Author: Chandrika Rana, Working Student at Mobimeo
This article is based on a presentation created by the Product Lead of the Search and Routing Team at Mobimeo, Peter Zöll, at polisMOBILITY 2023 in Cologne. Peter and his team support Mobimeo in achieving its goal of changing the way cities move by diving deeper into the three vital elements of mobility applications - information, navigation, and updates.
The development cycles of physical and digital products
To get a glimpse into how the product development process takes place at Mobimeo, let us time-travel about 30 years back - long before anyone could imagine the company to be founded. We are sure that some of you would remember the Motorola International 3200 that was launched in 1992. It was the first digital hand-held mobile telephone. Mobile phones have certainly evolved over these years and it is evident in the newest iPhone 14 Max which not only weighs less than half of the bulky 520 grams Motorola International 3200 but also has the latest software with completely new features. The way from 1992 to 2023 for digital products like a smartphone (formerly known as mobile phone) has seen many evolutionary steps that are characterised by a rapid succession of new models.
However, this is not the case with most physical products. Look at, for instance, the beloved U-Bahn (underground) in Berlin. While the most widespread model of the underground train - with the pragmatic name “A3L92” - came the same year as the Motorola International 3200, it is still in use and there is almost no change that is visible to the everyday commuter.
When we talk about mobility today, the user journey does not start with entering a train and leaving the train station. With the emergence and widespread acceptance of smartphones and apps, the digital part of the journey starts with looking up your route and booking your means of transportation. If it is a comprehensive offering, the app is even your companion while you are on the go and informs you which platform to take and how to deal with the unforeseen. If the digital and the physical product are marketed under the same brand, users might soon realise the difference between the digital and the physical part of the product: They have the app that is continuously optimised for the best user experience which might be in stark contrast to the vehicle they are using that still feels like 1992 which follows the logic and life cycle of a classic industrial product. Nevertheless, users tend to assess both products of the same brand with the same expectations. Looking at our products, we see that among our approximately half a million monthly users, there are certainly a few who voice out their dissatisfaction about delayed trains and lack of proper information - even if we do not run a single train. And this is where Peter and his team come into play. They are continuously striving towards improving the user experience by working on the timing, precision, and quality of the information our users get about their journeys, hence developing the digital product. Of course, they can not resolve the cognitive mismatch between the digital and the physical product. Still, a better understanding of the differences might bridge the gap.
The Double Diamond and Mindset Segmentation
Our starting point is a multistage product development process, which is divided into five parts: discover, define, develop, deliver, and evolve. Also known as the Double Diamond, this process enables responsible teams, not just to find out core issues that request a new solution/product, but to understand and eventually resolve them from a user’s perspective. Similar to a classic industrial product, our teams also look at market research and create a hypothesis based on this information. The steady collaboration and coordination of different teams - User Research, Product, Quality Assurance, Product Analytics, and Design - ultimately results in user-centric digital solutions, which are continuously worked upon and improved.
An important further evolution of our approach to research in recent years is the Mindset Segmentation. This approach clusters requirements of different users based on the similarities of how they want their journeys to be rather than forming groups of individuals based on their profiles, like in the Personas approach. Personas in market research give important details about different clusters of individuals using certain products in a certain way. However, users can have different mindsets during different times of the day and situations and mindsets give better insights into the needs and priorities of our users. While “be on time” is the most relevant for local public transport (ÖPNV), the four mindsets - be on time, leisure on time, break the routine and be spontaneous - are the broader basis for the development of our product hypothesis.
Which approach(es) do we use in research?
In order to make use of the versatility of the different mindsets, we use our research format known as the “Insights Train”, where we test the current screens of our apps with five users every week and introduce new ideas and concepts that can enrich the user experience. This enables us to make optimal changes in the application features and to get feedback on how users will like to further use certain functions related to the apps.
Although the continuous feedback that is acquired from research certainly helps to enhance the app, it is also seen that this often differs from the ways it is actually being used. The Product Analytics team, therefore, examines the real usage of the app by looking into certain features of the usage of the applications. An interesting example of this is how people use buttons in an app. To analyse this, it is important to know when and where the buttons are being clicked and how much time individuals take to search for their journey from A to B.
Another example is the sending and receiving of notifications on mobile phones during the customer journey. By overcoming the obstacles of poor location data and internet connection, especially during underground train rides, the Quality Assurance team ensures to create the feature in such a way that the users get time-sensitive information while they are still online.
How is this research used and applied?
The endeavours of our teams working together are visible in the “Release Train”. As the name suggests, this is the rhythm leading to the release of a new version of our product every two weeks. Different teams use the data from research, i.e. from the Insights Train, and the insights from Product Analytics and Quality Assurance and eventually publish their features in the Release Train. Consequently, our users have a new version of their apps every fortnight, which is optimised according to the learnings from the past weeks.
To sum it up, everyday mobility as a product has today an inseparable digital component to it. People will never differentiate between the digital and physical product of the same brand. Therefore, product development cannot take place without research and analytics. All this happens behind the scenes of the actual product that the users experience. It does not matter to them who does what, all that matters is “when”: for them, the most relevant time is “now”.