The IMPACTS Framework: Activate Your Insights and Keep Your Research from Being Shelved
Use this seven-part framework to ensure your work lives beyond your final share out.
Words by Devin Harold, Visuals by Allison Corr
Let me tell you a story about Jayden. Jayden is a UX Researcher who works at a mid-sized company within a centralized UX organization. They work with cross-functional partners to identify research opportunities and deliver end-to-end research: study design, data collection, analysis and a well documented findings report.
While they like their job and receive regular praise for doing great work, Jayden has wanted a promotion for a while and has been passed up on a few opportunities. When asking about this, their leader said that they need to drive more impact from their work. Reflecting on this, Jayden realized that half the time, important insights from their work go unused or even unnoticed.
Jayden would love to drive more impact and ensure their work is used but just doesn’t know where to start.
Sound like you?
It’s one thing to be a great researcher who provides invaluable insights and contributions to a team, but like our friend Jayden, it’s another thing entirely if your work never sees the light of day or doesn’t inform important decisions being made (at all levels).
In this article, you’ll be given a framework for building IMPACTS with your research so that it isn’t left sitting on a shelf.
Event announcement from dscout:
In addition to writing this excellent People Nerds resource, Devin will also be speaking at People Nerds 2022!
Throughout the presentation, he breaks down the role we all play in the product development process—setting aside titles and hierarchies to encourage every team member to become a strategic partner. Be sure to register here for the free, virtual event to secure your front-row seat.
Prefer a PDF? Download this article, alongside an IMPACTS framework checklist you can use to note your progress.
Get the PDF and IMPACTS Checklist!
What do research impacts look like?
Before diving into a framework for turning research into meaningful impacts, let’s first define what impact really means. The definition of impact tells us to “have a strong effect on someone or something.”
When we put that into the context of user research, this means that the impacts of our user research need to have strong effects on the direction of our products or experiences our business creates. The scale of your impact can vary; in some cases foundational insights can lead to entire business transformations, while in other cases (perhaps in most cases) they can lead to a pivot in the product’s direction or small product refinements.
Both ends of the impact spectrum are great, but the goal is to contribute more to the former so that we’re impacting not just product optimizations, but the ultimate product direction. It’s known that experience-led organizations outperform the S&P 500 which in turn means we need to lead our businesses through solving the unmet customer needs and filling gaps in whitespace opportunities.
Impact can also vary in scope; insights activated in the right way can lead to both internal visibility and increased rapport as well as contributing toward strong business results against KPIs such as click-through rates or conversion rates. Tactical research such as usability testing often leads to quick wins against business results and may be a great source for gaining trust of UX by skeptical stakeholders.
While it may take longer to see these strong business results through generative or more foundational research, we know that doing so leads to surpassing the local maxima in design so the experience can reach its full maximum potential. And while leading the business through generative research is a goal, impacts will only be realized to their fullest extent if they’re correctly activated within your organization.
Why a framework?
Frameworks are great to leverage when you expect to repeat the same process over again and they should be easy to remember. Within any given year, the average researcher may work across different product experiences, touching a multitude of cross-functional teams.
Repeating a similar process not only sets an example of what to expect from you within your organization while building your personal brand, but it also enables you to practice these skills and improve them over time.
To make things simple, the framework for activating insights is an acronym which serves as the ultimate goal: driving IMPACTS. So what does IMPACTS. stand for?
Involve from the beginning Motivate action Present your own work Attend the right forums Create allies Tailor the message Share liberally, gracefully
Let’s continue to unpack why these matter and how you can practice this framework in your own day-to-day projects.
When our stakeholders and leaders are closer to the unmet needs or pain points of our users, they can make more informed decisions and become advocates in conversations you may never be a part of. Think of involvement as a way to build advocacy for insights. Here are a few ways you can involve your stakeholders:
This will help identify who the important players are, their power, known interest in your work, and the desired attitudes you want them to have toward your efforts. If you don’t know who these people are, lean on one of your partners who you know is part of the project—this can be a boss, a project manager, or a designer.
Once you know who is involved in the project, take those same stakeholders and create a full R.A.C.I. matrix
This way you’ll know who you’ll need direct feedback/changes from throughout the process, and who you just need to keep informed. Alongside the stakeholder map, the R.A.C.I. matrix will provide you with an incredibly robust picture of how to engage those involved with and surrounding your work.
