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I won’t waste time filibustering the risks of building products based on loose assumptions (you get it, no need to preach to the choir). Instead, I want to emphasize the importance of assessing the correct research strategy before the actual research plan kicks off.

In general terms, clients fall into two research profiles: 1) those looking to cast a wide net of research in order understand the gamut of innovative opportunities, or 2) those who wish to take an iterative, deliberate approach toward improving their product.

Consider these two research frameworks through the decision-making style of a homeowner wanting to update their kitchen. No matter the conditions of the home, a homeowner will always have a mental wish list of to-dos. The wish list is not the focus here, what matters is how they approach completing items on their list. Should they spend a large chunk of money remodeling the entire kitchen in one fell swoop, or can the remodel be executed incrementally by changing the paint color or updating appliances?

In this article, I’ll share two key questions that will help reduce the unknowns when selecting the most suitable research frameworks: “discovery” or “progressive synthesis”.


1. What are you hoping to learn?

What do you wish you could understand about your users? What isn’t working? What are your risky assumptions? Why do you believe your product could be improved by inspiration?

Discovery Research

Those hoping to capture the possibilities for what you could do, would benefit from the “discovery” research framework.

  • Identify user’s current goals and pains, but layer on aspirational opportunities that may exist
  • Validate, generate or iterate an existing or new idea
  • Once a vision is selected from the discovery phase, research would coexist alongside your product as it evolves

Progressive Synthesis

On the flip side, major discovery research doesn’t make sense for everyone. Those hoping to make incremental changes to their current product, like improving user workflow or strengthening the product’s information hierarchy, is the bread and butter of valuable “progressive synthesis”.

  • Focused on tactical changes to an existing product
  • Works to refine and iterate the product by way of informal, lean insights identified from customer validation

2. What stage of the project are you in?

The tough reality about the digital world is that not all products are created equally. Some of its earliest beginnings can often be based on weak foundational research.

The good news is that discovery and progressive synthesis pair well with all types of products and projects because research can still help guide a compelling product no matter the stage.

Discovery Research

Those hoping to create a futuristic portrait of possibilities for their product to validate the ideas through customer feedback will thrive with a discovery research framework.

  • By welcoming drastic change, it’s important to note that the team must be willing to deviate from their original idea
  • This research framework fuels the ability for the team to venture far out into the future

Progressive Synthesis

This type of research doesn’t require a huge overhaul, a well-positioned product in the market with gaps in the user experience would be an awesome fit for a progressive synthesis approach.

  • Absent of absolutes during this period—the data is constantly changing just like your customer
  • Research will thrive during this process, equipped with a humble product team who appreciates user-centered design, infused with on-going research

Conclusion

No matter what direction you chose, conducting any sort of research is what makes a good product better. There is no wrong answer, but hopefully these guidelines will help to create a stronger North Star and lead your research strategy.

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