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How We Learn and Improve

Sara Kurzhal |

You may have noticed it in your construction work before: you make a mistake, or you hit an obstacle that you don’t know how to surmount—but you have to, and so you pick up a new skill, or find a detour: a new life hack. That’s how you grow and learn.

Behind many great innovations is a problem that needed to be solved. This is as true for small innovations or adjustments within a product as it is for brand-new products.

Who knows the problem best?

How do innovators uncover the problems that need solving? One good way is listening to the voice of the customer. Even more important is hearing from the end user: the person who is actually using the tool, application, or process on a regular basis. They’re the ones with the first-hand experiences. They’re the closest to any problems, and they know from experience what the pain points are.

Some users are better than others at describing those pain points. Many users will jump right over the step of describing their problem to the step of asking for a solution. As time tracking software developers, we often hear, “Can you create a report with this information?” or “can you add a button so I can do this?”

But what’s more valuable to those of us working on the solution is knowing what the problem is. Understanding the problem we are trying to solve within the right context can help to ensure the solution truly meets the user’s need and doesn’t introduce potential new pain points.

Getting the play-by-play

How do we ensure we understand the end users’ pain points? One great way is through observation. Observation can be done by watching how the user interacts with the system through a screen share, and asking them questions along the way.

We are not always able to observe the use of an app, so having the end user walk us through their process step by step can accomplish a similar end. This is different than reviewing the documented process, because end users do not always follow the documented process. We want to see what the user is actually doing.

By asking the user to take us through their every step, we can compare the actual process used to the documented process and ask why different steps are taken. Often the differences occur because the user has encountered a pain point in the process and has found a workaround or their own resolution to the problem. Digging into the steps in the process the user has altered, added, or skipped will help identify opportunities to improve the process and/or system.

A learning experience

As an example, feedback from our customers a while back indicated that setting up a new user’s mobile device for permission to clock in and clock out via our app was time-consuming and frustrating. By asking questions about their processes, we learned that typically an administrator, supervisor, or foreman would work with each new user or employee to individually set up their mobile devices with the company’s desired settings: frequency of data sync, log-out behavior, and others.

Understanding the particular settings that were important to have consistent across all users mobile devices, the team brainstormed solutions and decided on a Mobile Settings feature in our web-based dashboard, ExakTime Connect. This allows administrators or others in management roles to set up mobile device settings that apply to all user across the company, simplifying each user’s setup process exponentially.

When we have identified the potential pain point areas, posing more detailed questions about those areas ensures we know the details of the pain point. It is important to ask the end user what they do, when they do it, where they do it, how they do it, and most importantly, why. In the words of Anthony D’Angelo, “When solving problems, dig at the roots instead of just hacking at the leaves.”

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Sara Kurzhal is a product manager at ExakTime. She is responsible for understanding the voice of the customer and using it to inform ExakTime product development. When not thinking about product, she likes going to concerts and cheering on her kids' teams.


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