Why do qualitative research?

This is the first post in my Customer Research series.

I will start with a discussion on why I do qualitative research.  Some companies place a disproportionate amount of trust upon quantitative, statistically significant results presented in analyst reports.  Anything involving a handful of research subjects is viewed with deep suspicion.  Insights that their own product teams bring back from the field are dismissed as anecdotal, and the knowledge is not used for decision making.

In my opinion, this suspicion is dangerously misplaced.   Numbers are sterile. They are necessary; any moderately skilled product person would stay on top of market sizing reports and industry trends by following analyst reports.  However, that provides only a sliver of the knowledge needed to design the right products.

Qualitative techniques allow us to probe deep into personas, needs and wants, use cases, habits and practices and so forth with a small sample size.  We step into the customers’ shoes and get a taste of their motivations, problems they encounter, and what they may be trying to achieve with a current or future product, in their environment with a workflow that works for them.  This, coupled with quantitative research, is what drives great product development.  It is incredibly time consuming,  but if you plan and execute it properly, every minute is worth the work.

Please join the conversation if you are a product person – I would love to hear what you think.

Add to DeliciousAdd to FaceBookAdd to StumbleUponAdd to Twitter

6 Responses

  1. […] Оригинал (английский): Why do qualitative research?. Серия: “Исследование пользователей″ Перевод: © […]

  2. Martyn Whitelock
    | Reply

    Nice post which makes the point very clearly 🙂 I completely agree, a lot of education is still needed to overcome the misconceptions and inability to understand the real potential of qualitative research, but that is probably also true of society as a whole. Unfortunately, stereotypes are very powerful and take a long time to diminish, as Foucault would say. I actually created the following blog to assist any potential new clients in chosing qualitative research. You may wish to have a peep. Regards, Martyn.

    • Elaine Chen
      | Reply

      Hi Martyn, thanks for your comment and link to your blog – great post!

  3. Andrew Hayes
    | Reply

    You make a good point about qualitative research being done in combination with quantitative research. When conducting quantitative research companies need to make sure they are asking the most important questions. There is no better way to determine what the most important questions are than by using qualitative research, whether focus groups or IDI’s, amongst actual customers, to flesh out the main topics.

    After management has determined what the most important topics are they can then start working on writing a great questionnaire. But if management skips the qualitiative phase it runs the risk of not asking the important questions, thereby creating data that can lead to bad decisions.

    • Elaine Chen
      | Reply

      Hi Andrew, to your point on asking the most important questions: I am just wrapping up a qualitative phase that I ran before a quantitative phase. We had many preconceptions about what questions to ask in the survey, and even had the survey fully drafted. But after the qualitative phase, we learned that our biases don’t reflect how our end users think, so based on the discovery process in the qualitative phase, we changed / tweaked a lot of stuff. Another case study where a qualitative phase prevented a garbage-in-garbage out survey situation 🙂

  4. Qualitative Research
    | Reply

    interesting article,, thanks for sharing .. I am glad to read it because it related to my studies

Leave a Reply