Julie Anne Reda has outlined three methods for product managers to conduct Market Research. The first of which many will be familiar with — the ‘What Framework’. This unstructured method involves the Product Manager spending time digging into research papers, blog posts and Google to build a lengthy and often misguided report. A better method is to conduct a SWOT analysis of your market which will help you understand how you are positioned with respect to your competition. However, this is only useful if you have an established product/company to analyze. Better still is to use the ‘5 and 6 Forces Model’ which helps you look at key forces that shape a business strategy. This will allow you to assess things like bargaining power of customers and suppliers and the threat of new entrants and substitute products.
How do Product Managers conduct user, market or competitive research?
Although probably more acceptable in a startup than in a large company, there are some ‘quick and dirty’ ways to get the insights you need. Ellie Fields and Teresa Torres list a few — focus groups with people found on Craigslist (need a weird person filter for this one), online surveys, usability tests for product prototypes, and customer interviews. The practice of Customer Development can also be employed to iteratively validate problems and solutions and how they relate to specific customers (finding product/market fit).
The ‘problem’ with Market Research is that can be at odds with what a Product Manager believes to be true. There are several ways that Product Managers can misuse Market Research when the insights don’t square up with their beliefs. These include shares Jeff Lash; structuring research so that there is only one outcome, ignoring contradictory parts of the research and finding other research that refutes the research that you have on the table.