Product Development

Thinking Like a Researcher: First Steps for Product Managers

September 3, 2019

Being a product manager means getting asked a lot of questions. Being a great product manager? That means asking a lot of questions in return.

The desire to know more about your product, your business, and your customers is a unifying trait within the product management field. But surviving in today’s fast-paced tech landscape demands more than curiosity. Becoming an expert at discovering and delivering on customer needs means taking on new roles with gusto. To put it another way, when you’re a product manager, you’re also a psychologist, a firefighter, a diplomat, and (you guessed it) a researcher.

Thinking Like a Researcher: A Quick Guide for Product Managers

No Need to Out-Research Your Researcher

Customer feedback provides crucial data for informed decision-making — that’s a given. But the nuances of disciplines and methodologies can be daunting, especially when you’re first starting out with it. Unlike the soft skills of managing egos or eloquently communicating priorities, knowing how to collect and analyze data is a discipline. A market or user researcher is typically in a dedicated role and has been trained to produce very specific value through their results.

As a product manager, it’s critical to have a basic understanding of user research principles, tactics, and objectives. But with all of your other responsibilities, it would be impossible to execute these research disciplines in the same way a researcher can. In fact, you’ll likely end up relying on a researcher in a dedicated role to help get and keep the feedback rolling in.

Know your value add. I recognize that I could never out-engineer an engineer or out-design a designer. Instead, I leverage my knowledge of our business and customers to better prioritize what features make it onto the roadmap and help my team understand why we’re building those features.

Lauren Chan Lee, Director of Product Management at

3 Things You Do Need to Ask Yourself

In short, it’s okay if you don’t know everything there is to know about research. The key for you is to familiarize yourself with each discipline and gain a general understanding of the goals, methodologies, and impact of each one. This will empower you to seek out and apply customer insights in the most advantageous way possible.

At its core, making the most of your customer feedback starts by asking yourself three simple questions.

What do I need to know?

This means identifying the product areas or customer experience points you want to understand better.

Who do I need to ask to find out?

This means looking closely at your target market, whether that’s as a whole or a certain segment of your product’s intended audience.

When is the optimal time to ask them?

This means determining where within your product’s life cycle that these answers will add the most value.

Once you’ve answered these three questions, it’s easier to tap into the researcher mindset. As you learn to concisely identify what you need to know, who in your target market can answer those questions, and when to apply that information in your product’s lifetime, it becomes much easier to steer your product toward success.

Diving headfirst into the world of research is scary — take a life jacket. Our free ebook, The Product Manager’s Guide to Understanding Customers, offers best practices for driving continuous product improvement through customer feedback.

Check Out the Product Manager’s Guide to Understanding Customers

Download the PM's Guide to Understanding Users
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