Any researcher working in industry understands that research has to drive positive business value. Companies hire researchers because they believe their investment will pay off when it comes to the bottom line.
But how exactly does research create impact? The most common form of impact in my experience — running research to validate a product team’s emerging concepts — may be the least compelling route for a researcher to make a significant impact. So here are 5 different types of impact that researchers can work toward. Some are more traditional and reactive while others are more forward-looking and proactive.
Impact #1: Validating good concepts
A common contribution from a researcher on a product team is in validating emerging product concepts. The process runs something like this:
- A product manager has a product idea or multiple competing ideas in development
- Designers prepare rough mocks of how each idea will appear in the product
- The team asks a researcher to test those mocks with prospective users and recommend how to move forward
This is a very natural way for a researcher to unblock a team on making progress and meeting goals. A good product team will value early feedback from users before they push ahead too far with an idea (see my previous post on collecting that feedback). Early feedback provides them with opportunities to revise concepts before launch and helps to boost confidence that the team is on the right track.
To do this well, a researcher needs to have an open mind about the product ideas, and avoid being pushed around too much by an overenthusiastic product manager. Impact requires careful attention to what the team needs, but it also requires a healthy skepticism about whether any of the team’s current ideas or solutions are appropriate. If you’re only seeking supportive signals for a product idea, you may drive “artificial impact” — you will unblock the team on moving forward in the short term, but you may ultimately lead them to a dead end.
Unfortunately, I think it’s common for researchers to feel that they should find a way to approve an idea, especially for more junior researchers who don’t yet feel confident…