Andrew introduces learning goals: why they're important and what makes a good 'un.
It’s incredibly important to set clear goals for research projects, otherwise they can become bloated, overwhelming and ultimately less impactful on the organisation. Through our 80+ client projects, Muir Wood & Co are constantly improving how we plan research and bring clients along on that journey. This article will get you started writing your own goals.
MW&Co is a small, UK-based product research consultancy with clients around the world. Research Trail Guide is our collection of articles to help producty people level up their research game.
Learning goals are a set of questions or statements that define what we're trying to find out from a research study. And, importantly, what we're not covering.
As an example, the learning goals that I used to plan this article were:
I know this sounds a bit like consultant waffle but we always use learning goals and here’s why:
Before I go any further on the theory, I'll give you some examples of goals from different types of research project. As always, we'll use our fictional granola delivery startup, Oat Couture, as an illustration.
This is often called "generative research" because we’re not completely certain what we’re looking for! The goals need to help us break down people's needs and behaviours into manageable pieces so that decisions can be targeted at the right customers and problems. We want to keep things open, but not boil the ocean.
Determine the value proposition and desirability of a granola subscription business
(Notice most of the goals are about the existing customer context and not the solution, this I call “funnelling”, which I’ll explain in another article).
"Evaluative research" usually occurs when a product value proposition and target audience are more clearly defined. The goals allow us to try out different solutions in a systematic way (like experimental hypotheses), but still leave a little space for surprises and context.
In this example, we’ve identified some reasons why people do/don’t eat more granola (from discovery: price, health, brand loyalty) and we’re trying to choose what to do next to grow revenue.
Evaluate the most effective way of increasing granola subscription revenue
Too many goals and the project is likely to become bloated. Cramming too much into interviews makes them feel rushed and gathering too much data makes it hard to analyse everything on time.
We typically aim for 4-8 learning goals. If there are more, we'll prioritise and move the less important ones to a later sprint (or the bin). And don’t be sneaky by combining or expanding goals: e.g. “When and how do people eat granola? And why?”
What would be a great set of slide headings/report sections to report back to your team? Sometimes it’s useful to have a framework or two in mind: we often end up mapping a journey (so there needs to be a goal around journeys or moments) or building empathy maps (so there needs to be a learning goal to ask about pain points, goals and tasks).
Goals should be agnostic of research methodology: they are what you’re trying to learn, not how you're doing the learning. Although interviewing is our main bag at MW&Co, we often use tools like surveys, intercepts or desk research when it makes more sense for the goal we’ve agreed on.
Although learning goals often resemble interview questions, they aren't the same thing. However, all our interview questions or activities can be tied to a learning goal they aim to achieve.
It’s much easier to get alignment from a team when we have something concrete to discuss and edit together. They don’t need to be absolutely perfect, just written down! Then we can talk some more about them. It’s also much easier to perfect goals once research is underway and we start to see the shape of the data we're gathering.
We’re going to write another trail guide post on how we write learning goals, but here’s a sneaky preview of the key steps:
1. Start with an actionable project goal
2. Generate learning goals with the core team
3. Refine/socialise the goals with senior stakeholders
4. Don’t wait to the end of the project to make sure the goals are working
Learning goals are super important and worth spending time on. With practice they start to come naturally when planning research to address a question or outcome. Writing good ones is just the start: wielding them effectively in an organisation is another challenge.
Our research consulting projects and training packages can provide your team with more effective learning goals for research planning and give them skills and confidence to create their own in the future. Get in touch if you’re interested in working with us.