Chapter 2

The product research process for building winning solutions

In the previous chapter, we covered the key elements of product research. Now, you need a robust process to understand how your user will engage with your product—and the alternatives currently on the market. Here’s how to prep, conduct, and access the results of your product research.

What to consider before starting the product research process

Before adopting a product research process at your organization, you need to align with other stakeholders and ensure everyone’s on the same page about what you’re trying to achieve, why, and how you’re going to do it.

Some key things to bear in mind are:

Adopt a continuous product research mindset

When you have a continuous product discovery mindset, user insights aren’t just gathered at the beginning of a project, but are collected regularly using various product discovery techniques throughout the product lifecycle.

Think of research as something that happens during product development, not as a precursor to it. That way, you’ll always be working towards delivering a product that your users really want—and can easily use. “This iterative approach helps refine the product, enhance user experience, and identify future opportunities,” explains Sonal Srivastava, Senior UX Researcher at Amazon.

Ideally, you’ll conduct research on an ongoing basis, but at the very least, you could think about how to implement it during the following stages:

  • Before development: To understand user needs, identify opportunities and define product features
  • During product development: To test various concepts and refine the product through user feedback
  • Post-launch: To evaluate performance, gather user satisfaction insights, and identify areas for improvement

Adapting a continuous product discovery mindset before you begin research is helpful for several reasons. Firstly, your team will be prepared for a process that isn’t entirely linear. Part of this includes storing user and product research insights in an organized and secure way, so they can be used easily throughout the product lifecycle. You’ll also be able to plan the time and budget accordingly, making sure you’re prepared to conduct studies before every iteration.

Know what you’re looking for and why

Researching without objectives is aimless, and can result in incorrect assumptions and biased products.

To avoid wasting your resources (and your user's time), you need to set clear research goals. This means knowing exactly what you want to achieve with each study, and why you're conducting it. When you combine this with an effort to stay aligned with the business and product strategy, you'll experience the added benefit of getting your decisions signed off more quickly. Your key stakeholders will understand exactly what your research will achieve.

Having clear goals also helps you decide whether you have any relevant context from previous user or market research, or if you're starting from scratch.

Build the type of product your user needs

Keep users at the center of your product decisions by using Maze to conduct remote tests at scale—and throughout the product lifecycle.

8 Steps to conduct effective product research

Before you begin, bear in mind that the product research process can (and should) be cyclical. Below, we lay out the steps in a linear way, but a continuous discovery approach is most effective for ensuring every product decision is based on user insights.

Continuous product research process

1. Opportunity assessment

Matthieu Dixte, our Product Researcher at Maze, explains the opportunity assessment stage as the place to identify and prioritize opportunities before thinking about the solution. If developing a product were a murder mystery, this would be when the detective starts looking for leads. No assumptions are being made just yet; it's all about gathering clues and fact-finding.

For you, the opportunity assessment means:

  • Going through any previous research findings
  • Monitoring the market
  • Hosting customer feedback sessions
  • Doing competitive product analysis or customer voice analysis

During this stage, you can also review your product's performance to spot any interesting trends. For example, Matthieu tells a story of a company he worked with before Maze. His team noticed that people were trying to click on charts on their website—the charts weren't actually clickable, but people wanted to filter them.

"This behavior helped us understand that people wanted to interact with the charts," says Matthieu. "We also detected that sometimes people clicked on the charts to copy and paste information because they wanted to share it with stakeholders."

These are the kinds of insights that can appear during the first stage of your product research process, and highlight which opportunities to explore in depth. “At Maze, we frequently review user feedback and monitor the market to gauge how our competitors are evolving. Each product idea comes from a trend that we detected,” says Matthieu.

2. Problem shaping

At this stage, you’re building on your findings from the opportunity assessment stage and shaping them into hypotheses. This will help identify the specific problem you want to solve.

For example, imagine people are complaining about your existing product not being flexible enough. This could mean a number of things:

  • They’re not able to customize the dashboard colors
  • They can’t export the source code
  • The mobile experience is lacking

During the problem shaping stage, look into all those possibilities, refine the potential hypothesis, and decide which opportunities to explore further using prioritization techniques. You should also think of your target audience and how to conduct research to identify what your customers want.

Take this opportunity to seek stakeholder alignment, set clear objectives in line with your research strategy, and plan what you’ll do with the gathered insights. You can also use this stage to come up with ideas for product experimentation based on your previous research and findings.

3. Solution generation and screening

The solution generation and screening step is for outlining how your new feature, product, or initiative will reach the previously set goals—and improve the customer experience. It’s about defining how you’ll bridge the gap between user problems and a solution.

You should also use this stage to screen the different solutions or ideas and prioritize them. Determine which ones have a better market fit and are feasible, and get rid of unpromising ideas. Here you should also decide the methods, questions, and participants’ requirements—and share the plan with key stakeholders. At this stage, you should seek stakeholders' input and ensure continued alignment.

To properly screen ideas and solutions, you need to keep business goals in mind as well as the users’ pain points, so you can come up with win-win solutions for all your key stakeholders. Speak to users through surveys, focus groups, or five-second tests to see how they understand your idea or solution, then use those insights to decide which solution to develop.

4. Solution definition

It's time to think about how the ideas can come together. The solution definition stage is about further refining and solidifying the chosen idea or concept. The goal is to get a clear concept that designers can turn into a prototype.

