Why database folks should care about User Research

sketchnotes describing key points such as "you are not your user" and that user research focuses on who, what, and how cyclically
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I attended a training session at Redgate this week by Chris Spalton. Chris’ session topic was “An Introduction into Planning User Research.” Chris pointed out that there’s much more to User Research, but that planning the research is particularly important as it is the foundation for everything you do later.

If you’re a database administrator or developer, you may not immediately feel that User Research is related to your job — that’s someone else’s job, right? 

While that used to be true, the world of tech is changing fast. There are reasons you should reconsider.

Understanding your customer is key

One of the most important aspects of Agile development methods, DevOps, and Digital Transformations is a focus on your customer. 

IT folks traditionally have thought of their colleagues as their internal “customers” — DBAs and others used to act more as a sort of internal service provider in a cost center. DevOps and Digital Transformations notably shift this and bring IT into a position to be creative and partner equally with others in the organization to generate value for external customers.

It’s easy to be a bit cynical about this and think, “That’s not the way it is in my job.” If you feel that way, I challenge you to take the initiative to change your own perspective! There is no need for database specialists to wait around for someone to give them permission to start thinking about their organization’s customers and to start being a creative collaborator with others.

Give yourself permission, and very likely it will have a positive impact on your career.

The User Research planning approach is suitable for all sorts of customer interactions

I found that a lot of what I learned about planning User Research is also useful to think about when framing all sorts of conversations:

  • Think carefully about how you define the problem space, as this impacts everything afterward
  • Remember that you are not your customer — and neither are your colleagues. In other words, try to clear your natural bias that you already understand your customer. You don’t!
  • Scope and prioritize your goals for learning carefully, but bring extra questions in case there is time to gain more insights
  • It is useful to gain insights from not only current customers — ex-customers, prospects, and others working in the space may hold valuable insights
  • You won’t cover everything about your research in one session. Plan your research over phases, from initial broad questions, progressing through interaction, showing proposals, and finally testing
  • Plan, prepare for, and structure your calls carefully in a way that respects your interviewee’s time, and allows them freedom to answer honestly and openly

After attending this session, I believe that learning more about User Research will also help me build my skills for other interactions and projects, too.

Participating in User Research connects you to your colleagues

As a DBA or database developer, you may not conduct your own user research. Quite possibly, you already have colleagues who conduct User Research. This may go by different names in different organizations, and the research may be conducted by people in software development, marketing, sales, or customer success teams. 

Keep an eye out to identify where user research is happening in your organization and ask your manager and teammates if they know how and when this works. Reach out to the teams who are doing this research and ask if you are able to join in sometimes, even as an observer, so that you can learn to better understand  your customers. Taking this initiative can open many doors for you and help you bring your career into a new phase.