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UX Research 101: Establishing your UX research strategy

December 29, 2023

In this section, we will discuss how to conduct and implement a successful UX research initiative at your company. Let’s explore what are the key ingredients you need to make sure you can build the right UX research team and start running the best UX research projects to empower your product team.

Defining UX Research Strategy

A UX research strategy is the guide that establishes the rules around how to conduct UX research within an organization. This includes the different types of research, when to run UX research projects, and how to collect the data. Establishing ground rules on how the UX research team will operate provides clarity to the UX researchers as well as the rest of the team so that they can understand how continuous research insights will come into play in every stage of the product development process. In addition, everyone can know what type of insights are available so that they can get access to it if they need to plan for new projects or prioritize the product roadmap.

“User research turns a work problem into a personal problem. It’s one thing to think your work might make a difference, and it’s another to see the impact it can have on another person’s life. User research puts people to the center of attention where they’ve always belonged.”

- Randolph Duke II
Senior UX Researcher at Toast

Do I need a UX research strategy?

If you are part of a user-centric team looking to continuously improve the product, establishing a UX research strategy is essential. A thoughtful UX research strategy allows for teams to:

  • Agree on the value proposition of UX research and establish best practices to run the appropriate UX research projects with the approval of stakeholders
  • Make sure there are guidelines and best practices to run UX research projects so that every individual contributor can use the same foundations when collecting research insights for their projects

Regardless of the stage or team size, a well thought out UX research strategy can help teams facilitate UX research and ensure that the insights that are gathered create the most impact to the product and its customers

🖌️ Quick Tip
UX research strategy can help your team align on how and why the UX research should be conducted, ensuring that everyone is on the same page.

Without having a solid UX research strategy, teams can end up doing meaningless work, without agreements on what insights need to be collected at different points during the product development cycle. Anyone can run a usability test or conduct user interviews but without aligning with the rest of the team on why the data is needed and for what purpose, its difficult for UX research data to create positive ROI and drive data-driven optimization of the product roadmap.

What about my UX strategy?

UX research strategy is a constituent of your overall UX strategy. UX strategy is a broader term that touches on design, research and basically any other function that aims to design, build and implement the overall user experience to your customers. UX research strategy on the other hand are the specific rules and plans to run and utilize UX research within a product team’s workflows to ensure that product decisions can be backed with concrete data and every investment that is made onto a product drives value to the end users.

“When we do a lot of user research, it's easy to feel confident… But if you do user research well, you will always find something that is surprising. No matter how much research we do, no matter how much time we spend with our customers, we can't completely know them. And I feel like the goal of user research should be to find those moments.”

- Teresa Torres
Founder of Producttalk.org

Getting started with your team’s UX research strategy

If you are new to this, building a UX research strategy is not something you can finish within a couple of hours. Depending on the situation and the team’s circumstances, you may have to constantly callibrate the objectives for any new UX research project that you conduct. However, you can establish a starting guideline so that the team can continue to assess the changing needs for research and adapt into what’s best as UX research practices become more mature within the organization.

🖌️ Quick Tip
Establishing a foundation for your UX research strategy in the beginning can help you and your teammates run your research more effectively.

Who is your UX research for?

Before anything, make sure that you establish who the research is for. Countless number of times, we have all been in situations where we think the research results are for one person when at the end we realize that there are many other people that needed to get access to the research results. At the end of the day, the product team and the decision makers will benefit the most from the UX research results, but understanding the near-term purpose and goal for the UX research project is important to maximize the success as well as the impact of the UX research project. Will the project help get buy-in from the VP of product for a new feature? Will it be used by the Director of Product to test some of the assumptions that we have baked into the latest prototype? There are multiple use cases for the research insights but establishing who the research is directed to ensures that the research insights are not wasted, and the consequent decisions that result from the research data are as impact as possible.

Why are you trying to run UX research?

Next you need to distill why you’re researching. Establishing the “why” will help dictate the UX research methodologies that you will use, as well as the specific types of UX research that you will run. Ensuring that you and your stakeholders are aligned in terms of the “why” will also prevent any mistakes or necessary iterations after you launch a project.

At a high level, here are two main reasons why companies run UX research:

  • Validate an idea, hypothesis or product concept
  • Understand the market or generate ideas through generative research

What are you trying to learn through UX Research?

