How can we avoid “research waste” before our research ever begins?
Before starting a research project, make sure you’re providing new additional value and that the research hasn’t been done before. This is most easily done by reaching out to other team members and departments.
Find out what your team has already learned about this topic
Who could you ask that might already know the answer? What questions can you already answer? Try to avoid spending time asking questions your team may have already researched. Be sure to look outside your design or product team to other valuable teams such as data science, sales, or customer support. I’ve been able to skip ahead on previous projects after discovering a long-forgotten slideshow containing very useful data.
Find the right method for your time frame
How much time do you really have? Once you have a timeline, consider how many data points you really need to answer your questions, and then choose the right method (for example, surveys can gather more data points than in-person interviews).
Leverage others to find participants
In many instances, other departments know users exactly like the ones you need to talk to. Make relationships. Ask for help. You don’t need to recruit every research participant from scratch.
Understand what other teams need
As you make relationships with other departments, try to understand how you can mutually benefit each other.
After running the Design Tools Survey for a few years, I discovered investors, professors, and design companies were using the survey data to increase their understanding of the market. To better meet their needs, I added more questions about the demographics of the survey respondents. This yielded richer data for the viewers, and came at very little cost to me.
In my previous role at Neighbor, our UX team partnered with our very talented “customer activation team.” This team called customers every day to help them set up our product. They added two very specific questions to their post-call survey to help us understand customer roadblocks. Implementing solutions to these problems eased the burden on the activation team while also yielding invaluable data for designers.
In summary: Reach out. Ask questions. Meet with other departments. Team up.
How can we optimize each session to create value for more than one specific project?
As you go about performing and conducting your research, do it with an ear toward the future. While you have the full attention of a participant, try to gain every valuable insights you possibly can from them.
Listen on behalf of others
As you gather responses, conduct interviews, and search for other data, be sure to listen for the questions you heard from other departments. As you hear topics they’re interested in, send them a note after the call or drop them a link to your findings. Help them get excited and promote your work. The more attention you can bring to the value of your work, the more likely it is you can do more of it in the future.
Invite others to listen in or participate
You may already be inviting someone to take notes so you can focus on the conversation (or maybe you’re using an audio transcribing service). Inviting people from other disciplines can go a long way in building relationships and empathy for your customers, and increasing respect for your research efforts. Consider inviting anyone involved in implementing this project (such as a developer) or anyone impacted by the outcome of this project (such as the marketing or sales team).
Let the conversation loose
The best researchers know when to let the user interviews go on tangents to uncover unplanned but highly valuable insights. You may find that you have extra time during your session, or that your participant doesn’t meet your expectations. Consider leveraging that time to learn about another topic (for yourself or one of your business partners). If you know what’s coming next on your roadmap, you might be able to steer the conversation in that direction.
While conducting usability tests and interviews at Lucidchart, I sometimes had trouble recruiting the right participants. Some participants would think they had use a technical feature when they never had. I could identify the mismatch within a few minutes, so I would use the rest of the time to ask about other topics and ideas. If I could find a strong fit, I would pass the participant’s name along to another team or keep them in mind for my next project.
In summary: Listen for related ideas. Be a representative for other teams.
How can we pull more actionable data from notes and transcripts?
One of the best times to glean extra insights from your research is while dissecting each of your research sessions or responses.
Synthesize with others
Pull in other stakeholders and teams while you synthesize your findings (I find this is better done in partners or groups anyway). What can they learn? What can they discover and expose that you can’t? For example, when I synthesize with people frequently on the phone I’ll hear, “Oh, people like this call me all the time, this is a very real issue.” I would miss those insights working alone.
Tag useful insights for others
What psychographics, behaviors, or circumstances about this session could be useful for others to know? Consider annotating these as you review responses, notes, and transcriptions. Try to flag them where you can with tagging tools like those you’ll find in Dovetail or UserZoom. Simple comments can work as well in other documentation tools like Notion or Google Docs.
Evangelize the research
As much as possible, try to democratize the new insights from your research. Help your team and your company recognize the importance of being a research-led organization.
In my previous role at Neighbor, I would present any research insights in our weekly “sprint demos” meeting (traditionally reserved for engineers to present what they built during the week). This forum was the perfect for showcasing research impact and insights. I could also field questions and comments about the research. I received Slack messages from co-workers during and after this meeting who were interested in consuming the research further or partnering with me in the future.
Another technique I’ve always liked (but never been able to implement) is the “research newsletter” model. I first heard about from this idea Wade Shearer, former VP of UX at Workfront. His team regularly sent out a newsletter outlining recent research efforts and insights. While many of the ideas I’ve given involve partnering with one or two people, this is an exciting way to scale your research to the rest of the organization.
In summary: Pull others in as you analyze research. Thoughtfully annotate it it and broadcast it.
How can we increase the lifespan of our hard-earned insights?
Research that is carefully organized and stored for the future is much more likely to be discovered and utilized by others who need it.
Tag and categorize your projects
Find a tool that allows for tagging and referencing, like Dovetail, Notion, Coda, or Airtable. I try to organize my projects something like this:
This type of organization has several benefits:
The easier someone can find it, the less likely they are to conduct a duplicate research project.
I can find my past research if I can remember just a few properties about it (“I can’t remember what we called it, but it was a card sort with iOS users a few years ago”).
If others have access to this documentation, they can more easily find projects relevant to them by filtering and sorting.
I can quickly report on the health, status, and quality of research efforts by having this at my finger tips.
Store research in an accessible, searchable place
Storage options like Google Drive can be a death sentence for research. They’re often difficult to search and preview the content inside a document (not to mention taking several seconds to load a document only to find out it’s the wrong one). Besides the tools mentioned above, you might have better luck in your company’s knowledge base (like Notion, Slab, or Confluence.
Create a culture of documentation centralization
Try to encourage your team to store in the same place, and find workarounds to help teams still feel comfortable with their own system.
A recent team I worked with liked to have their own area in the knowledge base where they documented their own projects, research, notes. Instead of forcing them to conform to my master “user research” area, I was able to create entries in my table (above) that linked to their original documentation. Both of us achieved the goals we wanted without sacrificing the the needs of the other team.
In summary: Organize your research for the future. Store it in a way that others can repeat this cycle without extra work.
Admittedly, fostering your research practice in this way could take some extra effort during the process. In my experience, you can save just as much time in the long run. It also allows you to extract as much value as possible from all the research you do. Sometimes “more research” isn’t the answer, “better research” is.
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Research is expensive. So here are some ways to make it last longer, yield more results, and drive better customer experiences 👇 pic.twitter.com/M8wvq0rhQG