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User Research x Product Teams: How to Build a Stronger Partnership

Working closely with product managers, designers, and developers not only enhances the user experience, but sets the foundation for user research growth.

Words by Nikki Anderson, Visuals by Thumy Phan

Product managers, designers, and developers are the first line of roles you typically work with as a user researcher. Fostering these relationships and collaborating with these colleagues is essential to creating a mature user research organization. Lacking support from these teams makes it very difficult to integrate user research into the organization.

While working with these teams, it helps to treat them as you would users. You want your work to be easy to understand, easily accessible, and relevant to them. To build a successful working relationship, you’ll need to collaborate early and often to ensure research is prioritized, insights are listened to, and decisions are made.

This article is part of our collaboration playbook series:

Recognize their goals

To help these teams understand the value of user research, we need to first understand their goals and day-to-day activities.

By taking note of how our projects can partner with their initiatives, we can create deliverables that are the most valuable to them. Ultimately, giving them a clear picture of where research can pair directly with their goals.

Product managers

Product managers sit between technology and the business. Aligning with their goals can help ensure that your research gets prioritized and used. Here are some common goals I've seen for product managers:

  1. Understanding what the right thing to build is
  2. Knowing how to create the right thing efficiently and effectively
  3. Measuring success against metrics aligned with the business goals and expected outcomes
  4. Bringing the team together to work on achieving the above

Designers

Having a working relationship with design is critical. When you work closely to help designers, the user's experience is directly improved. Here are some goals I have found are essential to designers:

  1. Improve the customer satisfaction of the product
  2. Enhance the usability of the product through increased efficiency and effectiveness on user's main tasks and goals
  3. Decreasing the number of bugs reported and the number of support tickets regarding the experience
  4. Designers also have added goals depending on the team they are working on, such as increasing retention, customer lifetime value, or acquisition. (Ex. Decrease metrics such as bounce rate, exit rate, or account deletion; and increase metrics such as click-thru rate, or sign-up rate)

Developers

Developers can be hard to crack, but integrating them into research can help teams make more user-centric decisions. Also, understanding the developers' goals and making insights work toward those goals can get the team on your side. Some of the goals I usually speak to are:

  1. Build something usable and enjoyable for customers
  2. Reduce the number of bugs and issues the customers encounter
  3. Delivering updates or new products on time
  4. Continuously enhancing the current product

Often, your teams' goals become your own. Knowing what these teams are trying to achieve can help you track the impact of user research across an organization.

For instance, if a team focuses on acquiring new customers and you improve the user experience through research insights, you can use that goal to measure your influence. Of course, it is always important to sit with these teams to understand what they are trying to accomplish.

Understand their history working with UXR

Every team (and person) has had a different experience working with user research. Depending on their career, perhaps they’ve had a very close relationship with your team, or, if you’re a team of one, this is their first time working with user research.

It is essential to understand their previous experience with user research and any biases they hold. One effective way to get this insight is by setting up a meeting and asking them about the relationship.

In this meeting, I typically go over the following questions:

If I asked you to define user research for me, how would you explain it?

Through this question, you will understand any knowledge gaps or biases the person may have about user research. With this information, you can help inform or educate your colleagues.

Have you ever worked with a user researcher before? If yes, tell me about the experience?

By understanding how they have worked with user researchers in the past, you can uncover how you can best work together in the future.

How do you feel about user research?

This question can help you better understand their fears or anxieties surrounding user research, allowing you to brainstorm ways to counteract them.

Tell me what happened the last time you did user research.

By hearing about a previous project, you can gather colleagues' expectations, pain points, and needs when conducting a project.

How do you imagine user research helping you?

With this information, you tie it all together and plant the seed for working together. The answer to this question can give you specific action items to get started on facilitating your relationship.

Identifying how to help one another

By aligning with these goals, you can create enriching partnerships. Understanding where you all can benefit ensures that you conduct the most integral research to help these teams make immediate decisions.

This symbiotic relationship can help the product move in the right direction and help you do the most impactful research.

How can user research help product managers?

There are a few ways I like to help product managers in their day-to-day:

  1. Aligning research projects with their goals so that we are doing research that helps them improve relevant metrics
  2. Allowing them to quickly request research through simple processes, such as an intake form
  3. Creating a research roadmap that matches up with their upcoming roadmap
  4. Surfacing relevant research to the team through research summaries or building an easily accessible research repository
  5. Making deliverables (such as personas, journey maps, and reports) that help product managers make more informed decisions on what to focus on next

How can user research help designers?

