Simple steps to effective product research – Part 1: Getting started "Product people - Product managers, product designers, UX designers, UX researchers, Business analysts, developers, makers & entrepreneurs 22 December 2021 True Market Research, Premium Content, Product Analytics, product research, Series, User Research, Mind the Product Mind the Product Ltd 737 Product Management 2.948
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Simple steps to effective product research – Part 1: Getting started

As C Todd Lombardo, VP of Product and Experience at Openly, explained in his Prioritised AMA, Performing Effective User Research, product research done well can help you to avoid making a whole load of bad product decisions. But what are the practical steps you need to take to perform research well?

In this 2-part, quick read series, we’ll cover the types of research product teams should be doing and the steps to take to get started.

What is product research?

First things first, product research is a mix of user research, market research and analytics. It means looking into the problems customers have, understanding them in a market context, and then bringing them with analytics to show you how people are using your product.

What types of product research can you do?

According to Nadia Elinbabi, C Todd’s colleague and Senior User Experience Designer at Openly, at a practical level, it’s useful to split your product research into three types:

  1. Generative
  2. Tactical
  3. Evaluative

Openly is doing all three types of research at the moment.

  • Generative research feeds into the business’ long term strategic plans.
  • Tactical or descriptive research feeds into items that they’re currently building or designing.
  • Evaluative research tests what has been designed to make sure that they’re meeting goals and needs.

”Between the three of these, you not only get to influence the product and strategy, but you also influence it at every piece of the process, which is awesome,” she says.

How often should you do product research?

As a general guide, generative research should be ongoing, tactical research is tied to specific projects, and evaluative research is most useful towards the end of a project.

How do you start product research?

Nadia jokes that no one ever asks her to do three months of deep research, rather they’ll usually say something like ‘we didn’t get this customer but we don’t know why’ or ‘this didn’t work and we don’t know why’.

To get started on research, it’s therefore wise to identify the question to be answered. It’s only then you can analyse the best way to get the answer.

Here are some simple steps to follow:

  • Step 1: When you hear a question no one has a ready answer for, make moves to find out about it — just ask the person to tell you more. Your company’s subject matter experts should be a rich source of initial questions for research.
  • Step 2: Find out what the information would be used for, and the impact it might have on business decisions.
  • Step 3: If you’re not sure which path the research should take, ask “if you had the answer to this question what would you do or change?”. This can help you decide where your focus should be so you can start finding answers.

DIY research always wins

Using a research agency may expedite your product research and solve any bandwidth problems, but product managers won’t get a primary understanding of the issues. They also don’t get to sit in or have the opportunity to change the direction of the research. C Todd says he always prefers product teams to conduct research themselves, if possible, for this reason.

What are the golden rules of product research?

Finally, there are a few golden rules of research to keep in mind:

  • Beware of biases. Everyone has them. For that reason, another perspective is always useful, so consider bringing third parties in to help you combat bias.
  • Let people talk. Don’t fill in their answers. Even if you think you know what someone will say, wait and let them speak, they may add something unexpected or go in a different direction.
  • Match the research method to the question you want to answer. And tempting though it may be, don’t get focused on the solution too early.
  • Share your knowledge and find different ways to do this. Do put your research in a centralised place but also find ways to share it in a more snackable format because it should inform everyone’s decision making.
  • Break it down. If you find your research isn’t being read or integrated into the work, then break it down more.
  • Figure out how to make it a habit.

In part 2, out tomorrow (5 October 2021) we’ll explore why research typically goes wrong and share tips on how to effectively analyse your results.

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