Why Product Managers Need Continuous Research

This article was originally published in the Modern Product Manager


For anyone who’s ever been a Product Manager, I don’t need to tell you that it’s a busy, noisy, challenging, mile-a-minute, exciting, and often, pretty stressful job.

You’re trying to balance long-term strategic vision with short-term deadlines. You’re trying to ship value to users and drive outcomes for your company while keeping your team focused, informed, and not overwhelmed.

In this difficult environment, many junior (and often senior) Product Managers often leave user research behind or simply assume that another team will carry the torch. For those ambitious PMs who strive to integrate user research, it’s often only executed for “big features” or “overhauls” instead of through a more sustainable, and often, more fruitful continuous approach.

This is a mistake.

Continuous user research helps Product Managers make better product decisions, identify potential feature opportunities, and even helps them define attractive testing opportunities. In short, continuous research simply makes Product Managers better.

So, how do you find time for research? 

Let’s dive in together and I’ll help you start building continuous user research into your Product Management Practice.

What Are The Benefits of Continuous User Research?

1. Make Better Product Decisions

This one is relatively straightforward. If you have a pipeline of user research learnings as another input to your prioritization process (in addition to metrics, intuition, strategic direction, competitive landscape, and more), you’ll make better decisions. That doesn’t mean you’ll always make the right decisions, but they will be more informed.

2. Identify Potential Opportunities

In each and every research effort, I’m surprised by the tangential opportunities we identify. We may be surveying or interviewing customers on the impact of a new type of pricing and we also learn about an additional feature that would change the perception of our price.

With research, you almost always learn something new or identify new feature opportunities.

3. Identify Attractive Testing Opportunities

In addition to identifying feature opportunities, continuous research is great for identifying attractive A/B testing opportunities. Is there not a clear signal in user feedback or is there feedback in a direction dramatically different than what your product offers today?

Instead of building an entire feature, find a way to A/B test it or test it with one of these 12 other experimentation techniques.

4. Understand Your Users/Customers Better

As a Product Manager, I strive to have the voice of the customer in my head to help me make better decisions. With a continuous research approach, you can keep that voice and that empathy everpresent. You’ll improve your ability to provide feedback on the UX, on the copy, and on any part of the experience that touches the user or customer.

How To Get a Continuous Research Program Started

1. Start Small

Similar to Agile development, your continuous research program doesn’t have to and should not launch as a fully featured lifecycle initiative. Start small with something you can do every week or every sprint. For example, start an automated survey in one or two in key places in your product to begin to collect feedback from key segments of users.

2. Build a Team of Research Champions

While you may be initiating the continuous research program, you don’t want it to be a 1-man/woman show for long! Find others on the Product team or in the business that are passionate about research (the Design team is a great place to look). Have them help you make the most of your continuous research.

3. Integrate Research Into Your Agile Ceremonies

One of the best ways to make your research continuous and not just project-by-project is to integrate it into your Agile ceremonies. By this, I mean share your plans for research with the development team and get feedback. Share your research learnings with the team to educate them. Brainstorm future opportunities for additional research with the team.

You’ll know you’ve done a good job with integrating research when developers begin to ask if a new feature has been researched with users.

4. Brainstorm Your Backlog of Research Opportunities

After you’ve initiated a few continuous research techniques, you can start to build your backlog. Work with your research champions to build out your research opportunity backlog. Instead of focusing on the techniques or the tactics of the research, instead focus on the questions.

What questions do you have (and would like to answer) to help you better prioritize feature work and build your product strategy?

Continuous Research Techniques

There are many, many, many ways to conduct continuous research for your product. In fact, I wrote another blog post about 41 Ways to Get Feedback on Your Product or Idea.

Here are a few of the highlights:

1. Surveys

Identify the key points of your product where you would like to survey users, customers, or abandoners. Create short surveys (3–5 questions max) to help you learn about why the user did what they did and what they expected. Ask if they are interested in a short call…

2. Interviews

Leverage user interviews to dive deeper with users. Adapt your user interviews to help add qualitative data to your most important product questions. Haven’t done many user interviews before? Check out this article for a few ideas.

3. Listen to Calls / Analyze Support Interactions

If you are struggling to find time for enough user interviews, listening to customer calls is another great way to incorporate continuous research into your PM practice.

You’ll hear the voice of the customer, you’ll hear about their challenges with your product, you’ll learn and build empathy. If your company doesn’t have phone support, analyze the other support interactions (chat, email, etc.).

4. Watch User Sessions (Fullstory)

Finally, watching user sessions with a product like Fullstory can be a great way to support your continuous research effort. With Fullstory, you can see exactly what the user sees, where they struggle, where they succeed, where they abandon. You can learn from their experience and build empathy by seeing which features and flows are intuitive and which ones need work.

Start Your Continuous Research Today!

So what are you waiting for?

There’s no better time than now to start putting these techniques (and others) into action to help level up your Product Management practice with continuous research.

Author: Alex Mitchell

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