Consider those Accountable and Consulted part of the ‘core team’ of the project. These folks will need higher touch throughout the entire process. Those within the Inform group may be considered the “extended team.”
Ensure that all those on the extended team, especially senior leaders, have a 10,000 ft view of the research and its intentions, without providing too many unnecessary details
An executive summary of your research plan is recommended (and the same goes for the findings). To some, an executive summary is the most important piece of your findings report. For those within the core team, provide them a shared document of the actual moderation guide, or detailed question set you’ll be using where they may comment or leave direct suggestions.
Invite all core team members to the customer sessions and stress the fun and importance of attendance
Some may be skeptical of whether or not it’s a good use of their time—for designers, let them know they can make quicker, better design decisions when they understand the customer pain points first hand. For project managers, remind them that the closer they are to the customer issues, the quicker the team can act on the findings, accelerating the timeline. You can even schedule a customer watch party to make the entire experience engaging and fun!
Depending on the stakeholders in your extended team, provide weekly and/or end-of-day updates surrounding early themes
Often, I find there are two extended ‘inform’ groups: one at the manager level who may be overseeing the project from a PM or Design side but not actively working on it, and one at the Director and above level who only need to know very high-level progress. Provide the latter less frequent updates than the former group.
Include the core team in synthesis
Where appropriate, a great way to build empathy and involvement is to invite the core team to a group synthesis workshop to begin talking about the key takeaways from your research prior, or instead of, you creating a report. This provides immediate excitement and value for both Designers and PMs, while giving you an opportunity to get a temperature check surrounding what you may need to include in the report and also to provide friendly corrections of misleading or incorrect observations.
Participate in stakeholder workshops
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you may request to be involved in ideation workshops, participate in sketch sessions or to participate in design crits, so you can provide a close perspective based on your intimate knowledge of the findings. Meeting your design team where they are helps influence decision making on the granular level while also in the macro level, elevating you as a true embedded member of the team.
Motivating action goes hand-in-hand with involvement, especially for the core team. Researchers should request feedback, demand a second pair of eyes, and take ideas directly from PMs and Designers. Otherwise, stakeholders may not feel like the research findings are “theirs,” which can make it more difficult to persuade the team of more controversial findings.
As the Interaction Design Foundation says, “You need your stakeholders to have co-ownership of your research project so that you do the most relevant research and have the backup to make changes based on your research.”
Here are a few tips for how to motivate your team into action during and after the process:
During research, tag or assign team members directly in the moderator’s guide to provide specific feedback over general feedback
It can feel a lot more empowering to your stakeholders when you leverage their knowledge or expertise within feedback v.s. asking them to vaguely “give me feedback” on a moderator guide (which is not their area of expertise). If you only ask for blanket feedback, you may find they don’t leave much upfront only to later wonder why you used incorrect prototype links or provided an incorrect introduction to the product being tested. We can take inspiration from career-based feedback and ensure we know what we’re looking for, asking in real-time, and posing specific questions.
Leverage Slack during the middle of a session or directly after to begin gathering thoughts from your core team, learning from what they’ve observed
Take this time to have small asynchronous discussions to build excitement for future sessions and ensure continuity in attendance. This is also a great way of mitigating confirmation bias and encouraging the team to pay attention to certain observations or early themes you’re noticing—especially if they’re controversial or may not be widely accepted.
When presenting findings to your team, ensure there’s ample time for Q&A and discussion at the end
Point the conversation in the right direction by asking the team “what stands out?” or “is there anything surprising?” This way, you can get ahead of some partners who may rely on their intuition over customer observations when faced with conflicting or controversial findings.
This also builds excitement about the next Design phase of the project and builds early buy-in for product direction, which will be key for realizing impacts through your work.
Find the concern behind the concern
If, during a findings presentation, a stakeholder seems defensive, turn their attention away from questioning the results. Pivot, instead, towards naming and explaining their underlying concern. Go into a state of inquiry and ask open-ended questions to facilitate further collaboration. For example, you may ask “What concerns do you have regarding what we’ve learned?” or “What makes you feel that what we learned may not be right?”
In order to defer further erasure of research validity and instead motivate collaboration, suggest a follow up to solve this together. Motivated shared involvement in a solution will ensure that you both are on the same page, and that you really hear their concern. You might say “I totally hear you and appreciate your concern. While we don’t have the time to solve it here, I’d love to chat further. Can we schedule a follow up in the next week to discuss?”