During this stage, you should also conduct a feasibility assessment to determine whether you have the resources to go ahead with the solution. This means assessing your internal resources and team capacity, as well as potential revenue. You can use feedback and satisfaction surveys or conduct user interviews to gauge your target customers' opinions and address the desirability of the solution or idea.

You can also take a look at what you already know, or what others have learned to further define your solution. Here's how Sonal does it:

"I draft research questions that guide the study and address our objectives," she explains. "I also conduct a literature review and collaborate with the analytics team to gather relevant data. I define the methodology, participant recruitment criteria, and timelines, sharing them with stakeholders for feedback and alignment. Then, I create interview scripts or survey questions based on the objectives and conduct research sessions to collect data."

Like Sonal, it's vital to collaborate with other team members and stakeholders throughout the process. That way, you get their input as you define your solution and will have their buy-in when you want to make product decisions later.

5. Prototyping

Before going deep into the product development process, you should get your current or potential customers to test a prototype of your solution. Contrary to popular opinion, you should test your prototype when launching any new feature—you don’t need to wait until you have a new product to launch.

Prototyping usually involves designing physical or digital representations of the solution or concept. These can be anything from low-fidelity mockups to high-fidelity, almost fully-functional products. This stage allows you to collect insights on your product’s usability, user experience (UX), and information architecture (IA). It also identifies any potential design flaws before the development or product launch—remember, it’ll be far more complicated and costly to make edits later.

It’s worth remembering that you can move back-and-forth between this step, validation and testing, and solution definition, until you’ve found a concept that drives customer satisfaction.

Product tip💡

Use a product research tool like Maze to test your prototype or wireframe. Share the tests with your users or access Maze’s Panel of highly qualified participants. Maze can also help you conduct UX research methods like surveys, tree testing, and card sorting.

6. Solution validation and testing

After creating a prototype, you should validate and test your solution to ensure it's effectively solving the problem and meeting the desired goals. During this step, gather feedback from your target market, personas, or potential users to identify any design flaws or areas of improvement.

To conduct proper solution or idea validation and testing, you can gather insights through user interviews, usability tests, focus groups, surveys, copy and content tests, A/B tests, and five-second tests. It's always important to get a mix of quantitative and qualitative results, but it's crucial that you conduct some sort of qualitative research at this stage, like an interview study or survey, so you're able to truly understand your customers' needs and pain points.

7. Development and deployment

The development and deployment stage of product research is when your ideas, concepts, and solutions come to life. Once you’ve validated, tested, and refined your prototype, you can involve the development team. Now’s when you can build the minimum viable product (MVP) or complete a new feature, considering your time and resource constraints.

Depending on your software development methodology, you can also choose to continuously deploy solutions as the team codes them, or wait until you've tested the different components before deploying them. For example, if the update is straightforward and has low user impact, a continuous deployment approach might be more efficient.

Continue to conduct product testing after launch so you can keep iterating and building successful products. If you’re using Maze as your continuous product discovery tool, you can use In-Product Prompts or Live Website Testing to gather insights from real users—after your solution is live.

8. Impact assessment

The last step of the product research process is to analyze the impact of your innovation. Review the results and present them to the product team and stakeholders. If you’re following a continuous research mindset, use this stage to reflect on the metrics and come up with improvement ideas to test and develop in the next sprint.

"I like to present findings in a team meeting, followed by a brainstorming session to discuss the next steps for the team based on research insights," says Sonal. This helps you continue building better products that excite your target demographic. "I often also create multiple versions of the results where I customize the report for different stakeholders to ensure they receive the insights relevant to their roles," she adds.

Product research process: What you need to know

In short, the product research process enables you to make decisions based on product-market interactions. If you want to build user-centric products, adopting a continuous product research mindset is crucial. This means taking user insights as a starting point for doing further research and informing decision-making. Your workflow should also have clear goals aligned with your high-level business and product strategy.

Throughout the product lifecycle, complete the following steps at regular intervals:

  • Opportunity assessment
  • Problem shaping
  • Solution generation and screening
  • Solution definition
  • Prototyping
  • Solution validation and testing
  • Development and deployment
  • Impact assessment

Keep reading for our chapters on how to experiment with your product to improve customer satisfaction, and how to conduct competitive product analysis to set you apart.

Build the type of product your user needs

Keep users at the center of your product decisions by using Maze to conduct remote tests at scale—and throughout the product lifecycle.

Frequently asked questions about the product research process

What does product research include?

Product research includes finding areas of improvement, testing ideas, and developing solutions to enhance the product experience. The product research process goes like this:

  • Opportunity assessment
  • Problem shaping
  • Solution generation and screening
  • Solution definition
  • Prototyping
  • Validation and testing
  • Development and deployment
  • Impact assessment

How to conduct product research?

To do product research, start by looking at the product's performance, user, and market data to come up with opportunities you want to explore. Then, talk to users to shape the problem space and generate a solution. Conduct further research to define the solution, test your prototype, and validate your assumptions. Only then can you take the final design to the development team, launch the product, and assess the impact of your innovation.

What tools do you need for product research?

These are the tools you need for product research:

  • Product testing tools like Maze to test usability, capture customer feedback, and gather user sentiment at scale
  • Note-taking apps like Notion to write down interview questions and answers, or keep track of your diary studies
  • Video conferencing tools such as Zoom or Google Meet to interview your customers and collect feedback