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November 11, 2022

Two Ways to Implement a Continuous Research Framework at Your Company

In this conversation with Sprig and User Interviews, we heard from both a product manager, Paolo Appley, Senior Product Manager at User Interviews, and a researcher, Allison Dickin, who now serves as a research advisor to Sprig. Both Sprig and User Interviews were founded to address an issue within the research and product community: there was no easy, efficient way to talk to users to inform the products that would actually help them.

In both cases, the founders realized there was an obstacle for good product people trying to build good products, who were lacking an effective way to get more research support, particularly with already stretched-thin research resources.

Now, User Interviews provides an efficient way to conduct interviews with panels and receive qualitative feedback, while Sprig focuses on unmoderated concept testing and in-product surveys for quantitative research and validating qualitative research through quantitative methods. And both understand the critical importance of conducting continuous research.

What is Continuous Research and Why Is It Needed?

Whenever you’re considering a new feature or product, you launch research to get feedback on the idea. When there’s an issue, you conduct research to validate your hypothesis or find out where the obstacle is. But those shouldn’t be the only two cases where you turn to your users.

Continuous research lets the users lead your decisions by using “always on” surveys that measure and monitor the user experience. In-product surveys, launched during natural product usage, capture quantitative sentiment about your product experience as well as qualitative insights about what users find difficult or want to improve. Your roadmap becomes driven by what the users tell you rather than waiting for issues to arise or until you have a need to launch a new feature.

At User Interviews, this can look like cross-functional product pods held on a quarterly basis and focused on outcomes, with product management, design, tech, analyst leads, additional engineers, customer success, and operations embedded in each pod to monitor relevant feedback. It can mean talking to at least one person in each target audience weekly, looking to understand perspectives and the problems faced by users.

At Sprig, continuous research looks like focusing on the customer’s experience and point of view, and putting that first. Continuous research is kept high level, and researchers continuously collect feedback through in-product surveys. Goals include understanding what’s important to users and what their needs are, letting that drive insights rather than a hypothesis or initiatives on a roadmap, identifying opportunities for optimization, and catching red flags and warning signs early.

Let’s look closer at frameworks in place at both organizations and how those reveal qualitative and quantitative insights.

Building Out a Framework for Continuous Research

Product and research teams always feel there’s more they can be doing. There’s always another tactical project to tackle. And it can feel difficult to set aside time for a program that’s more open ended, without a clear immediate need or output.

This means continuous research can feel consuming, especially when it’s not already a habit — unless you find a way to set it up in a way that requires less hands-on effort.

User Interviews’ Framework: A Qualitative Approach to Continuous Research

For product managers, continuous research can help provide understanding around existing problems that may not already be on the radar and speed up decision making, giving them more conviction in decision making and prioritization.

As mentioned, at User Interviews, the goal is to talk to one person in each of their target audiences weekly so it’s necessary to reduce friction in setting up these conversations. They need to narrow the target audience and talk to the right people — their work hinges entirely on having the right conversations.

They launch a short screener and invite researchers in small groups of 15-20 to determine the right people for the research. Every two to three weeks, they send out a new batch to review applicants and kick off scheduling. This is a seamless process that results in one to two interviews scheduled each week.

screenshot of screener survey

The interviews themselves are run as a cross-functional effort, where designers run conversations, engineers take notes, and product managers provide structure around how to open and close the conversations.

But how do they analyze and synthesize all of this data? They use Teresa Torres’ opportunity solution tree to organize understanding of the problem and/or opportunity space to make better decisions. At the end of every interview, they create a snapshot of the conversation, and how it fits within the larger context.

Sprig’s Framework: A Quantitative Approach to Continuous Research

Sprig asks the right questions of the right people at the right time by utilizing in-context research to enable consistent product feedback and source participants directly in-product. By setting parameters around specific events and attributes, then launching surveys at critical (but not disruptive!) points in the user journey, Sprig asks targeted questions about customer feedback then, depending on answers, asks additional open ended questions. The lift is light on the user to encourage them to participate and doesn’t disrupt their action.

For example, the team may target users who signed up at least 30 days ago and reach them on the most commonly used pages, but is careful not to interrupt in the middle of the flow. Questions are broad enough not to lead participants to a certain response, but instead focus on the product experience at large. Then, at the end, there’s an opt-in to participate in additional research.

This method of continuous research is set up once and continuously runs to collect insights over time as users are in the product. It’s a hands off process except that researchers, product teams, and cross-functional groups (even the CEO!) are regularly checking in, curious about the results. These surveys give people across the organization insights as to what’s going on with users, what can be actioned on, and what needs to be dug into further with in-depth, tactical research.

How Quantitative and Qualitative Continuous Research Frameworks Can Work Together

These two approaches to continuous research don’t have to exist in their own siloes. You can combine qualitative interviews and in-context surveys to maximize insights from different audiences.

Plus, you can use in-product surveys to recruit participants into qualitative interviews via the opt-in at the end of the survey to recruit the best participants to your panel — this goes back to asking the right questions of the right users at the right time. This also cuts down on recruiting efforts, which help lessen the burden on smaller research teams (or even teams of one!).

We believe the power of quantitative and qualitative together can uncover the best insights — stay tuned for an exciting new launch that further solidifies how User Interviews and Sprig can work together on this initiative!

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