Starting with related research while identifying product questions — to get more done with insights

Integrating research > Crafting arteries into planning > H. Onboarding all product people to repositories and their culture of research use > Article H2

Existing research at the starting line. Product people often want fresh data on what they see as new questions, before they’ve considered how available insights could reframe and clarify their ideas.

Insight seekers can build the muscle of starting with what’s already known, filtering early ideas and uncertainties through the learning captured in research repositories — be they exact answers that provide ‘direct hits,’ up-leveled insights to think bigger about customer needs, or analogous insights that can inspire parallel actions.

When great product teams generate hypotheses and explore new possibilities, they seek out related insights that can shape their point of view. And due to the work of great research communities, those insights can be waiting for insight seekers, generated in advance as part of a portfolio of valuable knowledge. In this way, similar to mapping insights into design briefs (G1), research repositories can feed into the top of planning work streams.

Research operations can push for answering new product questions with existing research, working to establish this behavior as a cultural norm. This type of change does not happen overnight, and these norms face common headwinds. Emotionally, going back to do secondary research on ‘old’ evidence may feel wrong to some product people who want ‘new data’ for what they perceive to be ‘very unique’ situations (A3). Getting folks to turn to research repositories with a future focus may require getting them comfortable with not having an indisputable ‘answer’ or ‘green light’ right away. Instead, product people can rapidly build a foundation of insights to inform new lines of experimentation toward real customer needs.

All that work capturing, organizing, and resharing research knowledge comes to fruition when stored content can be rapidly turned into answers, nearly at the speed of questions. No new data collection, no lab time, no big analysis — just existing insights ready to be reapplied. In practice, I’ve seen this value kick off with researchers answering their own queries within their newly searchable collective knowledge. This value can then progress outward to helping product definers and designers interpret available learning, understand gaps, and shape proposals. As use of existing insights becomes more common, researchers can decide on a case-by-case basis when to push insight seekers toward self-service and when to offer high-touch collaboration, deepening their involvement in crucial projects and prioritized teams.

Some queries will inevitably uncover gaps in what’s known. But even when there aren’t any exact matches for a current line of questioning, repositories can provide fresh perspective on a ‘trunk’ of higher-level customer needs. Or questions can be connected into analogous insights, which are parallel to current inquiries in some way, using judgment to determine how they might apply.

Building norms about starting with existing research can mean changing perceptions about what’s ‘enough data’ to inspire ‘research-informed’ ideas and decisions. To this end, we can collect and evangelize internal stories where respected leaders have made big bets from small amounts of inspiring evidence — and launched big wins.

Starting with related research while identifying product questions is not just about increasing the usage of repositories and reducing insight waste. As existing insights are referenced in formative explorations (G2), organizations can view their research resources and investments as always having a valuable contribution to make, whether instigating new ideas, shaping investigations, or providing evidence-based justification. And as product people start citing repositories early and often (H1), they can connect with study authors to ask follow-up questions and receive feedback on their proposed solutions.

Improving your insight operations

Get more done with your research community’s insights by:

  • Establishing pathways and levels of service for insight seekers
    To support those times when insight seekers do not have needed research at their fingertips from prior reporting and repository communications (B2), identify useful entry points for your browse and search interfaces. These entry points may include onboarding training, study documents, process gates, planning templates, wikis, leadership referrals, research intake queues, and proactive connection by operations staff. Budget how much effort your team can set aside to support stakeholders’ inquiries, and develop a rubric to help decide when insight seekers will be sent to self-service rather than receiving collaborative support. These rubrics can include the relative importance of the questions being asked, the complexity of related queries given what’s currently available in your repositories, and the level of research literacy necessary to interpret the resulting evidence. Keep research contributors abreast of stakeholders’ current interests within their areas of study, so that they can choose whether and when to get involved.
  • Expanding and shaping questions toward available research knowledge
    When offering high-touch support to insight seekers, work to understand the specifics and underlying intents of their questions. Steer misguided inquiries toward evidence-based problems to solve. Locate related learning, searching beyond exact matches. Look laterally to ‘related’ and ‘previously solved’ insights. Also abstract upward to customer needs that can re-situate current questions in larger contexts about the people your organization is striving to serve.
  • Communicating contradictions, certainty, and other complexity in pulled insights
    Build a story from insight seekers’ questions to the existing research you’ve collected. Bring research authors in to help shape your summary. Highlight where there’s contradictory learning, or at least insights that might suggest different paths forward. Call out your degree of certainty about existing insights as evidence for new hypotheses. Suggest where your pulled insights could lead to ‘research-inspired’ versus ‘research-informed’ decisions. Consider how to tame complexity, pruning out unnecessary and redundant content. Communicate relative priority, casting a spotlight on crucial problems to solve.
  • Delivering existing insights in formats that resonate with curious product people and their teams
    Consider how best to share and discuss the pulled insights in order to increase impact. In some cases, a quick document with a set of links and filters may be all you have time for. In other cases, you may choose to invest in face-to-face conversations, or even ideation workshops with whole product teams, distributing valuable knowledge beyond the insight seekers who kicked off the investigation. For each audience, provide the appropriate level of detail and immersion into supporting evidence. Bring research authors along to represent their work. Collaborate with product people to develop and document next steps, requesting links to any resulting goals, backlog items, designs, or other planning work products (H1).
  • Sharing outputs broadly as social proof for starting with existing research
    Keep a register of insight pulls as another indication of success for repository programs, highlighting cases where product leaders made formative decisions based on existing learning. (These registers can also provide quick responses when the same line of questioning inevitably arises again.) Find other avenues to communicate broadly about insight pulls (B2), including impact stories in repository reporting and summarized cases for leadership.
  • Your idea here…

On the path from insight to product impact

Building norms about starting with related research while identifying product questions is part of product teams achieving awareness of possible planning targets from their research. It’s also related to having envisioned solution ideas and prioritized plans that address those targets.

Let’s connect

If you’ve read this far, please don’t be a stranger. I’m curious to hear about your challenges and successes starting new lines of inquiry with secondary research in your organization. Thank you!

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Articles on research repositories and better integrating streams of research into product planning. Tech organizations are acting like labs without collective notebooks, unlocking only limited value from their research investments. Let’s get more done with research insights.

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Jake Burghardt

Focused on integrating streams of customer-centered research and data analyses into product operations, plans, and designs.