The Transformational Impact of a Scrappy Research Practice

In this excerpt we focus on how our practice of Scrappy Research dramatically changes the time-to-value for research and therefore the efficiency of the overall product creation process; making confident decisions quickly and often. For more on how to establish a practice in Scrappy Research, pick up the book!

The following excerpt is from Groundwork: Get Better at Making Better Products by Vidya Dinamani and Heather Samarin. Buy it now from Amazon.

Scrappy research is a practice that turns product managers into great leaders. Let’s talk about some reasons why.

Scrappy Research Prevents a Significant Amount of Rework

How many times a day do you make decisions about a product: feature prioritization, backlog cuts, design decisions, strategy decisions, and so on? Product people make scads of decisions every day based on intuition and whatever data they have (which can be none, depending on how big or how new the product or business is). Is it the best-kept secret that product people probably make most of their daily decisions based on gut feelings? Nope. That is our life as product people. Take this example:

Product Team A decides to build one feature instead of another based on what they think is the right direction. They build it with tracking so they can get usage data in real time. Within 6 weeks of releasing the functionality, they learn that the feature isn’t used as much as they expected, and the desired business outcome isn’t being achieved. The team reworked the functionality and relaunched within 12 weeks.

On the surface this may look fantastic: They implemented tracking, they learned within 6 weeks, and had a new version out in three months. These are huge accomplishments for some companies, but we’re here to tell you that this is an unacceptable cost of time and rework.

Keep this quote by Thomas Gilb, famous for improving an organizations’ delivery capability through systems engineering, cemented in your mind: “Once a system is in development, correcting a problem costs 10 times as much as fixing the same problem in design. If the system has been released, it costs 100 times as much relative to fixing in design.”

Scrappy research combined with a clear hypothesis is a catalyst for reducing work. To drive faster success at a significantly lower cost, make scrappy research an ongoing habit instead of a special occasion.

Scrappy Research Enables Durable Decisions

Every product manager experiences an overturned product decision at least once in their career. We’ve all been there. It’s frustrating. In some cases, we’ve seen that when product decisions are consistently overturned, it ends a career. Here’s an example: 

Product Manager A proposes a direction for a product to his leader and cross-functional partners. The product manager bases the logic behind his proposed direction on some big hypotheses, but he feels confident the hypotheses will prove correct, given what his customer service team has told him. In the proposal meeting, the cross-functional team seems a bit skeptical, but they all walk out of the room nodding and the development team gets to work. Two weeks later his leader calls him and says, “We need to pause work on this because your cross-functional counterpart isn’t supportive of the direction and expects a different direction instead…and I think I might agree. Let’s change direction.”

Replace the word “direction” here with “feature,” “design change,” or “product trade-off.” We’ve all been through a similar scenario at one time or another. Other people’s opinions start to take over and you’re stuck in the middle. For those of you who experience this as a norm, which it is in some business cultures, listen up—conducting scrappy research as a practice is for you. Whenever you need to change direction, implement a new feature, update prioritization of initiatives, or anything that you know may differ from the expectations your product team holds today, communicate your logic through customer-backed reasoning.

Scrappy research allows the customer to speak in lieu of anyone’s opinion. Practicing ongoing customer research, albeit scrappy, builds customer-backed logic that your team can understand and commit to. You may not get a consensus on your decision, but you’ll get commitment because they understand the logic behind it. We call that shared vision. Yes, it sounds like bogus corporate jargon. We learned it early on in our careers from Steve Bennett, a former CEO of Intuit, whom we both worked under. And it’s one of the only corporate jargon terms we embraced. We love the term because it represents something more powerful than “consensus.” Shared vision is our way of driving commitment. We could write an entire book on the importance of shared vision, but the point here is to get away from opinion and use customer-backed logic to communicate and gain commitment to proposed decisions.

Scrappy Research Keeps You Close to the Customer

This isn’t a goal of scrappy research in and of itself, but it sure makes you a far more effective product person. You can make faster product decisions, gain the trust of your entire team and your cross-functional stakeholders, and feel more confident in your day-to-day operating role. It’s win-win-win.

We can’t tell you how many times we see product managers deferring customer understanding to others—researchers, business analysts, UX designers. Deferring is convenient and allows you to pile other stuff on your plate. And yes, it looks like you’re making the right work prioritization decision initially, but you’re probably not.

People distance themselves from their customers and spin their wheels with decision vacillation because the loudest opinion in the room generally wins. They can’t effectively prioritize the backlog, they add a constant barrage of shiny objects, and they have no way to justify tradeoffs with confidence. All in all, the other stuff that you pile on your plate becomes significantly more time consuming. Scrappy research is not a full-time job, but it’s a fundamental practice that makes or breaks a product person’s career over time.


If you like what you see, there’s more where that came from. Pick up Groundwork: Get Better at Making Better Products by Vidya Dinamani and Heather Samarin from Amazon.

Product Rebels is a product management training and coaching firm run by long term product executives for companies like Intuit and Mitchell International. We have trained over 200 companies, small and enterprise level, in the skills and frameworks that help product management leaders and product managers deliver kick-ass customer experiences. We have a passion for finding efficient ways of infusing customer insight into everything product teams do in pursuit of experiences that customers love …and that drive growth.  Join us in the Product Rebels Community on Facebook or the Product Rebels Community on LinkedIn.

Take a look at our very practical training courses and coaching programs that give you practical tools, frameworks, and support you can use tomorrow in becoming a more effective product leader.

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