When during product development is it best to start obtaining user input?

After launching beta version.

Never during product development is it best to start or obtaining user input.

Get your user input BEFORE you start actual code development.  Start with the boss who is commissioning the work to find out what end-product s/he wants to see – but remember that the boss is only one user.  You can build a list of functions that the boss wants to see, but then talk to the people who will use those functions on a daily basis to get an idea of how best to do it.  See what they WERE doing and see what you can do to streamline it.
Even with a LOT of user input, one of my bigger database projects had only about a 75% “LIKE” rate that I managed to improve with a few tweaks and mods.  It is hard to please everyone.

If your initial project plan doesn’t include user (and support) input at the very beginning, it is doomed to end up “missing” things that you didn’t think of on your own.  I used to work in the product management department of a large network equipment company where the joking slogan was ,”you can buy a better network, but you can’t pay more!”  The “product development” staff was top-heavy with MIT PhD types who considered everything an “experiment” rather than a commercial venture.

As a programmer told me, when I asked him, “How will customers read their data tapes that were written in the old format?” “Nobody will want to read the old tapes.” The product, although “finished”, did not make it through beta test. Customers wanted to be able to read their old tapes.
How did they get into that perpicklement? By not asking for help at the beginning. I was the first to ask that crucial question, but I was the tech writer for the project, and was thus unaware of the product’s existence until four weeks before beta test. IIRC, that was the incident that led the tech-writing manager to establish spies to discover upcoming projects.

Answer 6

I suggest doing this before you even start, to ensure you’re focusing on the right product. And continue gathering user input throughout the project, as there will continually be options requiring choices. Good luck.

Answer 7

I do it as soon as possible.  Sometimes it helps to discover if there are misunderstandings about the data.

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