Just Enough Research - The Pack Way

 

Here at Pack, we are big advocates for keeping things simple and efficient, so spending months on research is not conducive to our way of working.

Instead, we believe in focusing on doing just enough research to help validate your product or idea and the best way we’ve found to do that is by asking the right questions. What those questions look like really depends on what you need to know but to help reduce risk, we want to ensure any assumptions you may have are backed up by some form of evidence.

Assumptions alone = Greater risk


Where did 'just enough' research originate from?

The term “just enough research” was coined by Erika Hall in her best-selling book of the same name and provides a great guide to helping you better understand how good research is conducted and what methods are involved.

In essence, it’s about asking better questions, and thinking more critically about the answers. Done well, it can save you and your team time and money by helping to reduce unknowns and create a solid foundation to build the right thing in the most effective way, and that is why we are such big fans here at Pack HQ.

No matter what size team you have or budget you’re working with, just enough research helps you discover your competitive advantages, blind spots and biases, and it’s easier to understand and harness your findings. Good research doesn’t require months and months of work and we’d like to prove it to you.

Just enough research book

Why is this approach so important at Pack?

Some people say you learn more from success than failure but I’m not so sure. I think some of the biggest lessons I’ve ever learnt in life have come from the mistakes that I have made and it’s because of those mistakes I’ve been able to continue to grow as a human being.

An example of this was back in my early career was when I worked on an application for a well known digital product. Shortly after launching, the Product Manager came in and said, we’ve got a problem. It turned out that a core part of the onboarding flow wasn’t working as well as intended and consequently they were losing hundreds of potential customers daily through the process.

Time was very much of the essence as they realised that this could ruin their chances of success. So, without giving it much more thought, myself and the team jumped straight into trying to fix the problem, or what we perceived at the time was the problem.

Two weeks went by whilst we frantically worked in the background to come up with solutions to fix the issue and when we finally thought “YES, we have nailed it!” the app was updated with our newly crafted experience and we waited for new users to roll in.

One week went by and as you may have already guessed, we encountered the same issue as before.

So, what went wrong?

Well, first of all we made a very simple and fundamental mistake. We never checked to see if our assumptions were correct. We didn’t ask the right type of questions to the right type of people, we didn’t check any data. When time pressure is on you, the thought of research can be the last thing on your mind.

If only back then I’d fully understood the value of doing a little research (just enough!) upfront the result could have been very different and we would have saved ourselves a lot of time and money.

This is of course just one example of many that I have encountered over my career, and with each new lesson learnt, another valuable experience is gained. It’s also one of the main reasons we believe in doing just enough research at Pack.


Still struggling with the just enough research part?

If we still haven’t managed to convince you that doing just enough research is important, let me introduce you to Coca-Cola C2.

How to blow $50 million

In 2003, Coca-Cola identified a new market of 20 to 40-year-old men who liked the taste of Coke but not its calories and carbs. Although at the time Diet Coke was already on the market, they felt its feminine image and taste was off-putting.

Armed with this new information, Coca-Cola got to work and created what they assumed was the answer to this with C2. It was launched in 2004 to the world with a $50 million advertising campaign based on it having half the calories and carbs whilst retaining the full flavour of original Coke.

Unfortunately the large budget dedicated to the new product couldn’t overcome the fact that C2’s benefits weren’t distinctive enough. Aside from the fact that the low-carb trend was short-lived, men didn’t just want half the calories and half the carbs, they were after NO calories and NO carbs. (Positioning a product to leverage a fad is a common mistake).

So, what went wrong?

Coca-Cola had done some market research so they should have been in a good position, right? Well, not quite. The problem lay in how they executed that research. Unfortunately for Coke, they were asking the wrong types of questions and when that happens, the results can often come back skewed or can be rendered useless by failing to look at the issue objectively.

In this case, the excitement and momentum of a new product didn’t help either as it took on a life of its own within the organisation, with everyone wanting it to succeed. There was no turning back.

Case volumes worldwide only grew by 2% in 2004 and growth in North America was flat, suggesting that C2’s few sales came mostly at the expense of Coke and Diet Coke.

Coca-Cola’s management ultimately deemed C2 a failure. 

If there is anything to gain here, it’s that you can always learn from your mistakes. As you might expect, a year later Coca-Cola came back even stronger when they launched their new product Coke Zero: a no-calorie, full-flavor drink that can be found on shelves—and in men’s hands—today.

However, $50 million is a pretty high price to pay to learn you got something wrong. Could this have been approached differently by doing just enough research, rather than going all in?


How to do ‘Just Enough’ Research

So, we’ve convinced you that (just enough) research is important? …Great!

Now it’s time to put that conviction into action and start to make an impact on your new idea or product.

There are 4 simple steps to follow:

This will then lead to…

Step 1 - Research starts at home

Before you get started with any form of research ensure you have a problem worth solving and a clear set of actionable goals alongside it.

Don’t just jump straight into what the users need as well. You’ll first want to ensure that you have clear buy-in from the stakeholders within the organisation. It’s too easy to think from an outside perspective that they will happily support the outcome of any new project you are working on when in fact they may not, so make sure you first do your homework.

