1. Be curious
We have all been trained to like answers but hate questions. As we were rewarded for right answers at school, we are rewarded for bright solutions at work. It has been observed that a lot of people avoid conducting research, especially qualitative research. Perhaps we fear that if we ask questions, we will be looking less knowledgeable. But the reality is that questions are vital for the success of any research. A reasonable question will definitely benefit you in the long run. Maintaining a healthy research mindset means understanding that certainty is a deception, bias is rampant, and an answer is not going to be valid forever. If you don’t occasionally come across questions, you have probably stopped learning.
2. Ask before you prototype
A prototype is basically an answer. It is something tangible, even if it is a sketch on a paper. It easier to prototype than to ask questions. But remember, prototyping too early might sometimes mean investing your resources to answer a question that no one had asked. Testing a prototype would help you refine an already established idea, but you might be forgetting whether you are solving the right problem. The quality of a prototype cannot replace the quality of the idea. Asking the right questions will help you find and remove the bad ideas at a very early stage. You must have the courage to admit being mistaken and then changing your beliefs.
3. Know your objective
It often happens that teams start talking to customers without having a clear and shared goal. Asking questions is useless unless you have established the reason behind doing so. Otherwise, research usually ends up having achieved nothing – a mere wastage of time. Many well-funded research departments have been observed generating attractive reports that made no impact on their decision-making. This is terrible, but acknowledging it will be the first step toward preventing it. You won't be able to determine what you need to know if you have not established your goal earlier. You have to know your question before deciding how to get its answer.
4. Focus on the big questions
The quality of your question decides how useful the results will be. Asking a wrong question is just like prototyping to solve a wrong problem. The result in such cases won't be the thing you actually needed. Start with the top-priority questions that carry the greatest risk if you’re wrong. The big question is not what you ask in the interview, it’s what you actually wanted to know. Asking your question directly can often lead to losing the desired answer because people usually don’t understand, or don’t want to admit their true behaviors.
Often the most fundamental question would be something like “Considering the evidence, what do we really know about our capabilities/users/competition?”
5. You always have enough time and money
We often come across people who define research as something other than the design, and that leads them to find reasons to avoid this ‘extra’ activity. Often the teams need to get permission from someone in authority to carry out the activities considered as ‘research’. People in authority feel threatened by questioning. So they usually prefer to refuse you by stating certain objections, just to cover the fear of being undermined or considered wrong. Now as the researcher, if you are clear on your goals and basic questions, you can still do a lot within the available time and budget. You can just go out and observe people in your leisure time, or even usability test some other product.
6. Remember: Data can’t change minds
You may find it really hard to make an expert researcher understand something against his own belief, even though your research proves him wrong. Those who value only a certain kind of data would not consider listening to you without such data. Those who have developed the habit of listening to numbers won't listen to anything else even if the question demands some more descriptive data. If your evidence goes against the views of those who have the authority to make decisions, they will find reasons to ignore it. So before using your data to influence decisions, you would need to learn how your leaders make decisions.
7. Accept the imperfection
If people didn't have problems or challenges to overcome, there would be no need to produce products or services. The real world is messy , with many twists and turns. As a result, developing solutions to address the issues people face takes time and patience. The process is never cut and dry. Therefore, accept imperfection and tackle the challenge with a clear objective, evidence as your guide and an open mind,...and success will follow.
8. Ensure collaboration
Everybody working on a project must be operating in a shared reality. The greatest knowledge would be of little use if it’s confined to a single person’s mind. Without collaboration, research would mean that some people are making reports for some others to ignore. The right approach is to directly involve the team members in questioning and answering. This can be accomplished in a number of ways, depending on your work environment.
9. Treat your bias
After doing your work and finding certain answers, now you need to know what they actually mean. When it comes to interpreting your research results, collaboration becomes even more crucial. Every human being has some sort of biases. You can neither avoid nor sense those biases of yours. We see only the things that fit our established beliefs. The only solution is to collaborate and check each other. That is something indispensable even if you’re highly intelligent and well-informed. When you accept this reality, it would become fun to work together to find and neutralize the biases.