Part 1: Continuous Research for Research Enablement Excellence

15 Minute Read

Research Enablement Guide

The saying goes that design is made for others whereas art is made for yourself. If utilitarianism is what distinguishes design from art, then we need to constantly be validating that it is doing its job. In order to identify whether or not a solution is useful, research must be a continuous effort alongside design and development. 

Continuous research helps make this possible by gathering research data in near-real time and providing it as an ongoing stream of information to your team. In part one of this guide, we will discuss what continuous research is, how it works, and why it’s a necessary step on your journey toward Research Enablement.

Continuous research is a habit

Aristotle once said that we are what we repeatedly do. He also noted that excellence is not an act, but is in fact a habit. 

It's the same with research. Excellence is not achieved in one single study. Rather, it's about analyzing habitual acts of research and using those findings to improve the experience over time. 

Dedicated studies still have their place in Research Enablement. The key is combining both one-off studies with the learnings from continuous research. This will allow researchers to take their practice to a completely new level.

The saying goes that design is made for others whereas art is made for yourself. If utilitarianism is what distinguishes design from art, then we need to constantly be validating that it is doing its job. In order to identify whether or not a solution is useful, research must be a continuous effort alongside design and development. 

Continuous research helps make this possible by gathering research data in near-real time and providing it as an ongoing stream of information to your team. In part one of this guide, we will discuss what continuous research is, how it works, and why it’s a necessary step on your journey toward Research Enablement.

Continuous research is a habit

Aristotle once said that we are what we repeatedly do. He also noted that excellence is not an act, but is in fact a habit. 

It's the same with research. Excellence is not achieved in one single study. Rather, it's about analyzing habitual acts of research and using those findings to improve the experience over time. 

Dedicated studies still have their place in Research Enablement. The key is combining both one-off studies with the learnings from continuous research. This will allow researchers to take their practice to a completely new level.

What exactly is Continuous Research?

Continuous research is a process that enables teams to seek out and answer research questions in near-real time. At Notably, we like to refer to this as “always-on” research. This continuous stream of data can be used to inform the team at any point during the product development process, from exploring new possibilities to designing concepts or testing and refining existing ones.

The key benefit of continuous research is that it gives research teams access to fast, up-to-date information about user behavior and preferences, so they can create more informed decisions and effective solutions.

When it comes to continuous research, it's important to make both asking questions and finding answers a regular habit. One way of answering questions is through frequent user interviews. This could be on a monthly, bi-weekly, or weekly basis. You need to decide what frequency will bring in the best and most accurate results for the team’s research needs. By doing so, there will be fresh and relevant customer insights readily available to drive the decision-making process.

What role does continuous research play in Research Enablement?

Continuous research plays a few critical roles in Research Enablement:

  • Make better, more informed decisions
  • Pivot faster while solutions are still malleable
  • Build better relationships with customers

The world is moving faster than ever, and so are people’s wants and needs with it. We can’t afford to make decisions on outdated data. By collecting research data in near real-time, researchers can ask and find answers to time-sensitive, critical questions. This ensures solutions are designed with the latest and most up-to-date data available in order to meet those needs.

Continuous research makes it easier for teams to keep pace with modern product development cycles. And, as fast as customer needs are evolving, so is the ability to design and develop solutions. By having access to fresh “always-on” research, teams can pivot as they need to while the solution is still “malleable”. They can do this when needed without wasting time or resources creating technology no one wants or needs.

Additionally, by making interviewing customers a regular part of the workflow, researchers are able to build better relationships with customers, while continuously improving their experience. People love to be heard and to know that someone cares and is listening to their feedback. This is key to creating a successful product or service that users love.

Dedicated research studies vs. ongoing research

Dedicated research studies are the traditional approach to conducting qualitative user research. They tend to be more in-depth engagements that involve a formal set of questions and tasks for participants. This typically spans a week or two but can go on for longer, with the goal of diving deep and focusing on a specific topic. This is then followed by an intense and rigorous synthesis process.

On the other hand, continuous research is less formal and focuses more on gathering quick qualitative insight from smaller groups of users. The topics and methods may change slightly depending on questions that are top of mind and important to the team at that point in time. The synthesis process here is lighter-weight and time-boxed.   

With a Research Enablement mindset, we can think of research as a constant stream rather than a faucet of information that is turned on and off at any given time. 

By combining both dedicated studies and continuous research, researchers can dive deep or stay high-level with methods depending on team confidence, clarity around the problem, and aptitude for risk.

Practical Tips

How do you make research a dedicated part of the product development lifecycle?

Making research a dedicated part of the product development lifecycle is essential for research-enabled teams to create successful products and services. Here are some key steps to take:

  • Set up a participant management system
  • Establish an “always-on” research process
  • Involve others in the research experience

First, set up a participant management system to track people who have opted into research. They should be a combination of loyal power users, subject-matter enthusiasts, and potential customers who align with your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP). This can be built over time, but continuous research is only effective with a decent pool of people to regularly learn from. 

Then, establish a clear process that incorporates asking questions and finding answers (ex: data analytics, user testing, interviews) into every stage of the product lifecycle. This process should involve research activities and methods that are appropriate for both quick cycles of learning followed by deeper dedicated dives aligned with the team’s product roadmap. 

Finally, you need to ensure that everyone on the team is actively involved in the research process. This includes both designers and developers, as well as any other stakeholders. Reducing the distance between those using the research with the research experience itself, will result in more effective research insights.

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Make research continuous inside your organization with Notably

Notably is an all-in-one research platform to allow you to collect, analyze and share key qualitative research. Our research enablement platform provides UX teams with the ability to make research a continious part of product development. Notably has research best practices baked into its foundation to help you apply a data-driven approach to analysis, track and manage your research participants and serve as your team’s research “book of truth”.

Now that you have learned a foundation and some practical tips about continuous research, let’s build on that by learning how to involve others in your research. The next section of our guide will discuss collaborative research, the risks of being the single throughput of research, and tips on making research a team sport in your organization.

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Allison Grayce Marshall

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