Feedback and iteration are as crucial for self-development as they are for product development. As researchers, we know that getting feedback is essential, but it can be challenging for our work to be assessed regularly.
When I was a user researcher team of one, feedback cadence was especially difficult. But, even when you do have team members, there may be limited time and capacity to gather feedback, especially if your manager is not a user researcher or unfamiliar with user research.
During my solo UXR days, I developed a handful of ways to get frequent feedback from stakeholders. This feedback was essential for my development and allowed me to understand my blind spots.
1. Ask for feedback and share early
Although it might sound obvious, we need to make it clear that we want feedback from our colleagues. When I began my career, I was terrified of getting comments or questions from stakeholders about my research plan or report.
When an email popped into my inbox notifying me of a comment, I would instantly get nervous. Stakeholders could feel my trepidation and, as time went on, I received fewer comments and only shared finalized and finished reports or documents.
Over time, I learned how important this feedback was and openly asked people to leave comments and questions on my documents. I started to share everything as early as possible, marking it as a draft to give colleagues a chance to share their thoughts.
I highly recommend sending over any documents as soon as possible and asking for people's feedback. If colleagues know you are open to feedback, they will give it to you!
2. Send a stakeholder satisfaction survey
While typically used for customer feedback, anonymous surveys are a great way to get authentic feedback from anyone. Try using an anonymous satisfaction survey with colleagues to gather input about a project.
After running many projects, I realized I wasn't sure, except for a passing comment or note, how stakeholders felt about my research practice. Although I would ask them for feedback, there was no way to consistently and adequately track project satisfaction. So I took inspiration from the surveys we send customers and started a stakeholder satisfaction survey. This survey includes questions like:
- "How easy or difficult was it to work with the research team?"
- "Overall, how satisfied or dissatisfied are you with the research process?"
- "How satisfied or dissatisfied are you with the outcome of the research?"
- "How do you feel about the insights from the research?"
- "What can be improved about the process?" and/or "What can we improve about the outcome of the research?"
I sent this survey at the end of every project to each stakeholder involved and asked them to fill it out. This information has helped me understand the kinks in the process and where things can be improved.
3. Hold a retrospective
If you are looking for direct feedback from team members, the best thing to do is hold (or be a part of) a retrospective. Many teams have retrospectives at the end of projects, and you can either hold your own or join a pre-planned retrospective. I generally structure my retrospectives with three discussion questions:
- Stop: What needs to be changed or improved about the current process?
- Start: What new processes or steps can we introduce to try improving the current process
- Continue: What went well and should continue happening?
Similar to the stakeholder survey, this will give you great feedback on your processes and how you work with stakeholders.
The tips above can help you get critical feedback on your processes, communication, and overall framework, but you might not always get the granular comments.
Before I worked with other researchers and a user research manager, I did a lot of self-assessment. During that time, I created templates to give myself feedback when others can't:
- Interview assessment: This template gives you an easy way to grade your interviews. I used to use this after every interview I conducted, and it helped me understand where I needed to improve. I also wrote a 10-principal framework with more information on this.
- "Failure" journal: Failure is the best tool for learning and improving. This template allows you to track what went well and what needs to improve. Over time, this should give you an understanding of your most significant opportunity areas (ex: stakeholder management) and where you have improved most.
- Create goals: Career and development goals help give you focus, which is precisely what you need when trying to improve. By creating plans, you can understand what you need to improve upon next and how you will get there.
- Skills inventory: Taking inventory of your skills each quarter can give you a great idea of what you still need to learn to level up in your career.
- Reach out to the community: (scroll down in the article). There are many Facebook and Slack groups you can join. In this community, there is often a channel to share your work and ask for feedback. Just make sure you are giving back as well!
5. User research reviews
If you have a team of researchers or colleagues with research experience, setting up a user research review might be a great place to get feedback on your work.
I like to structure my user research reviews as weekly recurring meetings in our calendars, usually about one hour long (so people are more likely to come). Within this format, typically, one or two researchers can present their work, with each researcher having about thirty minutes to present and then get feedback.
This meeting is an excellent opportunity to get more granular feedback on documents, reports, or processes. Check out how I structure and run user research reviews here.
6. Talk to your manager
Even if your manager is not a user researcher and isn’t super comfortable with user research, you can still use this relationship to your advantage.
When I've worked with managers outside of user research, I made sure to:
- Create weekly 1x1s. During this time, share with your manager where you are blocked or struggling. Having this visibility helps your manager become aware of the issues you’re encountering so you both can strategize on how to solve them.
- Share your work. Even if your manager isn't a user researcher, share my work and ask for feedback. Chances are, your manager is in a position to help give you helpful feedback on areas such as communication, storytelling, or stakeholder management. This information can be beneficial when going into meetings or presenting your work to others.
- Speak about development goals. Every quarter, make sure to share your goals with your manager and talk about acting on them. Even if your manager isn’t super clear about your career progression, you can still align on expectations and needs.
- Ask for a budget. For funding I recommend first asking for books, training courses, and tools. If you share your struggles during the weekly 1x1s, you can make a case for tools to help your processes like recruitment agencies, transcription services, or a research repository tool.
- Ask for a headcount. Listing out everything you’re contributing to and what else you need allows you to approach your manager about headcount and propose both a lean scenario and an ideal scenario. For example, a lean strategy would be hiring an intern or freelancer for a few months to help during a busy time, whereas hiring one or two full-time employees would be ideal.
7. Seek mentorship inside and outside of your organization
There are many ways to learn both inside and outside of your organization. If there is another user researcher on the team that you look up to, ask them if they would be willing to help you with your specific goals.
Also, many people in an organization, outside of user research, can help you. For example, I have worked closely with product analysts to understand quantitative data or the marketing team to learn about content testing.
There are also many opportunities for mentorship and learning outside of your organization. I always recommend reaching out to the UXR community and looking for events or programs. Many companies will offer to pay for these learning instances, either fully or partially.
A final grain of salt
Just as an aside, take the feedback you receive with a grain of salt, especially if it is from people unfamiliar with user research. While new perspectives can give you a fresh outlook, they may not always guide you in the right direction.
Whenever you receive feedback, always look at the whole picture of who you received it from, how they gave it, and how many times you’ve received similar information from others.
Feedback can unlock areas of opportunity that you weren't even aware of and enable you to climb in your career. It can sometimes be hard to receive criticism, but opening yourself up to feedback loops is one of the best ways to learn. Although I shied away from it early on in my career, shifting my mindset was arguably one of the most significant things I could have done to move forward in my role. So start small and keep your head up!