Next up is the “what”. There are many things that can be validated through a solid UX research project, so it helps to narrow down on what exactly the team is trying to understand. Is it the usability of a new prototype? Is it the user’s satisfaction on a new onboarding flow? Aligning on what you are researching will help you move quickly and start designing the building blocks of the UX research project including the type and method to use.

When will you conduct UX research?

As we discussed above, UX research can start at any moment during the product lifecycle, especially with the right tool sets that allow you to do so. However, understanding when precisely to use each UX research methodology can be challenging.

Constantly assess what stage of the project you are in and what are the uncertainties and top questions that the team has as you are moving along the product development schedule. Anytime there is something to share and show to your customers, you should be able to run research to rapidly validate your assumptions.

This is more art than science, but always discuss with your team to make sure that everyone is in alignment with the timing and the purpose of each UX research project you are trying to run.

How will the research project impact the KPI?

One of the most powerful things you can do is to establish a guideline to measure the impact of UX research to business goals and product KPIs. Having this creates a north star for the entire team and ensures that stakeholders continue to buy into continuous UX research.

"Every dollar invested in UX brings $100 in return. This is an average figure, but it’s a ROI of an impressive 9,900%"

- Andrew Kucheriavy
Founder & CEO at Intechnic

Chat with your leaders to understand what your decision makers need the most and how UX research could potentially support them. Before you get started on any project, provide a summary on the purpose, timing and desired output so that you can make sure that stakeholders buy-in to the insights that are collected and they can use the results as a reference when making decisions

Effective research serves the purpose of influencing or steering decision-making processes, whether they pertain to product development or prioritizing solutions. Ultimately, if your research does not contribute to decision-making and its impact, it may not be very productive.

When it comes to research, there are always additional considerations to take into account, such as selecting the appropriate UX research method or choosing the right research tool. However, these decisions should be made on a project-specific basis. By beginning with the questions mentioned earlier, you can establish a solid groundwork for

Building your UX research team

An important component of creating a successful UX research strategy is hiring the right people available to run UX research. Regardless of whether your research team is already established, growing quickly or in its initial stages, hiring the right team is one of the most important decisions you will make.

“Companies say they value great design. But they assume that to do great design they need a rock star designer. But great design doesn’t live inside designers. It lives inside your users’ heads. You get inside your users heads by doing good UX research: research that provides actionable and testable insights into users’ needs.”

- David Travis
Author of Think Like A UX Researcher: How to Observe Users, Influence Design and Shape Business Strategy

Here are some best practices to follow when hiring a UX research team.

Lead UX researcher

Your lead UX researcher assumes a critical role within your research team. The lead UX researchers collaborate closely with the product leader to develop strategies at both the UX-specific and company-wide levels. While a significant part of this position involves strategy and personnel management, it is essential to seek an individual with ample experience who is willing to actively engage in day-to-day research activities when necessary.

UX researcher

UX researchers are primarily responsible for carrying out and scrutinizing UX research activities on a daily basis. Possessing a profound comprehension of UX, potentially stemming from backgrounds in various research disciplines or UX design, these team members should possess an extensive knowledge of various UX research methods and analytical techniques, establishing them as the go-to experts for anything related to UX research.

Steve Allison, VP of Product at TriNet said "We made our first UX Research hire last year and her impact to our product design and development process has been outstanding. Having a person to own the qualitative research like interviews and surveys while having another person focused on quantitative insights drives the most value out of UXR"

Data scientist

If your budget allows for it, it is highly advisable to allocate resources for a dedicated data analyst. While your UX researchers may possess the necessary skills, having a specialized role for data analysis can substantially liberate their time, enabling them to concentrate on the planning and execution of research activities.

Utsav Kaushish, analytics manager at EzCater said: "Today, the biggest companies in the world use a blend of user research and data science to learn everything they can about their customers and their market. It’s not an either/or proposition; rather, both disciplines are essential and can continuously strengthen each other. As a data scientist, I understand the value of unlocking insights about thousands and thousands of customers at once. But it cannot replace the surprising results that emerge when you talk to those customers one-on-one."

UX research operations manager

UX research operations managers serves as the organizational hero for your team, taking charge of participant recruitment and management, as well as overseeing all logistical aspects of UX research. This encompasses everything from sourcing locations and equipment to ensuring that participants have all necessary resources before and after research sessions.