    • Find out what your organisation is capable of doing, how do people work together?
    • What is the leadership vision?
    • What are the business priorities?
    • What are the barriers to achieving your goal?
    • What are the potential roadblocks?

Find out who the decision-makers are or the people who could potentially stop the project from going ahead and talk to them individually to find out what they want, what concerns they may have, and how you can address them.

Create allies by better understanding how they work and support one another. Humans have a deep need to be consulted, so they can share the knowledge they have.


Step 2. Ask the right questions - know your audience and the world around them

“At its core, all business is about making bets on human behavior.” 

– The Power of ‘Thick’ Data, WSJ

You can never have certainty but you can have higher levels of confidence. 

All research is simply systematic inquiry, you ask a question, get a response and then decide whether you feel confident enough it’s correct. Similar to what you would do in a normal day to day situation if you had a question about something, you would perform some type of activity to gain an answer, establish whether that answer gave you a certain level of confidence, and move on.

Just because it’s in a professional setting, it doesn’t change the end goal, nor does it require a huge report at the end of it (if anything the complete opposite).

What your standard level of confidence looks like will vary depending on your organisation and the goal you have set out to achieve. Although you may never feel 100%, you’ll know when you have the right amount of statistical confidence in terms of the (quantitative) data you have collected alongside the more (qualitative) human data you have gathered from interviews or observing people.

You need both measurements and descriptions, one is not better than the other. Measurements alone will never tell you the why, they don’t capture the context.

So, what makes a good question?

Well, a good question should be specific, actionable and practical. Never ask a direct or leading question.

For instance, if you wanted to find out what it would take to get consumers to like your product, never ask the question…

What do you think of our product, do you like it?

Instead why not ask, what type of products do you use daily?

You need to make sure you avoid asking questions where you are guiding them into a response you want to hear. Remember, it’s not about what people say they want, it’s about what they actually want.


Step 3. Gather Data - really get to the heart of the problem by understanding your users

Fundamentals 101

With the proliferation of new tools and platforms out there, you have many great options to choose from but just remember not to forget the fundamentals outlined in points 1 and 2.

    1. Have a clear goal and do some organisational research – gather a solid team of allies.
    2. Create a set of questions that are specific, actionable and practical.

Now it’s time to get out into the real world and put them to the test!

This starts with a sample set of users. It doesn’t have to be many, between 3-5 will do fine.

How can you understand our business with such a small number of people I hear you say…

…well it’s more about how deep you go into understanding those users. You’ll want to interview them, and even observe them in their daily lives. Real insight comes from being in real world situations not sitting around in a room brainstorming ideas.

Analyse the data you have gathered, this could be from usage or other forms of quantitative data, like surveys.

Then you’ll want to make sure you’ve included some competitor research. Understand who they are.

    • In the minds of your users, who is competing for attention?
    • How do those competitors solve the problem or challenge you are facing?
    • How does your user currently address the problem you are facing?
    • How can you ensure what you are creating isn’t set up for failure?
    • What are the benefits?
    • What will your product do to motivate somebody to take action instead of just doing nothing?

Think about the real world.


Step 4. Analyse - come together to collaborate on your findings and tell a story

Now it’s time to analyse what you’ve been doing. You can’t just ask good questions and gather the data, you need to ask what the data means.

This needs to be done collaboratively with everyone on your team so each of you can understand the full picture. You don’t want people to start relying on their own individual conclusions as later on it will lead to arguments over who is right.

It’s not about having the right answer, it’s about working together with a shared reality.

Knowledge is not useful until it is shared. 

The other key thing to point out here as well is that it isn’t about creating a big report at the end of this process, data doesn’t change minds, stories do.

So whilst you are trying to make sense of everything you have collated, try to think about how you will report this back to the wider team. How can you take what you have learnt and create a narrative around it to help people visualise the bigger picture?


Summary

So, to sum up, doing your research up front will not only help you to save time and money but it will enable you to better understand your users, align your stakeholders, reduce unknowns, decrease risk and spot competitive advantages. However, too much research (or poorly-aimed research) risks wasting time and money only to arrive at a wrong conclusion. The key is accuracy and balance, achieved by doing just enough.

Go into your next design challenge fully prepared by following our 3 simple steps.

 

Stakeholder Engagement

Great research starts at home, make sure you do some form of internal organisational research first to better understand your stakeholders, gain allies and align the team.

 

User Research

Ask the right questions and help reduce assumption-based decision making. Understand your audience and the world they live in. Remember to gather different types of research as well, it needs to be both qualitative and quantitative.

So, that’s both personal data, gathered by interviews and observations, and number-driven data, such as surveys or usage statistics.

 

Gather & Analyse

Take all of the great stuff that you have gathered, collaboratively discuss and analyse it, and then use it to create a solid narrative which you can present back to your key stakeholders and design team.

 

And, that’s a wrap, as they say in Hollywood.

Remember don’t just be creative, be curious and above all keep it simple. 

We always like to bear in mind the KISS (keep it simple, stupid) principle which states that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complicated; therefore simplicity should be a key goal in research, and unnecessary complexity is to be avoided.

If you like the sound of our just enough research approach and want to feel confident that you have validated any assumptions you and your team might have before jumping straight into finding design solutions, let Pack help you move in the right direction.