Understanding the product learning landscape with a ‘snapshot inventory’ of all types of internal research — to get more done with insights

Listing all available research across teams and disciplines to get a sense of your organization’s learning landscape As an early move toward putting ‘old’ insights to better use in product planning

It’s insight groundhog day. There’s that ‘do we know anything about’ question again. Research teams in tech often scope the ‘we’ in these questions to themselves, diving into repository tooling to make their own insights more findable — without considering the breadth of different ways that their product organization learns.

First things first: tracking down all internal staff who generate insights, then compiling their past outputs into a common list. A simple compilation of completed reports can enable motivated insight seekers to find the inputs they need for current projects. ‘Snapshot inventories’ can also be used to characterize the opportunity for bigger investments toward ongoing research reuse.

Speech bubbles: Q: “I’ve got this foundational research topic… I’m sure someone has looked into it?” A: “Not on my team, I don’t think.” Q: “What about team X, Y, or Z?” A: “I’m not sure where to look for team X’s old work, and I don’t really know team Y or Z.”

I usually argue for taking an approach that’s the opposite of ‘tool first’ thinking: getting to know the research landscape in your organization, experimenting with pulling it together in simple ways, sharing consolidated outputs that demonstrate the value of ‘old’ research, and only then — and only then — starting to think about requirements for repository tooling.

Improving your insight operations

  • Getting the word out about your intention to capture a snapshot of available research
    Since you will need inputs from a wide range of colleagues, find a succinct way to summarize your goal and share your intent via different channels. In order to round up a range of sources, avoid describing what you’re looking for in discipline-specific language. Create a low-barrier way to submit content, and create some urgency by setting a feasibly fast-paced timeline for finishing the snapshot.
  • Tracking down streams and pockets of documented learning
    Assume that what’s actively given to you is the tip of the iceberg of what’s available. Ask insight users about which sources they’ve applied to their product planning. Follow the veins of promising research to tools, locations, and people that may surface more. Follow the reputations of people who do research, regardless of their discipline. Start to capture insight-rich final outputs (that are still appropriate to use) in a list with the title, year, researcher, generating team, research methods, location, and other initial description.
  • Sorting the inventory to frame what’s available and to de-emphasize some categories
    When in the midst of creating one of these inventories, it may seem as if there’s always more. At some point, the ‘long tail’ of inputs starts becoming harder and harder to find. As your list scales and the end of your project timeline approaches, start exploring how to order what you’ve found. For example, you may decide to relegate obviously stale or incomplete content to a secondary view, or sort it lower in your list. You may decide to give secondary sources, such as industry reports, less emphasis than your organization’s own research. And, if you’ve ended up collecting pointers to partially or wholly unanalyzed data sets, you may want to separate those into their own category as well.
  • Annotating for purpose and sharing the ‘completed’ snapshot
    Before closing the loop on your initial communications by sharing the resulting inventory, consider adding columns that will drive understanding of the collected sum while improving the specific findability of individual pieces of research. There’s potential for a huge amount of deliberation and effort here, so scoping based on time is essential. Not enough time to develop a robust taxonomy; instead, a quick and limited amount of tagging. You may want to surface key insights and find lightweight ways to connect obviously related reports from across teams. When the end of the project timeline arrives, share the resulting ‘snapshot inventory’ with calls to action about how it might be used, as well as learning about the resulting whole and its limitations. Your snapshot is probably also worth a road show discussion with core product teams, in collaboration with related researchers, to provide another active touchpoint with essential yet underutilized insights.
  • Bridging from a snapshot toward something more enduring
    A snapshot quickly becomes stale as insight generators continue to report new learning. As teams put your snapshot to use, there will inevitably be questions about what will happen next. Snapshots can be repeated on regular intervals, maintaining the inventory as a bare minimum form of collective knowledge management. And these snapshots can be used to build justification for more formal research repository programs — ranging from more formal ‘Research Registers’ to more intensive ‘Insights Hubs.’
  • Your idea here…

On the path from insight to product impact

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Related posts

Selected references

  • “You’ll be in a meeting, and someone will present their work, and they’ll email it, and then in 6 months, you see someone talk about something similar, and you think, I’ve seen that, where was it? Who said it? Where did I save it? Everywhere, every day, people are creating new knowledge, and even though the most privileged among us have access to all the world’s data, we still find it hard to learn anything. We still can’t find anything. We still wrestle with managing just the things we learn every day….” Brigette Metzler
  • “I’ve been thinking for a while why it doesn’t feel right to me to jump straight into building or procuring a research library or research repository. Discussion of sharing research / findings / insights more effectively will often quickly turn to tools as solutions to this. But there is much to consider before you can have an effective research library, there is much infrastructure that needs to be in place… To me, having an effective research library or insights library, is one of the most sophisticated things we can do in the field of user research. And if you don’t have a mature research practice and a mature research ops practice, going straight to a tool for your library you may be trying to run before you walk…. Sharing research findings and insights more effectively needs to start by having at its foundation…a simple list (catalogue) of research done, so work can be accessed with just enough context to know that you are accessing the right thing.” Stephanie Marsh
  • “Firstly, we found that the four different models of knowledge management systems were: A research register — often the place researchers start — effectively a spreadsheet cataloguing research that has been done, is in progress, or is planned for the future… An ‘insights ‘hub’ — generally prepared for a wider audience, including only de-identified data. These are used as a way of organising and prioritising user needs, pain points, insights, opportunities and other forms of synthesis from the research. They are often combined with links to the raw data, or links to research outputs.” Brigette Metzler, Bri Norton, Dana Chrisfield, Mark McElhaw



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Jake Burghardt

Jake Burghardt

Focused on integrating streams of customer-centered research and data analyses into product operations, plans, and designs. www.linkedin.com/in/jakeburghardt