Don’t be afraid to state your opinion
Often, researchers are told or taught to be completely neutral, with no room for stressing their own opinions on how to solve for unmet customer needs. That unfortunately stifles potential impacts because you are closest to the feedback. You have valuable insight to bring to the team. Voice what recommendations you feel would make the largest impacts to solve pain points or meet customer needs and plant the seed with your team.
Ensure a point person for next steps
Sometimes, research findings don’t see the light of day because they lack ownership. This is especially so when pain points are identified within a customer journey map or experience roadmap where assigned ownership can motivate direct action. This is perpetuated when those within your core team aren’t responsible for changes, such as marketing messaging, legal text, or IT. In these cases, reach out to the appropriate owners of this work and, if necessary, lean on your core team to help you identify the right people to involve in next steps.
One of the key pieces of motivation that many researchers often forget about or even fully neglect is the power of following up with the core team days, weeks or even a month after research is completed. Teams are busy. Project timelines are crazy. It’s entirely possible the team had good intentions to use the research, but forgot or were pressured into skipping over it.
Ask, “How are we solving X that we found through research?” or “How have you used the last phase of research we did?” It will go a long way for simply re-lending visibility into the work. If necessary, put a bit of pressure on the team to ensure they do so. Try saying, “We found some pretty critical problems that could cost us a lot of revenue/satisfaction… Can we set up a time to talk about how we can leverage the feedback?”
Presenting your own work seems like obvious advice. This is not meant to reference your readout, where you’d obviously present the findings of your own research work.
Presenting your own work means:
Popping in for 10 mins during another department’s staff meeting to share a one-pager on key takeaways from a recent study.
Limiting how often non-researchers discuss detailed research findings with the engineers or other departments.
Asking your boss to sit in on that executive meeting to present the findings yourself, or at the very least to be there when any detailed questions arise.
YOU sending that email over someone else because it’s in relation to your own research.
Stepping up to create those few key takeaway slides within the larger design strategy or product roadmap deck—instead of having others to create it for you.
Requesting to be included on emails in order to provide your direct POV on an insight or design direction related to your research.
Why so uptight about this rule? Why can’t we have our stakeholders present the findings to their teams themselves?
The moment a senior leader, IT partner, or other members of the organization have questions, your delegate may be unable to answer adequately. Or worse, they may unintentionally paint an inaccurate picture of what you’ve learned.
If someone else handles key takeaway slides, or an email, or a recap of your research, they may frame them in a way which gets misinterpreted, or in a way which matches their own agenda. By taking ownership of your work through representing it yourself, you’ll not only be more visible within the organization but you’ll convey the whole truth, even if it is unpopular, which often leads to more discussion and ultimately more impact.
Attend the right forums by being a part of the conversations that will have the biggest impact. Your research presentations to the core and extended teams are not the only ones which you need to attend or pay attention to, nor does attendance always necessarily mean a meeting.
Here’s how you can attend, or show up in, the right forums:
Schedule different research readouts to different groups, when necessary
If you’re sharing customer interview findings to creative marketing, design team and IT teams, you may need separate meetings which tailor the narrative to each differently (more on that later).
Sign up to share updates with senior leaders or other departments
Ask your PM or Design partners if there are any scheduled meetings you can share your work at. By sharing across more leaders and departments, you’re quietly building advocacy. Ask to attend others’ staff meetings, quarterly planning sessions, product reviews, or scrum meetings—even if just for 10 minutes—in order to represent your work.
If there is not a regular senior leader update on a key initiative you’re working on, suggest one! You can be the advocate for more visibility on behalf of the entire team. If a senior leader or important partner suggests your attendance or contributions within their staff meeting, a specific meeting or a departmental update, take them up on it and directly follow up with them if you have to.
Use your company’s existing infrastructure for updates
If there is a company or departmental newsletter, weekly or monthly update, or ‘infoshare’ meeting, sign up and volunteer to get the word out regarding your findings, especially if they’re generative/exploratory in nature and have wide reach.
Cover scheduling gaps
If you can’t attend a meeting because of vacation or a conflict, ask if it can either be rescheduled or assign a delegate who knows the work or at the very least is within your core team—you need someone close to the insights who can answer detailed questions.
Create allies within the organization who love research, have a willingness to activate insights, and use customer feedback as a means to drive strategy.
The more people you have on your side, at all levels, the more you’ll have people advocating for customer feedback throughout the product development lifecycle. Sometimes it’s not easy to influence others to see the world how your customers do.