Steps to build your UX research strategy

Here are the different steps to follow to create an impactful and successful UX research strategy

1. Incorporate research into your organization's decision-making process.

Building an effective UX research strategy entails close collaboration with the overall business strategy. While many organizational leaders recognize the importance of UX research, it's not sufficient. To maximize the value of UX research, you must democratize research and make it a foundational element used to make data-driven decisions

“When stakeholders act on the findings of UX research, you can clearly point to the positive effect that the research is having on the organization, its products, and its customers. All you need to do is pay attention and be aware.”

- Tomer Sharon
VP of UX at Wework

Therefore you must engage with internal stakeholders and collaborate with them to agree on UX research strategies, ensuring that the UX research strategy is in alignment with (and ideally, is a catalyst towards) the achievement of business objectives and the product roadmap.

Needless to say, we must integrate research in every stage of the product development process to ensure success.

2. Build your team

The next step is to assemble your UX research team. You might already have in-house researchers as part of your UX team. If you're in the process of establishing a new team, you can either collaborate with an external agency or follow the steps outlined above.

🖌️ Quick Tip
We recommend hiring full-time user researchers when the demand for research exceeds the potential output of your current team. If you’re a research team of one with the ability to manage 2–3 research projects per quarter and you start getting 6–8 viable research requests per quarter, that is a good time to start scaling the team. .

3. Establish best practices

An often overlooked aspect of any UX research strategy is the incorporation of best practices. Just like in any research endeavor, maintaining consistency is vital. Therefore, it's crucial to document and catalog UX research best practices and any research standards at the organizational level as an essential step in the process.

Establishing these principles from the beginning ensures that new team members, external agencies, and stakeholders remain in sync. Moreover, it guarantees that all your research adheres to a predetermined set of standards, leading to uniform, top-notch UX research outcomes across the spectrum.

4. Document your UX research strategy

Document your strategy. Effective communication is imperative to ensure that everyone is aligned. This includes recording various aspects such as the UX team's structure, research goals, tool preferences, and how your strategy aligns with business objectives, among other relevant details.

“Research confirms that the presence of the five conditions—real team, compelling direction, enabling structure, supportive context, and competent coaching—enhances team performance effectiveness.”

- J. Richard Hackman
Professor of Psychology at Harvard University

5. Always hone and refine your UX research strategy

Lastly, it's crucial to constantly re-evaluate and revisit your strategy. After finishing a research project, do a post-mortem to revisit your UX research strategy. Ask questions such as: Was the documentation clear and helpful? Were you successful in linking the research to business objectives and effectively communicating with stakeholders? Did you veer off course from any elements in the strategy, and does this indicate a need for modifications? By periodically revisiting your strategy both after completing research and before initiating a new project, you can maintain momentum and continue to refine your UX research strategy.

Conclusion

UX research is a sophisticated discipline and establishing the right strategy requires a lot of time and thinking. Nevertheless, it is a worthwhile investment of time and effort. Building a robust UX research strategy serves as the foundational step in charting your UX research journey, setting the stage for successful and informed decision-making.

Utilizing the right set of UX research tools can help to drive high quality research, but the core of effective UX research lies in your fundamental research principles and how the company as a whole as agreed on adopting UX research as an integral data point in the product research and development process.

To make sure that you can drive the most impact, you must have a quality strategy—one that can continue to evolve alongside your business and research team. Your UX research strategy should be a dynamic document, subject to iteration as the team continues to make progress. Always use the UX research strategy document as a tool to continuously refresh and enhance your research practices, ensuring that they remain relevant and effective as the team continues to strive to create products that users love.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is a UX research strategy important?

A UX research strategy helps ensure that user experience research efforts are aligned with business objectives and user needs. It provides a framework for prioritizing research activities, allocating resources effectively, and maximizing the impact of research findings on product development.

How can I ensure that my UX research strategy is agile and adaptable?

To ensure that your UX research strategy remains agile and adaptable, it's important to regularly review and update the strategy based on changing business priorities, and user feedback. Be prepared to pivot or adjust research priorities as needed and remain flexible in response to new information or insights gained from research activities.

How do I scale UX research?

Scaling UX research efforts requires establishing efficient processes, leveraging technology and software, and building a diverse and skilled research team. Invest in training and professional development opportunities for researchers, standardize research methodologies and tools where possible, and establish clear communication channels and workflows to facilitate collaboration across teams.

How do I measure the success of a UX research strategy?

Success metrics for a UX research strategy may vary depending on the goals and objectives defined in the strategy. Common metrics include the impact of research findings on product design and development decisions, improvements in user satisfaction or engagement metrics, and the ability to deliver products that better meet user needs and preferences.