A Simple Framework for Classifying Research Questions for the Development of Products and Services

Four different shapes representing categories for classifying research questions

Research-Ops is exploding as teams are growing and working to build the maturity of their research practices. This is in response to the growing demand for research inside so many organizations. One way to to speed up planning and execution of research is to have a clear and simple way to classify different types of questions that researchers are being asked to address. By classifying research questions, we’re able to develop repeatable guidelines and templates for addressing different types of questions, helping to drive efficiency and consistency in the research we do.

Building on our previous post about building a tags taxonomy to organize insights, here is our take on a simple framework for classifying different types of research questions to help you organize your own research resources.

Category 1: Understanding problems and inspiring ideas

REPRESENTATIVE QUESTION
What sort of thing might a group of people buy?

This category of questions tends to have the least amount of readily available information to go on but also the most possibility for driving innovation (as opposed to more incremental improvements on the various dimensions of existing offerings).

Here, we’re in the problem space. The insights resulting from inquiry in this space are used to inspire and generate ideas for new offerings or at least new ways to deliver or market existing offerings.

A lot of organizations would do well to spend more time and resources invested in creating knowledge in this space. To do so, you have to use research methods that get in people’s heads to develop a deep understanding of their “inner reasoning, emotional reactions, and guiding principles” (Indi Young). Hopefully, you are approaching this work in an empathetic way with an intent to serve people and not in a self-serving way with an intent to manipulate.

Category 2: Uncovering demand and aligning with the market

REPRESENTATIVE QUESTION
Will a group of people buy this thing?

If you already have an idea for an offering or how to improve an existing offering and are trying to evaluate potential demand for it or how well served people would be by it, this is the category of questions that you are asking.

The idea you are evaluating may not be well developed, and there may be several ideas or variations on a single idea. Either way, when you’re asking this type of question, you need to take your idea and create a prototype. A prototype may be as simple as a detailed description or as elaborate as to be difficult to distinguish from a finished product.

Prototypes are used to provoke a reaction in a group of people. The observed reaction is interpreted and extrapolated to determine how much demand there would likely be for the thing and in what ways the thing could be improved to deliver greater value and generate more demand.

Category 3: Maintaining and improving quality

REPRESENTATIVE QUESTION
Will a group of people keep buying this thing?

Answers to questions in this category are not about how to improve an existing offering. What you learn here may inspire ideas for improving your product and strengthening relationships with existing users. However, the focus here is in detecting and measuring signals around sentiment, satisfaction, loyalty, and usage. All of these metrics, among others, can be used to make inferences and identify correlations about what it is that makes people want to continue using your offering. Trends in one direction or another, shifts in usage patterns—these sorts of things may be meaningful signals that can help your organization determine where to focus effort to stay ahead of the market and continue to serve customers well.

Category 4: Detecting and responding to threats

REPRESENTATIVE QUESTION
What else is a group of people buying now?

Sometimes, customers move on—to a competitor or to some alternative solution that threatens to make your offering irrelevant. It’s a good idea to spend some time understanding the contours of the market, what your potential and previous customers are buying, and what threats may lurk on the horizon. This knowledge can inspire ideas for new offerings, help your organization continue to remain competitive, and allow your organization to keep growing in an ever-shifting marketplace.


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