Lab Notes

How to Get to Clarity When Building a Product

At the beginning of a new product, project, or sprint there may be a clear problem but only a vague hunch as to the right solution. As a maker, creating or improving a product can feel overwhelming and ambiguous. But by pursuing clarity, you can unpack the problem and create something effective.

Products may change, but driving to understand what users really need will consistently refine the solution. Clarity is that moving target constantly being enhanced by process.

The Story of a Product

The Tempo Learning product team came to a clear solution in the midst of a major pivot.

Tempo Learning is a competency-based learning experience we created with the world’s largest organization of universities and colleges. The Tempo Learning app is a complex web of partners and integrations that empowers students to plan, access, track, and complete their learning.

At a Crossroads

Four months after launching the product, we faced a challenge. We learned that students were bypassing one of our primary features, the Customized Learning Plan (CLP), a tool designed to keep students organized and up-to-date on their progress.

To iterate and improve the product, we needed to understand the friction points. We performed tests with students and learned they felt intimidated by the CLP feature. It contained too many options crammed into one place. The students needed the experience broken down into manageable phases so they could focus on the immediate task.

A Solution

Our research led to a new prototype we tested again with real students. This updated prototype was designed to help us learn more about how students make time for learning and what encourages them to keep going. The results clarified the students’ needs and pushed us to segment and simplify the design to meet those needs. We tracked each student’s progress through the updated process. To validate our new direction we needed to see students move more quickly through the process on their own.

The release of the revised CLP was met with positive feedback from students. They found it clear, simple, and easy to use. And course completion time dropped dramatically.

How to Create Clarity with Your Team

Products like Tempo live, breath, and adapt constantly. It’s important that product teams dig until they identify opportunities and develop solutions that provide value to their users. When building a product, this process never stops.

Product teams looking to iterate should ask:

  • What is the immediate problem?
  • How can we better understand and empathize with the user?
  • What are the user’s primary needs?
  • How will we define the goals that meet these needs?
  • How will we test potential solutions?
  • How will we measure success?

Be a curious maker. Asking questions is the key to gaining clarity. And that clarity helps your team create an iterative track to better, more user-focused products.