The Product Manager’s Guide to Decoding User Feedback

We can easily agree that user feedback is one of the foundations for a healthy product development process. Only when we see our product through the eyes of the people using it – can we truly understand what they need from it and what shape it has to take.

That said, not all user feedback is valuable or even usable. It is dangerously easy to drown in irrelevant reviews or be dazzled by a few good ones.

Over my years as a product manager, I developed a system for processing feedback that would help me distill the best input while navigating the product vision clearly and effectively. The idea is to classify each feedback into one of four feedback types. Once the feedback is divided into buckets, it is easier to decide how to handle it.

User Feedback in Lean Methodologies

Collecting feedback from users in lean product development is a little like juggling sand – there is no structured process that allows you to base your actions on user evaluation. Instead, we base our first feature releases on gut feelings and instinct, rooted in close attentiveness to our audience’s needs.

Since this post is about analyzing and applying user feedback, I am careful to avoid the slippery slope that is how to collect feedback from users, so let’s make a short stop at a few of my own personal favorites:

  • Direct outreach – I make a great effort to be in touch, personally, with Craft users. The fact that most of our users are product managers like me makes it immensely easier to have a lively, engaging discussion on feature improvements and functionalities. 
  • Customer engagement platforms – whether it’s a support platform like ZenDesk or a nifty communication channel like Intercom, there are lots of solutions out there.
  • Support requests – this is a no brainer: support requests are the most transparent reflection of user needs. They tell you where the users are struggling with UX design, which functionalities aren’t accessible enough and most importantly – how users are using your product, regardless of whether it was designed for that.

 

Type 1

The Superstar Syndrome

 

“Awesome new feature, I love it!”

Music to our ears! People love our stuff, we just have to keep on rolling out those incredible features for our spectacular product, right?

Wrong. While this kind of users’ feedback is a great boost for the ego, it is rarely helpful in outlining the next steps in product improvement. Positive feedback hardly ever extends beyond laconic superlatives, making it impossible to harvest anything actionable.

Takeaways – it is possible that your users don’t know you’re looking for concrete feedback that includes the improvable stuff. This may be a good time to invest in a professional feedback mechanism: pop-up questionnaires, targeted emails, NPS surveys, etc.

How can we utilize positive feedback? I make a point of sharing good reviews with my team, since this is in great part their success and also quite good for morale (especially the R&D and design teams, who have less interaction with end customers).

user feedback decoded

Type 2

Confirmation User Feedback

Soon after Craft launched, we arrived at a crossroad of feature development. After prioritization, we were left with two options for immediate implementation: developing a Story Mapping feature from scratch or improving the existing editor’s capabilities. We decided to go ahead with Story Mapping. The very week we started designing, I got three emails from unrelated users, asking when they would be able to map their stories on Craft.

Sometimes feedback from users arrives while we are in the process of implementing a new feature or fix. When that input says you should do what you are doing – it confirms your instinct about the product.

We often need to rely on our familiarity with product & users to proceed with improvements, especially when we don’t have enough data to decode feedback. Confirmation feedback from users reinforces gut feelings and adds more confidence to the decision and the process. If you keep an open mind, you can also take this opportunity to collect small but significant “feature boosts” that users contribute.

Takeaway – I like to keep track of the users who offered confirmation feedback and recruit them as beta testers. They obviously share my team’s mind-set on the product. Their input and feedback will probably prove valuable again, and early adapters make the best evangelists.

 

Type 3

Golden Feedback: Totally New Ideas

 

The holy grail of user’s feedback is the input you didn’t think of. Why? Because your users are raising problems you didn’t know you had and needs you didn’t know they had. There is no other way to get this information.

These comments are crucial to the product’s progress, because they are a terrific opportunity for you to get in touch with brand new users and ideas. Ideas you would never think up yourself. This unfamiliar part of your user-base may prove to be the  of your product vision, and they definitely add a layer of potential innovation and out-of-the-box perspective.

user feedback new ideas

Type 4

Constructive, yes. But is it helpful?

Users may tell you what they want, but it is important not to lose sight of your principals, vision and focus. User feedback may not be aligned with the nature of your product. ROI may not be positive. You may have an entirely different vision and a certain feature may diverge from it considerably.

All of these are legitimate reasons, and you should be able to face your users confidently and explain why your team has not prioritized their request, and perhaps take that opportunity to highlight the brand’s vision and directives.

This brings to mind a Craft story that involves a feature request for gantt charts. It made perfect sense, because as an agile software development tool, Craft users would want to manage their tasks and workflow through a data visualization tool. We ended up putting this request at the back burner. In our vision, Craft is a power-tool that helps product managers and other teams create, plan and build their product vision and offering, whereas gantt charts are a technical tool for project management.

Takeaways – Prioritize the feedback to determine what deserves a place in your roadmap and what doesn’t.

Summary

Lean product methodologies call for inventive ways to collect user feedback, especially at the beginning of the journey. Knowing how to categorize different types of feedback helps streamline the processing and applying it best (or not).

Prioritization is an important aspect when attempting to decode feedback, in order to determine how much attention and follow up certain requests or recommendations deserve. An even more important aspect is listening to users even if their feedback doesn’t seem to fit in with your roadmap.

The lean approach is always forcing you to stop and re-consider your approach to core values in your product. So yes, if enough users are telling you your product needs something, even if it isn’t in your MVP – your job is to pause and re-evaluate your product plan.

BONUS: download user persona template at Craft.io for free 🙂

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