If you’re reading this, you likely already believe high quality, rigorous customer research is the most direct path to product success and business outcomes.
Below are several research methods—beyond usability testing—product teams can use to build better, more successful products.
Product Manager vs. UX
First, I’ll quickly talk about who I believe is best suited to conduct research—product managers or UX.
Simply, research can be the sole responsibility of—or divided between—the product manager and/or a UX designer. Really, whoever has the desire and skillset is best suited for this role.
If your organization has more than one product team, consider adding a dedicated UX researcher (or research team) to free up product managers and UX designers.
The product manager can focus on leading team discussions, scoping work, writing user stories, and designing solutions with the UX designer, while the UX researcher focuses on tasks such as recruiting, research prep, and research facilitation.
Product Research Methods
When conducting product research, there are many different methods available—depending on the stage of the product development.
- Problem Discovery – Learn what problems exist and why
- Problem Validation – Verify whether the product team is solving the right problem
- Solution Validation – Test possible solutions to find the best ones
- Solution Measurement – Measure performance after launch (or during a pilot)
Next, I’ll go into more detail about each research phase.
1) Problem Discovery
During problem discovery, the business problem is known, but likely the underlying reason is not. To uncover and diagnose possible reasons, product teams might use one or more of the following techniques:
- Fishbone Analysis – Brainstorm potential reasons with internal stakeholders
- Frontline Employee Interviews – Interview frontline employees to learn what they see, hear, and believe about the problem
- Contextual Inquiry / Ethnography – Observe and talk to customers while they use the product
- Text Analysis – Analyze customer support emails, calls, chats, social media, etc. to find themes
- Customer Listening – Listen in on customer calls with customer service representatives
- VOC – Review previously collected survey data
- Session Replay – Observe video recordings of customers using the product
- IDIs – Interview customers about their difficulties or frustrations using the product
2) Problem Validation
To increase confidence, product teams can use triangulation to zero in on the right problem to solve or estimate the size of the problem.
If a clear, indisputable cause doesn’t emerge in the first round of discovery, the product team will need to conduct a second study (preferably using a different methodology) to pinpoint the root cause(s).
Sometimes a root cause is uncovered, but it still needs to be more fully studied or quantified before solutions can be developed.
Follow-up research methods might include:
- Any of the above “Problem Discovery” methods
- Survey – Gauge size of problem
- Analytics or VOC Metrics – Gauge size of problem
3) Solution Validation
With insights in hand, next, the product team gets to work brainstorming solutions. Ideally, the team doesn’t fall in love with any particular solution at this point, and instead generates multiple options.
To validate the best ideas and avoid bias, many product teams use a methodology called Kano analysis. Using Kano, they learn which concepts are must-haves, which create limited delight or exponential delight, and which ideas are flat-out undesirable.
Product teams might also use the following research methods to validate their ideas:
- Fake Door – Build a non-functional version of the feature to see if and how customers want to interact with it
- Speed Dating – Rapidly winnow to most desirable concepts first, then create multiple variations of each
- Wizard of Oz – Build a semi-functional version of the concept—simulated by humans “behind the curtain”—to see if and how customers react to it
- Card Sort – Rank ideas
- A/B Test – Split-test two or more versions to see which performs best
Finally, product teams may iterate the winning idea(s) before launch to ensure the highest chance for financial success, engagement, and adoption.
4) Solution Measurement
Post-launch, product teams can measure performance using one or more metrics, then continue to optimize the product to reduce customer frustration, increase order size, etc.
Metrics may include traditional business metrics (e.g., revenue, average order size, churn), calculating the cost of design operations, or CX / UX metrics such as:
- CES – Customer effort score
- CSAT – Customer satisfaction
- Task Completion Rate
- True Intent – Ability to complete desired task