Requirements Best Practices

Three Expert Strategies for Customer Research

Katherine Gray | April 3, 2015

Knowing when to get an MVP to market for customer feedback—and when to keep researching and testing—is a skill product managers learn with experience. Still, even the most experienced product teams often struggle to stay in touch with their customers. Sure, we read as much as we can about our changing market, and we have our favorite customers that we call on for validation. But ad-hoc conversations with known customers, as we have time, rarely give us the depth we need, nor are they truly representative of the broader market.

So how do product teams know when and how to conduct customer research so they can be sure they’re getting the right product to market?

We’ve gathered up a few recent blog posts from some of the best minds in the Product Management community who offer up their expert advice on this topic:

“You’re Doing it Wrong if You Don’t Go and See For Yourself” by Michael Calleia

Quoting Steve Blank’s wisdom to “Get Out of the Building,” Calleia writes: “For the cost counters still thinking going to the source is too expensive. Sure, I could have spoken to people who already went to those locations, but the data would be filtered through their lens and bias. I could just rely on quantitative data, but that would not allow for deeper levels of empathy and  leaves out so much detail.” 

“Fix Delivery to Make Time for Discovery” by Teresa Torres

Product managers are charged with both knowing the customer, prioritizing what should be delivered, and then delivering the product–all at the same time. At some point, something has to give.

Torres has a suggestion: “If you want to free up time for discovery, you have to lessen the burden of delivery on your product managers.” 

No, I Can’t Give You A Roadmap For Our New Product (Yet)” by Shardul Mehta

In this post Mehta recounts a familiar situation: The development team is on board with the short-term roadmap of a not-yet-released-product but wants an understanding of the long-term roadmap, for better architecture planning. Fair enough, right?

But Mehta points out, that may be too much to ask before a customer has even seen the product: “Creating a product roadmap is predicated on having a coherent product strategy, which is predicated on having a validated understanding of who are your customers, what are their pain points, and whether they’ll find your solution valuable. If you don’t even know if customers will buy your solution, what’s the point in having a roadmap?”

What about your product team? How do you ensure that you’ve planned for enough regular and in-depth customer research to ensure that your product development plans are strategically sound?