I decided it was time to take a step back, and instead of trying to
make user research a part of everyone else's strategy, I created a
strategy for user research.
Every project and initiative should have a clear set of goals and outcomes. Creating a user research strategy was no different. Did I want to rush ahead and make something already? Yes, absolutely. I already had some ideas about what this strategy would include.
However, I had been burned by running headlong into initiatives
without being more thoughtful. So, I took the more mature (and sometimes
painstakingly slow) approach, because I wanted to do this as well as
I had some ideas on what I wanted to accomplish with this strategy,
but I had to remind myself that this strategy wasn't just for me. I was also creating this strategy for my colleagues and stakeholders. So why wouldn't I include them in the process?
I set out to do stakeholder interviews
to gain clarity on what my stakeholders' expectations were of this
strategy, and how it could help them through interviews and thought
In the end, the goals of the strategy included:
- Being more proactive with user research
- Identifying opportunities for learning through a research roadmap and backlog
what we were trying to accomplish as a user research
team/department/function in the next three months, six months, and 12
- Identifying the types of research that would be the most impactful for the organization and the research function
- Clarity on the resources we needed to achieve the goals and missions we wanted to accomplish
user research fits in with current processes and sharing the necessary
process for user research that might not fit into the Agile box
- Straightforward prioritization methods to ensure the most impactful work is getting done
- A way to determine impact and measure the success of the team across time
Creating and practicing a user research strategy
Creating a user research strategy is only one piece of the puzzle. We also need to activate and practice it consistently. You only have to do some of the activities once and then revisit them every once in a while, but some require more upkeep.
Here is the process I go through when creating and activating a user research strategy.
✔ Define the mission
The mission is all about the value the team currently provides the organization, and what that team is at the core.
When defining a mission, I thought about the different levels of an organization that user research impacts:
I then brainstormed how research is valuable to that particular level. For example, user research can support designers in their choice of how to design something. Or, user research can help customer support teams focus on more important things than tickets about bugs.
I then synthesized this information as best I could into a concise mission: "To deliver high-quality insights and findings that help individuals and teams make more user-centric decisions, and to help ensure we are solving real problems while saving time and money for the organization."
✔ Create the vision
The vision breaks down the mission by understanding how we will actualize and achieve the above mission. In this step, I deconstruct the mission into smaller parts and ask, "How can I help achieve this part of the mission?"
So, for instance, the above mission has:
- High-quality insights and findings
- Teams making more user-centric decisions
- Ensuring we solve real problems
- Saving money and time for the organization
How, as a research function, can I tangibly impact those areas? So, for instance, helping teams make more user-centric decisions means:
- I need to know what teams are working on
- I need to align my research efforts with their work and expected outcomes
- I need to conduct research that informs whatever gaps in knowledge or questions they have
I need to meet with my teams regularly to align with their work. Again, I do this for each part of the mission until I have a vision with several parts that would help me achieve that particular mission.
✔ Break down goals
Next, I go into goals. While the mission and vision tend to last longer, goals are something that changes on a more regular basis. Since I like to be proactive, I push myself to develop goals for three, six, and 12 months. Of course, those 12-month goals have changed in the past because of the nature of fast-paced companies, but I still find the exercise valuable.
Whenever I approach three- or six-month goals, I use OKRs aligned with the teams I work with and the business. For this step, I have conversations with my teams and other stakeholders, asking questions like:
- What are your goals for the next three to six months?
- What are you hoping to achieve in the next three to six months?
- What metrics are important to you in the next three to six months?
Once I have these conversations, I utilize the information to create OKRs for the research team. There are two types of goals I focus on:
- External goals, which focus on product- or company-based goals. These goals primarily look at moving metrics, such as increasing acquisition, decreasing time on task, or understanding users on a larger scale.
- Internal goals include optimizing the current user research practice by increasing stakeholder satisfaction, decreasing the time between research requests and research starting, and decreasing recruitment time.
I typically meet with stakeholders bi-weekly to ensure I am supporting them with their most relevant goals.
✔ Set up a research roadmap and backlog
Setting up a research roadmap and backlog allows you to ensure project transparency, track what kind of work you’re doing, and help you understand your capacity for upcoming work.
By aligning this roadmap and backlog to your mission/vision and the goals of the team and organization, you ensure you’re doing the most impactful work consistently.
Read all about creating a UXR roadmap and backlog here.
✔ Create a transparent prioritization process
In many roles, I was the only researcher covering multiple teams. I would get requests weekly (and sometimes daily). For a while, I tried to do all the research. I ran several sessions at once, occasionally confusing which test I was conducting. After a time, my manager pulled me aside, and we discussed how unsustainable my workload was.
He asked me a fundamental question that I continue to ask myself: "If you could only do the most impactful research, what would it be?"
That question was eye-opening.
I had no idea if I was picking and conducting the most impactful research for the organization. Since I was trying to fit in everything, I cut corners and focused less on the essential research. Finally, I realized I couldn't do every research project, and I had to start prioritizing the most impactful research across teams and the company.
Check out my nine-step approach to prioritization, plus an awesome template!
✔ Track impact over time
Tracking the impact of research over time can be difficult. For example, so many teams contribute to a product's or feature's success, so it can be challenging to understand how user research contributes to this.
I follow a model that looks at…
- External impact, which looks at areas such as product metrics or strategic change for the product or organization.
- Internal impact, which looks at your team and processes, and how they affect user research value and perception across the organization.
Every time user research impacts an individual, team, multiple departments, or organization, I write down the impact so we can track this over time to see what we are affecting and at what level.
✔ Make a resource sheet
The last thing I have for a research strategy is a resource sheet. This sheet includes the budget we have for tools, research incentives, hiring, and the team's capacity. This resource sheet helps me identify if things need to change in any way. For instance, if we take on too many requests, we might have to look into a tool to help us or hire another team member.