A few weeks ago, I wrote about how to identify the right time to do customer research. When you connect with your customers at the right time (versus too early or too late), you're more likely to get something meaningful out of your research. But timing isn't everything. Almost as important as what you learn during research is what you do with it.

After conducting customer research, the next step is to synthesize what you've learned. The process of synthesis will help you transform your research findings into tangible ideas and opportunities for your offering.

Earlier this year, I worked on a project that involved learning about people's coffee-drinking habits. As part of my team's research, we conducted more than 20 two-hour-long interviews with people in three different states. During each interview, we were deliberate about taking notes about what we heard and saw and capturing photos of important moments. We knew, however, that simple note-taking would result in our ending up with multiple notebooks filled with four people's 40 hours of notes. To avoid this deluge, we followed a process of synthesizing our research along the way, and then organized all those synthesized notes at the end.

Here's what that looked like:

1. Identify the most relevant insights as a team and write them down

During breaks between sessions or at the end of the day, we would spend 30 minutes debriefing each session. To create structure around our debriefs, we bucketed our learning from each session into the same categories: a little about the person we talked to (name, age, defining characteristics), most relevant insights, three memorable stories, three memorable quotes, thoughts around how we might solve this particular person's pain points, and ideas inspired by the session.

When time was short, we at least wrote down raw observations or quotes from the session and top relevant insights.

This is an important step, because each person gets something different out of an interview session. The interviewer may have been so focused on asking questions that she might have only recollections of the conversation in her head and nothing on paper. Another person may have observed the interviewee's body language, while another may have recorded verbatim quotes. Each of these perspectives helps to build a holistic review of the session.

2. Get all team members on the same page

Because the entire team did not attend any one interview together (we didn't want to overwhelm our interviewees with too many interviewers), we set up at least two team check-ins during each week of research to share our downloads with one another.

In case there wasn't time for full exchanges, we also uploaded written documentation of our downloads to a shared team Dropbox. This way people could read and comment on others' research during downtime.

In addition to ensuring that all members of the team were up to speed, these check-in moments generated further discussion. Someone who didn't attend a particular session but who hears memorable quotes or insights from it can bring additional insight to the table.

3. After all research is complete, identify your top insights

Once we had completed the research, each team member took some time to individually record his or her top five insights from all of the research. This allowed us to avoid the bias of groupthink and surface what each person truly felt was important. After this exercise, we came together to share our top insights. While the wording may not have been exactly the same, we found that about half the insights were shared across the group.

For the insights that didn't overlap, the team member explained why he or she felt an insight was important, and then the group decided how to consolidate, eliminate, and create hierarchy with the content brought to the table.

With a strong list of our top five insights from the research, our team was finally equipped to move forward to identify areas for innovation and starting designing and testing our ideas.

Conducting research is a meaningful step in the innovation process, but finding the meaning in your research is what will enable you to innovate with real impact.