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UX Research 101: Creating a UX Research Plan

December 29, 2023

UX research helps you stay user centric and build products that users love. Nevertheless, running user research must be conducted with a well crafted plan for it to drive the most value and bring ROI to the organization. For a successful UX research program, teams must establish attainable research objectives and put effort into crafting a research plan that can help the entire company stay in focus and align on what the goals and the purpose of the research are.

In this post, we will show a detailed how-to-guide to build strong UX research plans, providing best practices and templates to help launch your UX research and make it as successful as possible. We will also share tips and know-hows from industry leaders from companies that have successfully adopted a UX research plan within their team.

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What is a UX research plan?

A UX research plan is a manual that guides research projects typically run by a UX research team. The content and the structure of the UX research plan typically follows the general ideas contained within the broader UX research strategy.

In the UX research plan, includes a holistic summary of strategies, UX research methodologies, participant recruitment strategy as well as task assignments.

Creating a project plan structures your thinking around the research activity. Plans keep stakeholders involved and informed, while reducing the need for calls and meetings. Documenting your research-project planning can help prevent misunderstandings, unwanted method variation, and unnecessary rework.

- Susan Farrell
Principal UX Researcher at mmhmm

What are the benefits of using a UX research plan?

Without a good plan, UX research projects can lose their impact and teams can face challenges when trying to align on the purpose and the ultimate goals. There are some important benefits that can drive the

  • Helps define timeline and project structure
  • Ensures that the research aligns with the overarching business goals
  • Efficient allocation of resources
  • Helps in setting milestones and tracking progress

Helps define timeline and project structure

The research plan becomes an instruction set for the entire team so that anyone within the team can track the milestones and current progress. This provides the right framework to monitor the project and it also ensures that the research stays on schedule and is completed within the designated timeframe.

Ensures that the research aligns with the overarching business goals

Good research plans helps define clear research objectives and goals, ensuring that everyone involved understands what needs to be achieved. This clarity keeps the research focused and on track. Furthermore, having a clear set of objectives also helps align the stakeholders so that the research results can help the team to make strategic decisions and meeting specific objectives.

Efficient allocation of resources

Research plans help with the efficient allocation of resources, including time, budget, and personnel. With a plan in place, you can allocate resources more effectively, preventing waste and ensuring that only what is needed for each step of the process is spent. Secondly, UX research plans help save time and money because it helps to make design adjustments prior to writing any code than addressing usability problems after the product has been released into the hands of customers. Furthermore, having a plan provides clear direction for your team, ensuring that research and user interactions have a purpose, and resources are used more efficiently.

The components of a UX research plan

There are several components that should be part of a good UX research plan. Just like setting up a financial budget or a construction blue print before starting to lay the cornerstones of a building, the research plan will provide a place where you and your team can write down all the steps that you need to achieve before finalizing the project.

Here are some of the most important things to include in a UX research plan:

  • Summary of the overarching strategy and objectives.
  • Overview of research goals
  • The purpose of the research and the constituent studies
  • Summary of target audience, sample size, recruitment method and scope
  • Expected deliverables, timelines and responsible team members
  • UX research methodologies used, accompanied by a brief rationale for their selection
  • Test setup or guidelines including scenarios and screening questions
  • Inclusion of test scripts, interview questions, or sample formats to be followed.
  • Plans to share the insights across the team
  • Project cost summary

How to create a UX research plan

Here are the key steps to building a solid UX research plan:

  1. Establish the problem
  2. Get buy-in from stakeholders
  3. Define the project objectives
  4. Choose the appropriate UX research methods
  5. Choose the appropriate participant recruitment methods
  6. Prepare the research guide
  7. Set the timeline
  8. Decide how you’ll present your findings

1. Establish the problem

One of the most important purposes of a research plan is to identify what you’re trying to achieve with the research, and clarify the problem statement. Gloria Lo a Lead UX designer at Canva, wrote on one of her blogs: “Before you begin your research, it’s important to understand the overarching goal of the research. For instance, let’s say you’ve been employed as the designer to understand whether there is a need for a company’s subscription product as the business has noticed that a number of users landing on their website have failed to convert.”

Various methods can be used to write the problem statement, including stakeholder interviews, team collaborative sessions, or reviewing customer feedback. The problem statement is the foundation of the research project, helping you to draft the following components of the plan including the scope, along with well-defined deliverables and objectives.

2. Get buy-in from stakeholders

It's considered best practice to involve stakeholders during the initial stages of creating a UX research plan to ensure alignment. Sharing your plan with relevant stakeholders allows you to gain valuable context, make adjustments based on their feedback, and understand their priorities. When presenting the research plan to key stakeholders, it's essential to establish mutual agreement on the research scope and clarify how and when you'll provide them with the results.

