min read ·
September 8, 2020

Growing a user-centric mindset for less

Experience Design Practice Lead

Ruben Cardoso

With over 12 years of practice in product strategy and design, Ruben is passionate about people and problem solving through innovation. He is a strong and empathetic leader inspiring teams to deliver the best customer experiences.

I've always battled in projects and teams with limited budgets. And often, the first thing to be impacted or getting the chop is user research. 

Team member conducting research

Trying to keep costs low, means juggling several user experience activities, and when you often only have one user experience designer in a team, priorities force you to reduce and focus. This priorities juggling frequently affects the depth and regularity of research activities. Stakeholders tend to prefer more features over fewer features that are properly researched and qualified, go figure.

I've never dealt well with rejection and 'you don't have a budget for research' translated in having to be creative and still gathering user insights with a limited budget, time and resources. So I've often fantasised with the idea of delegating research tasks with those interested in and benefiting from the insight, so I decided to try it. It turned out pretty successful and when I’ve applied this method, many benefits came with it. 

So why should you get your developers, stakeholders, clients, product owners, business analysts, managers and whoever appropriate to participate in the user research process? 

  1. It spreads the load. While for a researcher, it might take 8 hours to interview eight people, for four people it is just 2 hours of their time. It's simple maths, and it makes everyone's time investment more manageable.
  2. It creates ownership and user ambassadors. It's hard to get people in the user's shoes. Research findings from a researcher are brilliant, but they are second hand. There is nothing like building proper empathy by asking the questions yourself and listening directly from users.
  3. More responses quicker. It's a no brainer, but by having several people conducting research simultaneously, you have the potential to get a larger sample of responses in less time.

I've defined five steps to effectively delegating and scaling user research across stakeholders.

1. Engage the interested and relevant

I start with three questions before involving anyone in a research activity:

  • Who sees the value in running research and buys into the process?
  • Who benefits from the insight?
  • Who can easily engage with the user target?

Those that match at least a couple of these are generally good candidates. Start with a small set of people, gauge their interest and willingness to conduct research with a quick chat and share the initial research objectives (if they're not already aware of it). As you progress, you can always ask those involved for additional researchers from their teams/colleagues.

2. Plan with those involved

Assumptions matrix example
Assumptions matrix example

Start with a workshop with those recruited. Agree on objectives, research scope and timeframe for gathering insights. Define your user segments together, recruitment criteria and research setting to make sure everyone involved understands to engage the right users to guarantee accurate and relevant responses.

During this workshop, it's also critical to figure all assumptions and areas to validate, map them out in a research matrix and define testing activities or questions to answer. This matrix will help those involved keep track of the areas this research activity will cover and those that might need other activities for validation.

3. Create a script

Questions themes and script
Questions themes and script

For most research activities, a script is vital for gathering findings consistently and effectively. Scripts are particularly crucial if you're delegating the task.

Defining questions, matching them to research objectives and making sure they answer the assumptions to validate. Grouping them into themes and ordering the pieces, so the research flows smoothly. It's also important to time the script, so everyone involved has a good understanding of the activity length and to keep it within a reasonable timeframe.

Make sure to include an introduction, some screening questions (if needed) and closing remarks; these are particularly important to make those who don't usually conduct research comfortable with doing so. Ultimately, remind those involved that a script is just a guide and the most important aspect of any user conversations is to actively listen.

4. Make capturing results simple

Shared spreadsheet to capture results
Shared spreadsheet to capture results

Having a system to capture results in place is as (if not more) important as providing a good script. Create a standard format to capture insight, whether it's in a paper format or a shared Google sheet; all researchers should use it and have clear instructions on how to complete them. 

A shared document with multiple contributors helps share insight quicker and start drawing initial patterns and discussions as the research activities happen.

5. Synthesise and share insights

Hopefully, if you've followed the last four steps, this final step will be relatively easy. Like in any research, in an easily shareable format, capture the methodology, participants sample, and draw up your conclusions and insights into themes. Most importantly, thank those involved and recognise their efforts. The ultimate reward is the shared users' understanding and upping your team's knowledge to make better and informed decisions.

While this might be an incredibly powerful way to grow and scale your user research, this method might not necessarily be helpful in every project. Particularly if you have hard to reach user groups or your team members don’t have extra capacity. But for those that it does work the benefits outweigh the hardships and investment. Ultimately the greatest value in expanding your research capabilities across your stakeholders lies in having a more user-centric and customer-focused team that become true user experience advocates.


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