Leaving research on the table

Posted by Chrissie Brodigan on May 13, 2015

How I learned to stop worrying about putting everything into a single report.

Discovering too much

Well-designed research efforts are time-consuming with hours/days spent: setting up studies, recruiting participants, writing interview guides, meeting with customers in the field, and pouring over data. The end result is a well-written report that surfaces insights teams can use to improve an existing product or start designing an all-new one.

Research is magical to me, because you get to discover something new and valuable about the world before anyone else. However, if you’re a researcher, it’s also your job to find a meaningful and clear way to share those insights.

A big dilemma I experience is an irrepressible desire to share everything as a single-serving (i.e. massive-sized report). However, no matter how great the story, if it’s too densely packed or lengthy with blocks of text and tables few to none ever read it.

Leaving research on the table

Across my career, with every study I’ve left some of my favorite material behind on the table. With experience I’ve come to terms that cutting things out is a necessary part of the process that helps our team to produce more concise insights that an audience can consume, learn from, connect with, act on, and remember.

It took me a while to make peace with this workflow, so it’s a good thing that trying to answer every possible question in a single report felt stressful and unattainable.

Given the rich data we work with at GitHub (and, I’m sure almost anywhere), I’d be concerned if our team could answer all of their best questions with a single study without leaving something on the table.

Creating a constant stream

Now, I follow a process that starts with an exploratory foundation, which sets the stage for follow-up ships of shorter reports that are each strong enough to stand on their own, but coordinated enough to be part of the larger story.

The end of one inquiry is the beginning of the next one.