How you can exponentially increase the impact of your research with two small changes | by Meghan Wenzel | Nov, 2021

Understanding Product’s mindset and reality can help you influence roadmaps more effectively

Photo by Jordan McDonald on Unsplash

As researchers, we want our research (and the hard work we put into it) to ultimately shape the product roadmap and improve the lives of end users. In order to achieve this, we need Product to be engaged in our research, understand our findings, and take action on our insights. Product Managers are really busy, often juggling multiple things and being pulled in a million different directions, from client escalations to strategic planning to managing team dynamics and maintaining morale.

Understanding my colleagues are busy, I always include an Executive Summary slide in my research reports to act as a concise, standalone summary. I then dig into the details during the report, including illustrative participant quotes, identifying key themes, and proposing relevant recommendations. At the end of my report, I include a slide around Next Steps to recap the key findings and recommendations and kick off discussions around concrete ways we’ll act on them as a team.

However, recent feedback from Product Managers make me realized I could tweak my messaging and delivery to increase my impact.

One Product Manager shared that “Meghan can ‘manage upwards’ by communicating the executive summary or key bullets and takeaways, so that we get to the major action items more quickly.” Another Product Manager noted that great decks are written in the form of a conclusion, backed up with relevant assertions and data. Finally, before I presented to our Chief Revenue Officer, a Product Manager suggested I slow down my presentation and give my audience more time to digest and fully absorb my points.

Small change #1: Have a point of view and structure the report around your recommendation(s)

When I think about good research, I think about providing objective data and findings with the team. Then we can discuss as a cross-functional group, and based on our goals, we can work together to formulate a plan of action and determine next steps.

However in the busy and fast-paced world of tech (and especially startups), I’ve realized this view might be slightly idealistic. While data is useful, it’s more useful when someone has taken the time to analyze it within a given context and weave it into a compelling narrative. This is particularly true for exploratory, generative, and strategic research, which is more open-ended by nature.

Understanding my Product Manager’s mindset and context, I realized I can “manage upwards” more intentionally by emphasizing a high level summary of the work and sharing my point of view and recommendations more assertively. While we still want a lively team discussion, coming in with a clear point of view based on the data can speed things up.

While I always put together an executive summary to quickly communicate the key points of my work, as a detail-oriented researcher, I emphasize the detailed findings, not wanting to neglect any relevant morsel of insight. While this makes sense from the perspective of a researcher deeply invested in understanding problems and capturing user insights, at the end of the day it needs to catch Product Managers’ attention and convince them to act. Given this reality, it makes more sense to place more emphasis on developing a clear and compelling overarching narrative that is both memorable and motivating. Then, once you have their attention, you can present relevant details as needed.

A Product leader recently shared a screenshot of a compelling post she found on LinkedIn with me:

This post really struck a chord with me. It suggested framing my work in a slightly different — but much more effective — way. Instead of treating my merely relating my findings to our research goals, I should develop a clear point of view and present an argument for data-backed recommendations.

Recognizing that Product Managers are busy and have a million things going on, starting with an informed conclusion or recommendation can save time and make the group conversation more productive. As the researcher, I’m the most familiar with the data, so it makes sense for me to develop a suggested approach to help guide Product.

Small change #2: Slow down your research readouts, repeat key themes and information, and give attendees time to adequately digest the information

I recently did some strategic research to understand how we could better integrate a new feature with the rest of the platform to simplify the end user’s experience. I collected feedback on how Creators currently use our platform, where the main disconnects are with the new feature, and pros and cons of different touchpoints we might pursue. In my report, I recommended three touchpoints that made the most sense to start exploring based on usage behavior, mental models, and Creator feedback.

During my research readout, I breezed through the slides, thinking the feedback was pretty clear and wanting to capitalize on the time we had as a cross-functional team to discuss and determine next steps. However after the call, the Product Manager gave me feedback that I needed to slow down my presentation and give team members more time to digest the data and user feedback.

This made me realize that while I had spent weeks shifting through the data and forming my own opinion around the best touchpoints, others weren’t as familiar with the details. I’d collected a lot of great data, and I needed to give people time to absorb and reflect on it.

The Product Manager pointed out that moving through the research more quickly to get to the discussion could unintentionally reduce the impact of my work. For people not as familiar with research, moving through it quickly could downplay how much time, effort, and thought went into it!

Additionally, I’ve realized how important repetition is! People often need to hear things multiple times before they sink in, particularly in information-dense contexts and when making strategic decisions. Qualitative interviews can yield troves of rich data, but it doesn’t do anyone any good if people are too overwhelmed to act on it. While a researcher is really familiar with the findings and details, others may need more time and repetition to digest.

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