Stakeholders typically possess unique perspectives on the product, and it's crucial to capture these insights early in the process. This doesn't necessarily mean agreeing to every suggestion, but rather, it involves active listening and engaging in meaningful conversations. Viewing the UX research plan as a dynamic document facilitates easy editing based on team input. Moreover, the more you embrace and incorporate diverse ideas, the more effective you'll be in advocating for the value of research and garnering stakeholder support.

“Provide written goals, user profiles, tasks, and participant scenarios as soon as possible, so any concerns and questions can be discussed well in advance”

- Susan Farrell
Principal UX Researcher at mmhmm

3. Define the project objectives

Well-defined and well-aligned objectives are essential for guiding your research efforts effectively and ensuring that you gather valuable insights to inform your design decisions and meet your project goals. Before kicking off the project, understanding what you are doing, why you are doing it and what you expected out of the project will be important to bring successful results.

Here are some potential examples of what your UX research objectives may look like:

  • Understand why users are churning from your product
  • Learn which competitors your target users are using
  • Understand the potential interest in new features
  • Identify hurdles in onboarding and signing up to the product
  • Uncover any challenges users face when navigating through your product

Setting clear project objectives ensures structured thinking and prevents any misunderstandings, unwanted variations and scope creeping, making sure that the research process and insights are as concise as possible

Here are some of the questions you should be asking yourself when setting research objectives:

  • Why do we need this information?
  • How will the team use this information to drive value?
  • Which team members will need this information?

Secondly, you can also ask these questions to crystalize the problem statement

  • Who is the product for and what’s our target audience?
  • What are their problems and needs?
  • Are there any challenges and pain points they have while using the product?
  • Are they using any competing product? If not, why so?

4. Choose the appropriate UX research methods

Select with UX research methods you will use for your project. Use the research objectives and clearly define what are the results you want to deliver to the rest of the team. Assess what stage of the product development cycle you are in, how quickly you need to deliver the insights and the overall budget & resource allocation. Based on this evaluation, you can select one or many research methods that can satisfy your requirements.

If you are beginning the design process for a new feature, using generative research such as user interviews, field studies or focus groups will help you gain a more clear understanding of your target audience. If you are a bit more advanced and have a wireframe or prototype, you can run unmoderated usability tests or moderated usability tests to collect feedback on the product concept.

Furthermore, it’s always best to combine different UX research methodologies including quantitative, qualitative, attitudinal, behavioral and others. Having a variety of data points from different sources allows you and the team to understand the user better and understand the “why” behind the testing results. For example, for sign up friction, looking at click data and onboarding funnels may not fully indicate what the pain point is.

Here are the key UX research methods that you can consider for your project:

Discuss with your team on the right UX research methodologies

5. Choose the appropriate participant recruitment methods

Each research plan should contain details about the participants required for the study and the methodology for their recruitment. To find the ideal research candidates, it's important to reevaluate your research objectives and the questions you are looking to answer. Construct an ideal user persona that encompasses the key demographics and usage scenarios. Additionally, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Can you recruit participants from your internal user base?
  • How much can you spend on incentives?
  • Do you need to use an external participant pool?
  • Whats the aimed sample size?

When selecting research participants, it's important to ensure that they are good representations of your target personas. If your product is used by diverse types of users, it's crucial that the individuals you include in your research can represent these users well. This means that you must take a holistic approach to recruiting by not only including your primary personas but also secondary personas that may not interact with your product like your primary users but are still an important part of your user base.

You must also take into consideration device coverage. Depending on the product, testing on mobile and web together may be crucial to get a full understanding of your users needs and behaviors. For example, running a study on a P2P payment app based in Latin America, needs to take into consideration android devices because android devices command the largest market share in Latin America. When deciding on your recruitment methodology, please also make sure to include the right sample size and how long they will have to engage in each research session.

Here are some of the main methods to recruit research participants

  • Recruit testers directly from your user base
  • Use in-product surveys to form an internal pool or participants
  • Using an online participant recruitment tool like Hubble’s panel
  • Use ads to find participants (this is most effective for B2C companies)
  • Reach out to prior participants

Determine participant compensation

You should always reward your test participants for their time and insights. Not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also because if they have an incentive they’re more likely to give you complete and insightful answers. If you’re hosting the studies in person, you’ll also need to cover your participants' travel expenses and secure a research space. Running remote moderated or unmoderated research is often considered to be less expensive and faster to complete.

🖌️ Quick Tip
Select the appropriate incentive amount and method for your participants. Depending on whether you need B2C or B2B participants, your approach needs to be different.

Always remember to compensate your test participants for their time and valuable insights. Providing the right incentive can enhance the likelihood of receiving thorough and insightful responses. Moreover, when participants have are paid, they are more motivated to provide comprehensive feedback. If your research sessions are conducted in person, it's important to cover participants' travel expenses and arrange a suitable research environment. Most of the time (except for hardware companies and consumer products), conducting remote moderated or unmoderated research is often seen as a cost-effective and quicker alternative.