From your stakeholder map, understand the starting points of the stakeholders you want to influence most
What do they care about? What keeps them up at night? In conversations, research presentations, or research planning—acknowledge these things and suggest that your research can help them be successful.
Speak the language of others, not the language of UX
In almost every facet of the work we do, there is a direct and proportionate business outcome. Many of the terms we use like “cognitive load,” “task completion,” “analysis paralysis,” or even “usability issue” mean nothing to non-UX stakeholders and, in turn, they may not realize the value nor implications of your findings.
If they can’t understand the value or implications of research findings, they’re less likely to see them relevant to their own goals, be advocates of UX-related work, or champion the findings to others.
Instead, leverage their starting point and what they care about to identify the terms they care about—usually that means talking about “conversions,” “retention,” “bounce rates,” “satisfaction,” “close rate,” “revenue,” or “wallet share” which are all common marketing terms that tie directly to outcomes of UX related work.
Identify who seems extraordinarily passionate about a specific issue you’ve uncovered
This can happen because their department is also responsible for elevating this issue, or even for solving this issue. Ask them who they’d recommend getting your research in front of and make it clear you’re on the same page. Because you’ll be helping ensure mutual success, this person will go to bat for you and share your insights far and wide!
Take extra time with unsure stakeholders
Remember how we motivated skeptical stakeholders above? Follow through on your meeting with them to discuss their concerns and identify a path forward. Execute on your shared solution and, if applicable, present it back to the original stakeholder group. This once skeptical stakeholder will now likely be a fierce advocate as you’ve shown that you care for their concerns and can do something about it. The next time they have concerns about something else they’re working on, they’ll be knocking on your desk!
Go out of your way (within reason) to provide favors
Someone wants you to provide an overview of “What UX Research means?” Do it. Someone asks for any insights you have on a specific topic within the past year? Instead of viewing it as a chore, view it as an opportunity to build a new connection—search your repository, ask your team members and gather anything you can to help.
Nurture your network
Haven’t worked with that awesome designer in a while? Did that user-centered PM move to a different team? Reach out to them and wish them well, see how they’ve been and keep in touch. Not only is this just nice to do, but they may have deep connections with their old teams or tricky senior leaders you’re trying to influence.
Ask your current advocates to help
Sometimes, you just need to leverage your existing network of close partners in the organization who already fight to use research at every possible chance they have. If they’re close with other peers or their leaders who you’re hoping to influence or build advocacy with, ask them to make a connection, tips and tricks, or even just to make an introduction for you. A mutual connection can really go a long way when building advocates.
Partner with other insight managers
If there are other insights organizations such as market research, data analytics, SEO, competitive intelligence etc., it may be worth setting up a separate or joint meeting with each or all of these groups to share things you’re learning.
It not only will help potentially triangulate your own custom research, but it builds allyship among other insights professionals so that the next time they’re faced with a question they cannot answer on their own, they may be more likely to remember and turn to you for help! This is especially the case if the organization at large more heavily values analytics functions over UX functions since they deal with quantitative, statistical “big data.”
Tailoring the message is crucially important to ensuring that your research findings don’t get lost in translation, and that you’re adequately providing necessary information at all levels. This is perhaps one of the most difficult soft skills of any user researcher because you need to acknowledge that different people, at different levels, require different levels of abstraction.
This applies to different forums referenced above too—the way you phrase key takeaways from your research may differ when in a 15-min segment during a cross-functional product review, or in a detailed monthly newsletter, or a snapshot found within a weekly status report.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when tailoring your message:
Identify who your audience is
This is the most important step in ensuring that you strike the right balance of breadth and depth in your level of abstraction. If you’re presenting or providing an update to very senior leaders you most likely won’t want to share any hard data or verbatim outside of that which is most critical to understanding what was learned. Senior leaders are likely quite a distance away from the core team and the day-to-day work, which means you need to define acronyms, explain terms, and get to the point.
Highlight what matters to your stakeholders
As mentioned above, you will have an easier time building advocates in others for your insights work if you’re speaking their language and understanding what is important to them. After doing this, ensure that your communications, discussion or even your findings speak to this—in order to bridge the gap between your language and theirs.
Consider this a translation from the things that matter in your world, to the things that matter in theirs. If stakeholders can see you understand their world and that the research findings are reflecting that, they’re far more likely to believe them and advocate for them.
