that earlier work to establish relationships with the team enabled collaboration. He had helped educate them & gave them ownership. The teams had begun the process of seeing the importance of data & value of user research.
  • Affirmation at mile 23 is feeling like you have a break thru. This is the stage Kostas is currently at work. He’s seeing people want to get involved in the UX research and wants to be able to sustain that team participation.
  • Elation at the finish line of mile 26 is when you’ve achieved the goal and need to shift your mindset towards the future. At work, this is what Kostas is working towards.

In summary, the DECEMA frame of reference that Kostas described – Dialogue, Empathy, Collaboration, Empowerment, Mutual respect and Advocacy – can take you a long way when introducing user research to your organization!

Thanks to both George & Kostas for a great evening and to Seek for hosting us!!!

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