6. Prepare the research guide

The next piece of your research plan is including a quick guide for your research sessions. The specific type of guide you need will vary depending on your chosen UX research method. For moderated (i.e. user interviews, field studies, or focus groups) a detailed guide and script are needed. The purpose of the research guide is to serve as a reference, reminding you of the questions to ask and ensuring that the sessions stay on track.

Your script should include the following:

  1. Introduction:  The intro always contains a brief message that you'll give to participants at the start of each session. It helps to start the conversation, helping set the tone for the discussion. If your research is conducted without a moderator, you should include an introductory message that explains the research's purpose and the expected type of responses from participants, such as the desired length and specificity of their answers.
  2. Questions: Include a comprehensive list of questions that you intend to ask participants during the sessions. These questions can be examples to guide the interviews, specific pre-planned questions, or tasks for participants to perform during unmoderated sessions.
  3. Final Outro Message: Outline what you will say at the end of each session. This includes informing participants about the next steps, inquiring if they are open to participating in future research, and expressing gratitude for their time. For asynchronous sessions, this information can be presented in a form shared at the conclusion of the research.

Always ask participants for their consent. It's essential to inquire if they are comfortable with the session being recorded and to clarify any compensation agreements. Similarly, at the end of the session, reiterate the request for consent regarding the retention of results and the utilization of their data for research purposes. If feasible, provide a comprehensive explanation of how the research will be used within your company. It is also crucial to double-check and obtain approval from your legal team for these consent forms and procedures.

7. Set the timeline

Next, provide an estimate of the expected timeline of the research project and when you anticipate to share the findings. While these timeline estimates may not be precise, having an approximate timeline, is valuable for managing stakeholders' expectations. The timeline also provides a guideline for everyone involved so that the team can hold a realistic understanding of the project's timeline and can plan accordingly.

Some people believe that UX research projects can take up a long time and is difficult to prioritize but if you set up the right timeline and align your stakeholders, you can ensure that everyone within the team is onboard and the research project yields the most tangible impact to the direction and the strategy of the organization. Using a unified set of research tools provided by Hubble, you will be able to provide tangible insights in less than a couple of days as opposed to weeks.

8. Decide how you will present your research findings

Effective communication of your research findings to your team is one of the most important parts of the project, and the presentation format plays a crucial role. It's essential to create a clear and compelling presentation that illustrates how user insights will directly impact design and development decisions. If you have a history of conducting UX research, consider sharing data that demonstrates how the implementation of user insights has positively influenced product adoption in the past. This can help underscore the value of user research and encourage buy-in from your team.

Here are some ways you can present you research findings to your stakeholders:

  • A summary report key statistics and takeaways
  • An interactive online report of the individual research questions and their results
  • A presentation using Google Slides or Powerpoint explaining the results and your findings

By using a combination of these formats and tools, you can cater to different learning and communication preferences within your team, ensuring that the research findings are effectively conveyed and understood.

Resources and templates for UX Research

Summary of UX Research Plans

Having a strong plan is strong plan is fundamental for successful UX research. Here's a final summary:

  • Building your UX research plan based on the UX research strategy helps to get buy-in and aligns the team in the right direction
  • Use various methods including generative, evaluative, quantitative and qualitative depending on the project’s needs
  • Set clear research objectives from the beginning
  • Write well-defined user personas so that you can find testers that accurately represent your actual end users.
  • Ensure transparent communication regarding timelines, budget constraints, and anticipated research outcomes
  • Engage stakeholders from the very beginning to secure their support and alignment.
  • Harness the insights gained to inform your product decisions and amaze your users by creating solutions that genuinely meet their wants and needs.

If you are ready to kick of your UX research project, use a tool like Hubble so that you can collect lightning fast insights across the product development cycle and have a wide array of tools at your disposal, including in-product surveys, prototype testing, usability testing, card sorting, surveys and many others. Next, we will dig deeper into each of the research methods we discussed and also provide a review of some of the popular UX research tools that are available in the market. Thanks for reading!

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I ensure my user research plan aligns with business goals?

Collaborate with key stakeholders to align research goals with broader business objectives. Clearly articulate how research insights will inform decision-making and contribute to the success of the project or product.

What role does stakeholder involvement play in a user research plan?

Involving stakeholders helps align research goals with broader project objectives. Seek their input in defining research questions and share findings to ensure insights are integrated into decision-making.

How do I choose the right UX research methods for my project?

There is no single go-to method for each part of the product development stage. The choice of UX research methods depends on various factors, including the research objectives, the stage of product development, the target audience, and the available resources. It's important to select methods that are well-suited to the research questions and can provide actionable insights to inform design decisions.

How many participants do I need for user research?

The number of participants depends on the research goals and methodology. While there's no fixed rule, usability studies often involve less than 10 participants, while larger sample sizes may be needed for quantitative studies.