Ensure that within every research report that you create, you have a “key takeaways” slide
This should outline the most critically important information you want anybody to take away from the research.The ‘forgetting curve’ tells us that people forget 90% of what you’ve presented to them after a week’s time. Keep in mind that most will only recall 10% of what you’ve told them, identify what you want that 10% to be, and ensure purposeful duplicity in this message within your key takeaways.
Provide necessary context, depending on the forum
If you are creating a presentation or presenting to a stakeholder group who may have little to know knowledge of the project at large let alone the research findings, you’ll need to create a few ‘context setting’ slides and/or timelines to describe the high-level picture, where you are in the project, and why this research matters all before you even get to the findings. Likewise, all of this can be skipped for the core team and you can get right to the meat of the content.
Acknowledge any political waters or technical difficulty
This can be a tricky one because you don’t want to come off disingenuous. When evangelizing findings and seeking owners to take on changes from your work, be aware of how your findings could be interpreted.
Could an insight be pointing out a flaw in someone’s earlier judgement for implementing a product feature? Could changes coming out of research cost more money than scoped at the beginning of the project? Could your research make anybody look ‘dumb’? Are you somewhat aware of how easy or difficult recommended changes may be to implement?
Armed with this, you can dodge a tricky situation, for example, “I know some of these changes won’t happen overnight, and we had to make the best judgment for this feature when we created it based on the knowledge we had. Now with this customer feedback, we know what we need to do to improve it in the next release.”
Sharing liberally and gracefully is all about not being an unnecessary gatekeeper to insights, especially when they’re generative or broad enough to be impactful to different teams within the organization.
You can do this by:
Make it part of your policy
Ensure that all of your partners know that the research you conduct can and will be shared at any point unless you’re explicitly asked not to (i.e. NDA’d projects). This ensures that everybody starts from the same page and most won’t be shocked then you’re liberally peppering multiple teams with great pieces of customer feedback that helps them make better decisions.
Time your share outs strategically
That said, it’s a good idea to share with the core team first before sharing with senior leaders or other parts of the organization. This is where the grace comes in. You’ll want to provide your direct partner teams the necessary time to wrap their heads around the problems customers have or the feedback they’ve received so that they have some preliminary solutions or directions. Without providing them this opportunity, their bosses or other senior leaders may reach out demanding changes or answers which could create swirl or undue team-wide stress.
As mentioned above, by attending the right forums, try to identify all potential stakeholder groups that you may want to share the insights with. This is easier done after the research has been conducted rather than before because then you know what you’ve learned and how it may be beneficial to certain teams. Doing so prematurely before you have insights may actually hurt your relationship with some teams if you in fact don’t have anything meaningful to share after all.
While sharing is caring, be careful how you share your findings
It’s often recommended to share static, uneditable versions of your findings reports in order to avoid a worst case scenario: a stakeholder attempts to alter, soften or bolster a particular narrative that better suits their cause. Part of sharing liberally (and presenting your own work) is that you can provide unfiltered insights to the right teams, at the right times, so that everyone is well informed of both what is working, and especially what is not.
Consider suggesting to some stakeholders, especially senior leaders, that you send them regular updates on a topic that matters to them
In this case, you are creating a new forum tailored to them so they’re sure to get unfiltered, unbiased insight directly from the source. This can come in the form of a simple email, a rolling deck that’s consistently updated, or even a newsletter.
We’ve covered the most important parts of building IMPACTS within any organization: Involve from the beginning, Motivate action, Present your own work, Attend the right forums, Create allies, Tailor the narrative, and Share liberally yet gracefully. In order for your work to reach its full potential, you’ll need to practice each step consistently and across multiple projects.
Try this framework on your next project, no matter how big or small and if it doesn’t work the first time, don’t give up. Try again. Try involving different stakeholders next time, or attending different forums. Try creating new allies or tailoring the narrative in a different way. Consider reflecting on your delivery of the insights rather than the insights themselves. And let me know how it goes!
Now, go make some IMPACTS with your work.
Download the PDF + IMPACTS Framework Checklist
Devin Harold is a Sr. Manager—Head of UX Research for Consumer Digital Channels at Verizon. He leads a team focused on delivering foundational research to drive strategy within Sales, Assist, Account & Platform experiences across dotcom, native app, and conversational channels.
Outside of Verizon, Devin loves being involved in the UX community. He is a guest lecturer and critic for Carnegie Mellon University and a member of the Design Leadership Forum by InVision.
Subscribe To People Nerds
A weekly roundup of interviews, pro tips and original research designed for people who are interested in people