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Understand users and their ‘as-is’ process

Many different people may be impacted by the outcome of your work. Being clear about who you are focused on helping will inform your solution and strategy. Understanding who you are solving a problem for is also important for creating a user-centric mindset with your team and building empathy and motivation for your work. If you have a design lead on your team, they will likely lead this work, but the entire team should be closely involved.

Once you know who your users are, you need to understand how they are currently “getting the job done” or how their needs are currently being met. Observational and structured research will help you hear what users say they like or dislike about their current state. Using a product mindset to translate their feedback into underlying goals and problems will allow your team to identify problems and solutions the users may not have thought to articulate.

In addition, no process, service, or product lives in a vacuum, so you will want to understand how these fit together to impact the overall user experience. And past efforts and solutions will offer useful lessons to refine your understanding of what works and doesn’t work.

Your partners likely have an incomplete view of the current state or what their users need, so developing a shared baseline of where you are starting from is a necessary step to envisioning a path forward.

Considerations: A good understanding of the users…

  • Defines the key users and consumers of the current process

  • Empathizes with their context of day-to-day activities, objectives, and goals

  • Describes the key steps and activities in their current process and identifies pain points

  • Demonstrates how users interact or depend on each other in order to achieve success

  • Organizes individual users into groups where appropriate

  • Distinguishes between those most affected or impacted by the current process and those with a more peripheral interest

Activities: How to get there

  • Work with your design lead (if you have one on your team) and your other team members to create a research plan. Determine what you want to learn, what methods you’ll use, and who will participate.

  • Map out the current process end-to-end, identifying the key actors involved, the activities they are doing, their goals, and the tools or systems they are using, as well as how this process fits into their day-to-day.

  • Map out critical decisions or steps that result in branches in the current process.

  • Identify explicit and implicit pain points and opportunities, including emotional pain points, functional blockers, and/or common dropoff rates or moments of failure.

  • Debrief after each session and adjust your research plan as needed.

  • Validate qualitative findings with quantitative data when possible, while being mindful of Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) regulations when gathering data from the public.

  • Ask your partner if there have been any previous efforts in this area, and seek out any resulting reports, findings, or raw data.

  • Analyze and synthesize your findings with your team, looking for patterns.

  • If your problem space is large, get alignment from business leads on initial prioritization to focus additional research activities.

Incorporation: What to do next

  • Report out to organizational stakeholders to build empathy around the current state.

  • Translate your findings into preliminary recommendations or decision points around the problems and use cases to support.

  • Draw on your research to help your partner articulate a concise problem statement, create an inspirational vision, and develop a strategy for achieving their desired future state.


18F Product Guide

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