The Power of Thoughtful Research by Prakriti Parijat

“Do you like the conference so far?” begins Prakriti Parijat of DBS Bank. After cheers from the #mtpcon Singapore crowd, she turns the response around: “What is wrong with that question?” Everyone immediately recognizes that it was a leading question.

It is tempting to ask customers what they want, but you won’t get a good answer. Because what they really want is to be liked. We may say “there is no such thing as a dumb question,” but in research, this isn’t true. Leading questions don’t provide good insights – the participants want to answer “correctly” and end up giving the responses you want rather than the real information you need.

Many product managers will say their foremost challenge is “being able to conduct proper research to validate whether the market truly needs what they’re building”. But while we look to research as the solution, Prakriti says that research not done right won’t help to answer this question either. She walks through four insights that product teams commonly look for, and gives advice on the right way to get the answers desired.

Are we Solving the Right Problem?

For a researcher, this is the first question that should be asked. Prakriti talks through an example where the Singapore Ministry of Manpower wanted to understand how it could better engage with the foreign workers currently in the country. She discovered in research that the real problem was not engagement when these workers were in the country – it was the information they were given before they came to the country. They were trying to solve the wrong problem.

To get to the real problems, Prakriti recommends you ask your team five questions at the beginning of a research effort:

  • What is the business goal?
  • Who is the target audience?
  • What are the customers key “jobs to be done”?
  • What is the value proposition?
  • What are the critical success factors?

You may not know everything up front, but aligning around these questions will point your team in the direction of research that needs to be done to get the answers and uncover if you are solving the right problem.

Are we Using the Right Method?

There are many research methods in existence, and not all are created equal. Not all are right for every situation. Prakriti talks about the concept of “preference testing”, where a small sample of users is given several different items that could be built, and asked which ones they prefer. This is not the right way to understand user preferences – what users say they want is not always what they would actually use.

There is risk in the other direction as well; Prakriti talks through an example of a feature they tested in usability that a majority of participants said they didn’t see as valuable. They decided to put the feature into the app as a test, and it quickly became one of the most highly used features in the product. Customers were finding value – they just didn’t know they would at first glance.

To combat this, she recommends using methods like A/B testing, to see how users behave. This will give you a much more impactful view into what your customers really value.

Are we Getting the Right Insight?

People often use the terms “finding” and “insight” interchangeably. But they are not the same thing. For example, WeightWatchers did a study and found that users are most likely to drop a diet within a month. This is a finding, but doesn’t tell you much about why. Upon further research, WeightWatchers found that users dread diets because of their fear of failure, and fear of humiliation to themselves and others. That is an insight that can be used.

True insights are findings that can quickly tell you:

  • Context around the findings
  • Behavioral implications
  • How to apply the information towards business goals and objectives.

Is the Research Done at the Right Time?

Discovery research is crucial, and if not done at the correct time, it can lose the impact. Even if your team is following the classic “Double Diamond Discovery” process, in reality, outside pressures on the team can cause research to get shortcut or be interrupted.

It’s important to not get caught in the way that research “should be”, and understand how to be most effective in research in your organisation. This may mean lining up research requests with budget cycles, or having research results ready at the right time to influence decision making. If your insights aren’t absorbed, even the best research will fall short.

Getting the Most out of Research

Research is a valuable tool for product teams. Understanding how to solve the right problem, use the right method, get the right insight, and conduct research at the right time is very important. Mastering these skills will help your team make the most of the research you do.

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