5 Must-Know Qualitative Research Methods

Product management ultimately revolves around understanding a group of people with shared traits, identifying their core problems, and finding solutions.

To find solutions to those problems, we must first correctly identify the problem. We can do so by conducting qualitative or quantitative research, or by using a combination of both methods.

While some argue for seven qualitative research methods, five stand out as particularly significant for product management:

  • Ethnography
  • Narrative
  • Phenomenology
  • Grounded theory
  • Case study

Each method provides distinct insights into humans' complex interactions and experiences with products, enriching our comprehension of user needs and behaviours.


Ethnography is a method where you embed yourself in people's daily lives. This immersive approach allows product managers to observe and interact within the actual environments where products are used, offering a fine view of user behaviours, needs, and challenges. It's about going on the “field” to see how users live with the product, providing an unfiltered look into their experiences.

Ethnography focuses on obtaining firsthand and high-quality data directly from the source. In this way, the information is more honest and realistic. This research method is flexible, allowing exploration of a group's social dynamics and culture as if they were part of the group.

For PMs, ethnography research methods can offer deep insights into the user experience, behaviours, needs, and cultural contexts that influence how people interact with products or services. Observing and interacting with users in their natural settings can uncover needs and behaviours that might not be revealed through surveys or interviews.

Despite its strengths, ethnography faces challenges such as the potential for observer bias, where the presence of the researcher might influence the behavior of the subjects. Ethical considerations also play a critical role, especially regarding consent and the privacy of the participants. Researchers must navigate these challenges carefully, ensuring that their presence is as unobtrusive as possible and that ethical standards are upheld throughout the research process.

Narrative Research

Narrative research focuses on collecting and analyzing personal stories and histories. The main idea is to collect data from a few subjects you would follow for a period of time. This method unveils the evolution of user experiences and perceptions, offering a viewpoint that can reveal shifts in needs, preferences, and product interactions.

By focusing on the stories that users share about their experiences, product managers can uncover rich, contextually grounded insights that quantitative data alone may not reveal.

Narrative research helps to capture the subtle ways users engage with products and services. For example, through narrative research, a PM can gather stories from users about their first encounter with the product, their challenges, the solutions they pursued, and the evolution of their perceptions and usage patterns over time.


Phenomenology aims to understand experiences from the first-person perspective. It's about retaking an event and analyzing it from different angles. This involves conducting observations and interviews to understand how users uniquely experience events before, during, and after they occur.

For product managers, this means exploring the essence of users' interactions with products and services, gaining insights into their subjective experiences and how these shape their behaviours and choices.

When it comes to analyzing customer churn, phenomenology can be a greatl approach. This method involves identifying an event or trigger that causes customers to stop using your product or service. To do this, you will need to collect data from various sources, such as screen recordings or customer success calls. You may also need to meet with customers who have churned to better understand what caused them to leave and what could have been done differently. By analyzing this data, you can gain insights into your churn behavior and take steps to reduce it.

Grounded Theory

Grounded theory is a research method that involves developing theories based on data collected through a systematic process of coding, categorizing, and synthesizing findings. This approach allows product managers to align product strategies with actual user experiences by formulating hypotheses based on empirical evidence.

Unlike traditional hypothesis-driven research, grounded theory adopts an inductive method, generating new theories directly from data analysis. Using grounded theory can help product managers avoid biases since the results are based on data.

Grounded theory is an empirical approach, allowing PMs to adapt their hypotheses based on new insights and findings, making it a potentially infinite iterative process: collect data, analyze, refine theories, and proceed iteratively.

Case Study

Case study research offers in-depth information and detailed info on a specific subject. It provides a comprehensive look at particular product use or interaction instances within their real-world context. For product managers, case studies can dissect the nuances of user experiences, pinpointing what works, what doesn't, and why in specific scenarios.

The case study approach allows in-depth, multi-faceted explorations of complex problems in their real-life settings. The case study approach is beneficial when there is a need to obtain an in-depth definition of a problem in its natural, real-life context.

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