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Maximizing the Impact of Research by Focusing on Outcomes over Inputs

Written by Alida

Published June 24, 2024

Many researchers believe data collection is the primary way they create value.

But, in a world where access to customer feedback is easier than ever, data collection can become a commodity that doesn’t accurately reflect the value of market research and insights teams.

Judd Antin, executive coach and advisor, says that researchers often get caught up in the process and methodology of data collection, rather than the outcome. As the former head of research design and product teams at Yahoo, Meta, and AirBNB, he’s seen that, “over the last 10 or 15 years, there’s been too much performative work that doesn’t matter to the business, doesn't affect the product, doesn't change the design, doesn't change decisions, and doesn't drive the strategy.”

Instead of obsessing over process and methodology, Judd says more time should be spent on developing leadership capabilities and collaborating across teams. Researchers need to put themselves in the driver’s seat, so they can insert themselves in the decision-making process.

In this blog you’ll learn how researchers can have more impact and practical tips for driving alignment across the business. 

Define Clear Metrics for Success

Defining clear metrics for success and setting goals is crucial for ensuring that your research delivers meaningful outcomes. By establishing measurable goals, you pave a concrete framework that guides your research efforts towards impactful results and allows you to focus on outcomes. This ensures accountability, keeps your research on track, and allows for continuous evaluation and improvement. It also allows you to gain trust and support from stakeholders by demonstrating the impact of your work. Ultimately, defining and prioritizing key metrics enhances data-driven research and assists you in prioritizing the outcomes of your research.

Beware of the “middle range” of research

You can think of research at three levels of altitude. While the highest and lowest levels are valuable to the business, the middle-range is more performative. 

  • Macro research, which is strategic in nature and supports ideation and long-term planning.
  • Micro research, which includes practical, usability work that enables product and design excellence and addresses known customer pain points.
  • Middle-range research, which isn’t specific enough to address questions, or broad enough to uncover new ideas. It tends to be vague, abstract, too descriptive, and not explanatory enough. At its worst, middle-range research is done to check a box. It’s also the most susceptible to confirmation bias because it allows people to cherry pick results to see what they want.

To avoid the dangers of middle-range research, ensure that any study addresses a specific business issue or question. Before you agree to run a research project, confirm the goals that your stakeholders have and make sure your investigation will help them make progress toward an outcome.

Align goals and timelines with your stakeholders

Stakeholder alignment is the key to doing work that matters. Researchers and stakeholders must share goals so that they’re all pulling in the same direction. That means researchers must have a deep understanding of the business, including the revenue model, product prioritization, customer segments, and more. They must understand how their stakeholders will use the information they receive from a study, so they can give them what they need. 

“When you start with fluency around the business and focusing on relationships, you think of your job not just as the primary research of customers and users, but also your colleagues from Day One,” says Judd. “The key to influence is mutually beneficial exchange of currency.”

Often, a research team is brought in at the end of a project, too late in the game to have any real impact. Instead, make sure your roadmapping process is following the same prioritization and timeline as your cross-functional partners. That may mean advance planning for projects starting in the next quarter. It also requires a rapid research process that can fit within rapid development sprints. 

“The best metric of success is relationships,” says Judd. “You are successful when they cannot have meetings without you.”

Learn to say no

Researchers are wired to be helpful. In many organizations, the research function is set up as a shared service, designed to support other business functions. As such, of the most difficult things for many research teams to do is say ‘no’ to a stakeholder request.  Yet, with limited time and resources, we often must. 

Judd suggests three ways to pressure test stakeholder requests so you can prioritize your workload and confirm that the studies you do take on will have true impact on the business.

  • Ask questions to understand the underlying need. You may find that the need can be answered with data that already exists. Or, the need may not justify a large investment of time and resources. 
  • Share what you need to make the project a success, such as access to data sources, more resources, partnerships, or time.
  • Confirm the priority. Ask “which things should I not do?” so that stakeholders can see where their request fits into the overall picture. 

Practicing these difficult conversations is worth the time. As data collection becomes easier than ever, and automation replaces human effort, research teams must shift from being a reactive service provider to becoming an proactive business advisor. By focusing on meaningful research and aligning with your colleagues across teams, you’ll have more influence and long-lasting, measurable impact. 

For more best practices, watch Judd Antin’s keynote at Alida Activate

Watch now