Finding the right IoT opportunities

Developing a physical product takes a long time and a big investment. I worked with a company that wanted to build internet-connected power tools (and the software to support them) as they sought to remain competitive in an industry quickly embracing the internet of things (IoT).

How I helped

My main concern was that we find opportunities that worked for our users: Construction crews on commercial job sites. The team I was working with understood the value of research, and wanted their strategy to be driven by the day-to-day needs of their customers. However, they were new to user-centered research methods, and thought of the problem in terms of figuring out the right features. As the research lead for the project, I had three main goals:

  1. Design a research effort that would help us understand our users' needs

  2. Coach the team on research techniques that would result in reliable data

  3. Shift the focus from product design to service design by finding opportunities in the journey of a commercial construction crew

I started with a heuristic analysis of connected tools in the market, which showed us that the space was very new and undeveloped. Functionality was limited, and the value to commercial construction workers was questionable.

To find out how we could create a product that worked for construction workers, I led a contextual inquiry effort across 10 job sites in the U.S. and Canada.

I created a double-sided, one-sheet interview guide that the team could carry around on clipboards. These helped us get consistent data during each visit.

Lightweight, single-page interview guides kept the team on track during site visits.

Lightweight, single-page interview guides kept the team on track during site visits.

These guides also helped the team understand how to ask good questions. For example, one team member had a habit of asking participants to respond to an idea.

They would ask: “If we made an inventory tracking system, would that be of interest to you?”

Instead, I encouraged them to ask: “How do you manage your inventory?”

The readout website used an open-source WordPress template from the NASDAQ design team and encouraged continuous discovery.

The readout website used an open-source WordPress template from the NASDAQ design team and encouraged continuous discovery.

Rather than delivering the findings in a deck, I loaded all the research data into a WordPress website. It included:

  • Journey maps for different user types

  • Participant summaries

  • Interview recordings and transcripts

  • Insights about each location

The team was excited to continue adding research to this website over time and felt that the readout was one of the best things to come out of the project.

The results

I built a research mindset within the team, coached them on interview techniques, and gave them a readout that encouraged continuous research. This helped us come up with a strategy based on the realities of a job site, not trendy IoT technology.