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Where, Why, and When Product Managers Should Collaborate With Researchers, and Vice Versa

As approaches to data collection evolve along with the increased pace of decision making within businesses, the dynamic between researchers and product management teams is changing.

The democratization of data has muddled the responsibilities of both functions. Increasingly, product teams seem to be bypassing research and consumer insights teams by generating or acquiring their own research to inform the decisions they need to make. This can irk research and insights teams, as they “lose control” over both data and its interpretation, creating a potentially problematic relationship between teams that should be aligned.

Though their methodologies and approaches may differ, these two functions have a common goal and shared interest: People. Researchers want to know what makes them tick. Product managers want to build solutions they’ll love. But all too often, a lack of mutual understanding (or at least a perception of one) gets in the way of effective collaboration and decision-making between researchers and product managers.

The good news is that silos, where research and insights teams live in a separate world from product teams, are coming down. During an interview on This is Product Management, Lenny Murphy, a partner at Gen2 Advisors and GreenBook, illustrated the opportunity for both teams to collaborate meaningfully.

“Product [managers] need to be close to the consumers, that’s ultimately what their job is -- to give consumers what they will buy. So, anything that helps that process I think is inherently a good thing. Now, systemically it doesn’t fit necessarily in a way a lot of organizations have been structured in the past, but in an agile, nimble type of organizational structure that’s increasingly being adopted, then that ability to create tools that give the power to product managers directly is primarily a good thing,” Lenny says. “It’s different; it has its dangers, but anything that gets folks closer to the consumer experience so they can deliver a better product or a better solution for the consumer is ultimately a win-win for all engaged.”

Within the model Lenny discusses, research teams can provide data and insights to inform efficient, speedy decisions — and help product teams ensure the needs and wants of customers are driving the business.

But John Fries, Director of Research Services at AARP, cautions against overlooking research expertise in the age of quick insights and speedy decision-making.

“All data are not equal. It’s important to not lose sight of the fact that there is a continuum of utility when it comes to data sources and methodologies. If people see all data being the same, meaning of equal value and equal utility, then the experience that researchers offer appears irrelevant,” John says. “Even though pulling in other people on a rapidly moving project likely feels like a burdensome additional step to product teams, tapping into researchers’ knowledge will help ensure they get the right data from the right tool, which ultimately helps create better, more successful products.”

Concepts to know to stay in lockstep

Product Management Insider contributor Christina Gkofa breaks down the stages of market research in product development in a recent post:

  1. Product idea generation
  2. Product concept creation
  3. Product case
  4. Product development
  5. Test and validate
  6. Launch and monitor

Ideally, both research and product teams are involved in - or at least aligned on - all six steps. As research is conducted in each phase, the product team gets actionable data and insights from the research team to inform the direction they need to take the product. Teams share learnings and activate innovation across the organization. It’s a win-win — as long as everyone is working together.

As the lines blur, how can research teams help identify product growth opportunities?

Decentralizing research within organizations brings both promise and peril. It is important that research best practices are not cast aside while those without formal research backgrounds collect data. A combination of education and technology can help to alleviate most concerns in this area, as software platforms can be used to conduct research within sanctioned frameworks. Additionally, platforms can provide a way to share data and insights, ensuring that as research is conducted throughout an organization by multiple teams it isn’t siloed or lost in the shuffle. Systems are important to ensure that both research and product teams retain confidence in the quality of and access to data that drive decision making.

But John notes teams should be mindful that any collaboration strategy will differ depending on the stage of product development.

“At the ideation and concept creation phases of product development, and maybe even parts of the actual development of the product, many of the technology-driven, self-service research tools are perfect for providing the needed direction,” John says. “However, when we get to the later stages, particularly when the cost of a wrong decision escalates, more rigorous, more definitive market research methodologies are needed,” John says.

Still, research and insights teams can help make data more impactful to product development, ensuring everyone marches in the same direction to product growth and improvement. And product teams can consistently gather and access feedback from current and potential customers, which they can share with their research and insights colleagues as they use it to inform product development decisions.

There is already a shared end goal of understanding and giving customers what they want. Now we need to create connective tissue and shared language to encourage meaningful collaboration among increasingly cross-functional teams.

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