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How to do a Behavioral Diagnosis

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What is it?

When we work with companies to help them change behavior for good, the behavioral diagnosis is where we begin. It’s a process that helps us figure out how well something is designed to encourage a key behavior. It is a detailed, step-by-step analysis of how users actually behave.

We have previously shared resources on the 3B’s framework, which we use to structure our principles, as well as a brief guide on experimentation. The Behavioral Diagnosis is a broader approach which incorporates and expands upon these elements. 


Why should I use it?

Too many time product teams rely on qualitative methods such as interviews, focus groups or personas as a sole source of user research.  While this approach may be a helpful way to figure out users’ perceptions about what they like or don’t like, on its own it’s rarely a useful indicator of how people actually behave.

Take the example of defaults. When ordering a burger at a restaurant, most people stick with the standard side order of fries rather than switching to a side salad. This happens outside of restaurants too: from opting to be an organ donor to deciding on an insurance plan. When we ask people why they prefer these things, they rarely say that it’s because switching away from the default offer is too cumbersome. This is why we want to take a hacker approach to fully understand their behavior: we want to examine every detail of the environment and how it influences people’s choices.


What’s an example? 

We recently completed a behavioral diagnosis for a large company looking to improve its cafeteria design to encourage healthy eating. The company’s HR managers insisted that healthy options were available, and employees were also encouraged to bring food from home.

Upon observing the cafeteria during lunch hour, we saw what was actually happening. Since there were only a few microwaves, the wait to use them sometimes lasted as long as 10-15 minutes. The microwaves, while in theory helpful for people bringing food from home, were now a less convenient option. Instead, many people opted for the unhealthy options in the nearby vending machines. Understanding this, we focused a recommendation on adding microwaves to help with the lines and adding healthy options for vending machines that could be heated up (vs. the highly caloric ones they actually offered). The next step for the company is to set up a randomized controlled experiment to test whether adding microwaves changed employees’ lunch-eating behaviors.


Who is it for?

The Behavioral Diagnosis is a tool that product managers, marketers and designers can add to their toolkit. It’s an approach to solving behavioral questions and improving well-being that allows for a deeper understanding of a user’s context.


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