Where Research Fits in the Product Development Lifecycle
Market research is a vital component of business strategy and planning. The insights that can be gathered from a study can dramatically influence a company’s competitive standing for years to come, as it can help determine whether or not they should enter a new market, add a new product, or transform an existing product or business model.
For that reason, primary market research is often a vital key for organizations’ c-suite members and other high-level decision-makers across many departments and teams, including technology. However, for IT in particular, it’s important to understand market research as more than just a means to a ‘Pass Go.’ The valuable data gleaned from a study should be leveraged throughout the software development process.
Product and strategy teams are not unfamiliar with using in-depth primary research to shape their software—it’s most commonly conducted through user research. While both market and user research are used to build product roadmaps, product teams conduct user research to guide their development decisions as engineers actually create and implement the new software and features. Flexible teams also trust the user to help them identify hidden issues in their solution design so that the engineers can redirect their course as needed, fortifying the solution against future issues and customer dissatisfaction.
Product teams don’t have to consider market and user research as linear steps to the perfect product, but rather as two valuable methods that can be used in parallel. The relationship is symbiotic, as companies should also keep the user in mind when shaping their primary market research strategies. Some market research studies stay high level, only covering competitive landscape analysis or market sizing, but there is great value in identifying use cases and demand for potential features—even those that are considered small additions or minor changes.
A product team may think that more granular gaps or issues in a solution’s features will be identified during user testing. However, this is putting a lot of responsibility on the user to be able to envision how a solution can be better, essentially asking them to imagine software improvements even though they are not the software engineers. But as the idiom goes—we don’t know what we don’t know.
Product teams don’t have to consider market and user research as linear steps to the perfect product, but rather as two valuable methods that can be used in parallel.
Market research not only helps to shape what features are added to a product roadmap but also gives context to user experience trends. Take, for example, an invoice management solution. A development team has received the go-ahead to begin a large scale project to update their solution, based on stakeholders noticing the product is not on par visually with some of the company’s top competitors, and on feedback from a few current customers that say the solution is unintuitive. The product team decides internally that the most important thing is to update the user interface (UI): making the design more modern and visually appealing.
They spend months on this project and finally release the new version, only to receive a lackluster response from their customers. When they investigate, they find that while customers do say the solution looks good, the experience itself isn’t any better. The real issues? Users have to navigate through too many screens to find important accounting data; they have to work too hard to customize invoice workflow approvals routes, and they have a hard time sorting invoice queues based on status.
Unfortunately, the engineers approached the challenge of making the solution more intuitive from the perspective of software developers—not finance professionals. They began development without taking into account the unique needs of their users in accounting roles, nor did they conduct proper market research to identify those needs.
The reverse of the above takeaway is also true. Just as engineers must take into account the unique user, the research scope should include the software expert. Involving engineering teams in the creation of research methodologies greatly increases the value of the resulting data. These teams have a stronger grasp on what is and is not possible when it comes to actually creating software—therefore, they should play a role in gauging the viability of product development. Their involvement ensures that the areas covered in a survey are properly explained and considered within the context of the particular software, and that product features or changes proposed in the survey are technologically feasible.
Leveraging market research within the entire software development lifecycle is key for holistic technology creation and improvement, lower risk, and higher ROI. Organizations should make sure that all teams—especially product owners and other IT stakeholders—understand market research’s value for creating stronger solutions and greater customer satisfaction.