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6 Common Research Implementation Roadblocks—And How to Move Past Them

We asked leading researchers at Target, Google, and Even how they go from “distilling great insights” to “getting something done about them.” Here are their top tips.

At UXPA 2019 in Scottsdale, we sat down with researchers Julie Schiller (Google), Jeanine Livdahl (Target), and Yasmine Khan (Even), and asked: How do you motivate your stakeholders? What makes a team take notice, and take action? How can we make our reports get read, our findings resonate, and our insights make an impact? 

They gave us actionable solutions for our most pressing stakeholder communication roadblocks. We detailed the top takeaways from their sound advice below.  

If your stakeholders are having a hard time translating your insights into action…

Ask “so what?” (Over, and over, and over again)

As you’re conducting your research—ask the “five whys” (why are you doing this? Well, why is that important to you? etc.) As you’re framing and presenting your research: ask the five “so whats.” What do learn from this data? What should your team do about it? What actions are you going to take? If participants say “this feature makes the product hard to use,” consider: “what do we need to change?” 

And use “so what” to frame your initial question. 

Research design and research results go hand in hand. Often, it’s “good in,” “good out,” or “bad in,” “bad out.” If you have a bad question in the first place, it won’t fulfill its intended purpose. You’re starting off on the wrong foot.

Take a stance. 

A lot of researchers believe that their work needs to be impartial—but it’s hard to be both impartial and effective. Come in with opinions and points of view about what could be done with your results. No one understands the user’s point of view better than you do. 

Ground and validate your small sample sizes. 

Stakeholders can misjudge qual data in a few opposite ways. Either they don’t trust small sample sizes, or they put too much trust in small sample sizes. When the former happens, remind them that your company needs to build your relationships. Noticing one person’s feelings about your company over time, or noticing why one person feels anxious, can expose a “why” and a larger pattern that thousands of data plots can’t expose. 

When stakeholders put too much stake in small samples, they’re likely to cherry-pick results that fit their interests and assumptions—or take what their friend or cousin says about what’s working as sufficient proof. Adding a layer of quant to validate what’s been exposed in your qual data can separate valid results from bias-led insights. 

If your stakeholders aren’t invested in your findings…

Consider organizational culture. 

We all deal with information overload. What breaks through the noise? How you get attention and focus in an organization depends a lot on the culture of your organization. For example, the team at Facebook tends to respond to mediums that work well on social media—snippets of video, memorable quotes, anything that would naturally pop up at the top of a newsfeed. 

Be a good teacher.  

The traditional teaching model is: “we are the authorities, we know things, and we will fill your brains with what we know.” And anyone who’s been bored in class knows that model doesn’t work. The more constructive method of teaching in learning says “I’m going to involve you. You’re going to be a part of putting these things together. I’m not going to just hand off a report to you and say: ‘have fun.’” Design thinking rests on the whole team having shared learning moments.

Go beyond collaborative—make it interactive. 

Inject a little energy into your research sharing process—and make sure that engaging with user research is something your stakeholders look forward to. For example, try designing your workshops like a museum: with prompts, discussions, and visual “artifacts.” After you’ve shared and discussed your research, schedule a research “trivia night” to instill a sense of competition.

Make the digital, physical.

Adding a physical component can sometimes make your research feel more “real.” This can mean meeting in person and connecting over a subject—with people bringing in their favorite snack or beverage. Or it can also translate to “heads down” ways of digesting your results. For example, if you’ve run a digital diary study—print it out and put together one participant’s diary. Give everyone a chance to learn about a few weeks in someone’s life—and then recreate a map of their experience to share. 

If you’re struggling to understand priorities and dynamics…

Build out research rituals.

Be aware of how your team is already communicating, and develop “research rituals” around those patterns. For example, if they communicate via Slack—set up a dedicated Slack channel to import user videos. Host shareouts or ideation sessions on a regular basis to encourage research habits. Name your studies and involve everyone in creating a shared vocabulary. Remember that making research regular and accessible doesn’t only encourage participation in the present—but it helps to build a community within your organization and a “timestamped” repository for the future. 

