5 Keys to Building Technology Products for Multiple User Types
I envy companies that make simple things. Pencils, napkins. Trash cans. Spatulas. I’m sure there are complexities I don’t understand, but at least we know who uses these things. We know—more or less—what people do with them.
Technology products are not like spatulas.
I’ve helped launch three different applications for Wellness Corporate Solutions. Without question, one of my biggest challenges has been how to manage an array of different user types. Each expects the system to provide just what they need—while also meeting the needs of everyone else. It has been difficult, but I’ve identified some core principles I will share that have helped me along the way.
Before I start, it’s important to understand the work we do at Wellness Corporate Solutions. In a nutshell, we help employees across the country live healthier, happier, more productive lives. We do that through highly-customized wellness programming: worksite biometric screenings, health coaching with registered dietitians, and yearlong wellness initiatives.
As is the trend in most industries today, technology underpins everything we do. We built our own system to track and forecast screening events (WellConnect); a tablet application to facilitate onsite events and transmit health data from the field in real time (ScreenSmart); and a participant portal that allows people to schedule appointments for screenings, view their results, and much more (WellConnect Plus).
If you develop tech products for diverse populations, or you think you might someday, here are five keys to making sure everyone gets what they need from your solution.
1) Start with a cross-disciplinary team.
From day one, take the time to assemble the right team. Whether you have product managers aligned with different areas of focus or you recruit representatives from departments across the organization, the goal is the same: to hear different viewpoints, motivations, and priorities.
We’ve followed this process for all three of our core applications at WCS, and it’s helped us build more effective products. Our screening services team, for example, often shares unique use cases that I hadn’t considered before. They’ve worked with hundreds of clients in every conceivable industry, so their feedback is especially important—but every department makes valuable contributions. Brainstorming sessions are richer and more productive when you have a multitude of perspectives, and you’re less likely to leave out important features when everyone has a voice.
2) Name your users.
Building a system with multiple user types is always a challenge, so start naming them all early on. Your cross-disciplinary team will help you identify ones that you didn’t know existed. I like to assign members of my team to represent each user type.
As the list grows, users will begin to fall into groups—each of which will probably require special functionality. More on this later, but it’s important for the development team to have awareness of these groups and their potential needs early on in the product design process. When we started planning for WellConnect Plus, identifying three core user groups (participants, client administrators, and internal WCS administrators) helped guide feature selection and the design of our initial build.
3) Rank user types by importance.
Once you have a complete list of user types and groups, pick the most important. Chances are, one will stand out as the primary target of your application. Consider the core purpose of your minimum viable product—what user or user group is that intended to serve?
Once you’ve identified your number one, work outward. List your remaining users, who may be supporting players or heavyweight stakeholders, in ranking order of importance. You can expect these decisions to be a lot more difficult than ranking user number one, but putting in the work now will grease the wheels for many downstream decisions about feature prioritization.
There was no question that the core purpose of WellConnect Plus would be to grant access to our screening and health coaching services. As a result, the individual participant ranked as our number one user. This straightforward understanding drove most of the features in the first release, as well as many of the early post-launch sprints.
4) Create profiles within user groups by motivations, demographics, and other key variables.
Classifying potential users is an abstract exercise that quickly exposes how much you know (or don’t know) about the people who will use your application. Dig deeply into each user type, considering variables that may be relevant to you. These may be simple (age, gender) or complex (health status). Ask yourself: who will show up at your door, and how might you need to respond differently to each demographic?
We work with employer groups of all shapes and sizes—tech companies and health systems to manufacturing plants and agriculture firms. Facing such a diversity of company and user profiles, we realized that user access management would be a unique challenge for us. We knew we would need to accommodate a variety of options. As a result, WellConnect Plus was built to support multiple user authentication and self-registration pathways, including (of course) picking up the phone and speaking directly to a person on our Customer Care Team.
5) After launch, reconsider your user rankings.
Yes, repeat Step 3—sort of.
Leading up to release, you’ve been focused on top-ranked user types critical to your MVP. But now that people are using your application—and it is doing what you designed it to do—it pays to reconsider those rankings. Things are different now. Priorities change, and you might miss that change if you miss this step.
Once again, our experience is instructive. The timeline and budget for the initial release of WellConnect Plus kept us laser-focused on participant-facing functionality. But two months after launch, consistent feedback from our client administrators, as well as internal administrators, made clear that we had some work to do for those two user groups—so we reprioritized and shifted focus. We’ve now scheduled two major feature builds over the next two quarters, which are specifically designed to expand functionality for those groups.
I imagine most product owners would agree – no matter how many days you have spent working up to that point, your initial product launch is really just day one. But after much planning and hard work, I’m happy to report that clients, partners, internal staff, and several million employees across the country are using Wellness Corporate Solutions’ systems today (day 308) and getting what they need. Mission accomplished. We’ll see about day 309.
(One final word of advice: Stay close with your multi-disciplinary team. We launched months ago, but this group continues to bring value as some of the most highly-engaged internal stakeholders helping us to innovate and improve every day.)