User researchers and designers are interested in improving usability and increasing satisfaction, so it is easy to find overlap.

  1. Being the "voice of the customer" during design critiques to keep users top of mind
  2. Sketching sessions to brainstorm how to improve the experience after getting feedback from a current design or prototype
  3. Consistently providing feedback from users on designs or prototypes, whether that is from quantitative data, qualitative data, or sourcing data from an app or product reviews
  4. Surfacing relevant research through research summaries or building an easily accessible research repository
  5. Making deliverables (such as personas, journey maps, and reports) that help designers create user-centric designs/prototypes

How can user research help developers?

  1. Surfacing relevant research through research summaries that help developers ensure they are building with the user in mind
  2. Inviting developers to research sessions, so they get direct exposure to users
  3. Being the "voice of the customer" when developers are scoping which work to prioritize and helping them determine the impact of their work

As I mentioned, always check with both teams as there may be organization-specific ways user research can help teams at your company.

How can product managers, designers, and developers help user researchers?

These teams are highly involved in what gets built and how it looks/feels, so getting support from them is a top priority. Working together with these teams has helped me immensely in the past:

  1. Helping to prioritize the product roadmap through data on customer's needs and issues
  2. Understanding the business goals to align research projects at a strategic level
  3. Prioritizing the different groups of customers, we should start speaking with - especially helpful when you are just starting at a company
  4. Ensuring our products get feedback from users so that we can measure impact across the organization

Best studies to collaborate on

You’re likely to work with these teams more frequently than other departments in your organization. Since these teams tend to have shared goals, helping out one role generally enables the other roles.

Here are some studies to use when working with product managers, designers, and developers:

  • 1:1 interviews: to validate the most common pain points and putting them into the upcoming roadmap
  • Concept testing: to give direction on product validation before building
  • Journey map interviews: to create a playbook that details what role is acting in whatever phase of your customer journey
  • Surveys to help validate user struggles: and common pain points they’re facing
  • Improvement surveys: to help determine which feature to focus on next
  • Usability testing: on flows that seem to be difficult to users and come up often during customer conversations or comparative usability testing to compare designs
  • Surveys that measure customer satisfaction: how its changed over time, such as the System Usability Scale
  • Card sorting and tree testing: to help structure the information architecture of a product
  • Heuristic evaluations: to ensure prototypes or designs are not violating any common principles

How to share findings

Meetings, meetings, meetings! The number of meetings might be complex if you are a solo user researcher, but ideally, you meet with these teams as often as possible. The best way to share is to stay visible and repeatedly bring up relevant insights.

Bi-weekly catch-ups

I meet bi-weekly with my product managers and designers to discuss research in progress and upcoming research. In this meeting, we discuss any blockers or time issues, and we take a quick look at our respective roadmaps.

Research roadmap and backlog

I always have a research roadmap and backlog that I share consistently with the teams. This document keeps them updated on what is happening and what is coming up. I also ensure that we have constant alignment between the research and product roadmaps.

Share-outs

Usually, I give share-outs to respective teams whenever a research project ends. If the project spans multiple teams, I do a wider share out for everyone and create catered research summaries.

Regular updates

Whether by slack, email, or snail mail, I always create regular updates for my teams for ongoing research. These little tidbits could be something I found interesting in the session or something we could fix immediately.

Video and audio clips

Whenever I share a report, presentation, or minor update, I always include video and audio clips. These clips are beneficial if people can't (or won't) come to your research sessions. At the end of a study, I link a few minutes worth of clips together to create a highlight reel, giving these colleagues a good understanding of the main themes.

Deliverables

Creating personas, journey maps, and other typical deliverables help these teams stay focused and informed. These deliverables contain a lot of detail that teams can use to make decisions on many different projects.

Teaming up with designers, product managers, and developers greatly enhances your work and ensures you are conducting the most impactful research for your respective teams. Additionally, with overlapping goals, you can start to measure the impact of research across your organization, proving the value of user research.

Nikki Anderson is the founder of User Research Academy and a qualitative researcher with 8 years in the field. She loves solving human problems and petting all the dogs. Explore her research courses here or read more of her work on Medium.

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