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How to create a research program, even if your company doesn’t believe in research

The research paradox

Life is full of unknowns. And that’s why I’ve always been amazed when companies think of research as an afterthought. For all the guarantees and assurances they claimed to want, there was rarely an understanding that talking directly to people might actually help clarify and narrow down ideas.

Instead, there was often a false sense of security around analytics. Quantitative data was valued over qualitative. This imbalance made teams devalue the most important thing about customers—the fact that they’re human and have a lot of context around why, how, and when they make decisions.

In my last company, a co-worker and I knew we could do better. We knew that research was a valuable tool. Before we started working together, she’d been introducing new processes and definitions for research. Together we were able to create enough momentum that we instituted an entire research program and built out a team.

Bringing research to your internal team

First, we had to figure out what we didn’t know. So we started at the beginning—with internal research. Just like any research study, we made sure that it was focused. Our main goal was to understand what was currently working with the research process and what wasn’t working.

We asked the team a few questions, including:

We got a lot of responses and found that the main problems were:

This gave us the opportunity to solve for the three main problems people had mentioned.

We made a big effort to include the team in the research process from the beginning. Overall, this helped internal stakeholders feel more involved and invested throughout the research studies.

We made lots of changes, including:

Previously we had only been talking about research with team members currently doing research. We found that was actually doing us a disservice:

So, we also changed the way we communicated with teams on a wider scale:

Did the changes work?

Yes! A couple of months after we consistently instituted these changes, we saw that people were talking about potential research studies more frequently, our requests for research skyrocketed, and more clients were signing on to do research heavy, or research only contracts.

How to get started with your team

If you’re trying to create a research program at your company, or just get more teams practicing research, start with your own internal study.

Figure out what fear, pain, or confusion is holding people back.

Typically, when people are able to see measurable progress of research, the value is clearly explained, and people receive easy to read summaries and/or results, they’re much more willing (and excited) to incorporate research into their work.

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