Know your stakeholders, and how well they know each other.  

Is the team you’re working with a “high context” or “low context” team? High context teams work together every day, sit next to each other, and face the same problems or projects over a long period of time. Low context teams usually interact less, or come together from different departments in the company. For low context teams, you might need to do some level-setting: a research cram session, or an activity that gets the group used to working together. High context teams know how to collaborate—so they’ll need less hand-holding when it comes time to move from insight to action. 

Time is of the essence. 

Imperfect research that gets acted upon is better than perfect research that gets ignored. Make sure you understand when you’re expected to deliver insights, and the timelines others are working within. Sometimes teams are hungry for research yesterday. Sometimes their window for making changes is months and months away. Either way: understanding your window of opportunity is paramount. 

If you find yourself stuck in a reactive research rut…

Critically assess the nature of your research “to-dos.” 

If most of your research is more “reactive” than “proactive,” it might be time to look into the root of the problem. If most requests come from a place of—“We screwed up. We need to talk to some users, stat”—it’s time to stress the importance of discovery research to your team. When you find your backlog being filled with cleanup work, raise a red flag and then try to reeducate. 

Be vulnerable.

Key to good discovery research is admitting: “I don’t know.” Acknowledging that you don’t have the answers is tricky. You have to move the culture away from the standard, K-12, “raise your hand and be rewarded for knowing something.” Instead, researchers and company leadership need to be open and vulnerable, admitting what they don’t yet know in order to learn something new. 

If “the research report is dead”—what now?

Distill from the full write-up

Academic-style research reports are important for synthesizing your information—but may fall to the wayside when it gets planted on an executive’s desk. If you’re delivering a report, try to frame it journalistically by getting straight to the point and putting the most important information first. Start with a headline, then the top three things you need to know. The use a drilled-down subheadline, and the top three things you need to know about that. Highlight key points addressed in bullets. Whittle down what you need to share, and then share it in the most digestible way. Different ways to share research may work for different audiences, as well, so try to deliver in a format that works for the stakeholders.

Polished doesn’t make perfect. 

Sometimes it’s okay to turn in unfinished work. In fact, meeting people halfway through the process can make more of an impact than even the best-framed, most thorough presentation. For example, when you’re creating a journey map—the team at Even brings teams into a conference room full of giant sticky notes. They put handwritten post-its on whiteboards. They sketch, collaboratively, a paper prototype version of a journey map. And they get more cross-departmental engagement and new ideas that impact the final deliverable. 

Present findings specific to your audience. 

If your cross-team presentations aren’t landing, take the extra time to customize it for each stakeholder group. This can be as simple as taking the results of your overall synthesis and chopping it down into smaller shareables like images and videos, as well as personalizing insights and specific takeaways to each group. Stress that any meeting you invite them to is for sharing insights that are specifically relevant to their work.

If your results aren’t what your stakeholders will want to hear…

Make them say it. 

Maybe your findings aren’t what your stakeholders were looking for. It exposes that something isn’t landing, or that a project will take a lot more work. If that’s the case, the collaborative process becomes even more important. Have them watch the videos, expose them to the wrong data, and ask: “What was the theme you saw? How would you describe it?” Give them a chance to observe without your commentary, and let them be the one to articulate difficult findings. 

Frame unhoped-for results as an opportunity. 

When your research comes out differently than expected, it’s important to stay away from language that says “you were wrong.” Instead, take shared responsibility and position it as a chance for improvement. “We assumed that X would happen, but Y is what we found.” Or, “We’re lucky to have caught this. This is a great opportunity to make some positive changes.

Mac Hasley

Mac Hasley is a writer and content strategist at dscout. She likes writing words about words, making marketing less like “marketing,” and unashamedly monopolizing the office’s Clif Bar supply.

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