Bruce: UX people are, I have found, highly, highly leveraged in those early days of testing your assumptions. I’ve done this over and over again, actually. We did it at NetProspex, and we are doing it right now with a startup that I founded called Reqqs, reqqs.com. It’s a product for product managers that helps them with prioritizing and road mapping.
What we did early on with that product was to first do a bunch of research with product managers to understand their problems, and when they ask for features to ask them why they wanted them. Get those problems boiled down to the essential few, which, with product managers, it turned out, the worst problems are prioritizing and road mapping.
Both the decision-making part and the communications and getting-everybody-bought-in parts of that process. Then the whole question was, “Do we have a solution to those problems? Do we have something that will actually provide value in those problems over and above the alternatives,” which right now, for most product managers are Excel and PowerPoint.
So we did mock-up after mock-up. I walked users through those mock-ups. We set them up in a clickable fashion. So you could go from one page to the next as though it were a real product with real data.
Kept optimizing it based on the feedback that we were getting and to the point where we had something that was in HTML and clickable and apparently responsive, even though there was no database behind it, that people said, “Yeah, this is great. If I could put my real data in, this is exactly what I would want.” Then we went from there into producing the real code.
We used a whole bunch of the front-end code. Not all of it, but a lot of it. Similarly, at NetProspex, I was building a tool for salespeople that was basically a search tool for contact information. It was for telephone salespeople, for what they call BDRs, who just make lots and lots of outbound phone calls all day long and make appointments for salespeople.
This was a quick lookup-tool, essentially, for getting the right contact information for somebody you wanted to reach. We had a whole team of these BDRs. We had 25 of them at NetProspex in-house. So I said, “Perfect. I will produce a clickable mock-up and I will put it in front of them and see what they think.” I learned a huge amount by doing that.
Then after we got beyond the clickable mock-up stage and into early prototypes, but the UI was still very minimal, I would put it in front of them have them actually use it in their job and see where it did or didn’t work for them. I quickly learned to keep the UI simple.
It actually helped me reduce the feature count that we needed in order to get into our first release. Because I discovered that some of the advanced features that I thought people would think were really cool, that the salespeople couldn’t figure out how to use them. So we just got them, and we had a better product for it.