How you can make your next research project more actionable and valuable.

We live in a fast-moving world where everyone has questions. Executives, Marketers, Designers, and Product Managers all want to make an informed decision and manage risk intelligently. This is why a lot of companies are investing in User Research.

It’s no wonder, then, that the number of research studies on the UserZoom platform are doubling every eighteen months (new Moore’s Law).

Ultimately, the purpose of a research study is to gain insights in order to learn something new, answer key questions, and generate empathy for the end user. In order to do this, it means those insights you’re gathering have to be actionable.

So, what do I mean by “Liberating Actionable Insights”? Well let’s take each word at a time:

Liberating: “The right people have it in-hand at the right time.” If your “actionable” insights are just sitting in a PowerPoint deck on a shared drive it does not mean the right people have it or are doing anything with it.

Actionable: “Something can be done about what was found.” If you are conducting research about an Enterprise Productivity Application, an “insight” which shows more customers are dog people vs cat people is not actionable (unless you’re conducting research for a pet store e-commerce site).

Insights: “Tell me something I don’t know.” I know, I know – it’s not the technical definition, but this has served me well for 2 decades.

With that in mind, here are 7 tips to make your next research project actionable, i.e. valuable.

1. Know what keeps your Stakeholder(s), Key Influencers and Executives up at night

What was the last time you asked a key stakeholder, “What keeps you up at night?”

I don’t mean it as a joke. I truly want all UX Researchers to ask and understand the pressures your key stakeholders are facing. Know what they are being measured on. Find a way to answer some of those questions with certainty and they will ensure that they do something with those findings.

2. Select the right UX KPIs & connect them to organizational KPIs

Every company has a business objective. Executives are focused on a handful of key levers that have an impact on these objectives (and their bonus). Know what they are. Pick what and how you measure User Experience as part of your research efforts and try hard to connect it to a key measurable indicator that the larger org is focused on. You can read more at Top UX Measurements and KPI as well as listen to our webinar on Universal Measures.

3. Plan backwards: What is the last date when the insights will not be valuable for the current effort?

Most research studies have a small shelf life. Yes, some larger longitudinal studies and strategic studies are valuable for long periods of time, but most research that happens in the UX Design world has a shelf life of a fire fly.

“It’s great to have this research, but sorry this first phase MVP has to be shipped as is and we will re-look at this at a later date.”

So plan backwards: Plan <– Build, Launch, Data Collection, Analysis <– Report <– Decision <– Action

Ask your key stakeholders: “What is the last drop date after which the results will be useless?” Or “What is the last drop date after which the value of these results will be low?” If it’s an unrealistic date, either negotiate or move on and tackle some other problem because that train might have left the station.

4. Ask what the research findings would be, before you conduct the study

Yes, this is counter intuitive. But I always recommend researchers to ask designers, product managers, marketers this question: “After we conduct this research, what results would you expect?”

Answers can vary, but they usually are: (1) “I don’t expect to find any major design issues” (2) “No this is pretty bad but I need some data before the next exec review” (3) “I have no idea, but I am genuinely interested and anxious to know what the results will be” (4) “Design A might be better than Design B, but I am not sure. Anyway, we won’t be able to implement Design A for this release”

So why should you ask? The human mind is looking for the “not so obvious” thing, the Insight (tell me something I don’t know). If your research finding is simply confirming the pre-conceived notions then the research could be deemed less valuable unless you position it correctly.

5. It is never going to be easy to say “Your baby is ugly…” So don’t, let them arrive at that conclusion themselves

A user researchers job is never easy. In most organizations, their primary role is design validation – does this work, can users find it, is it usable? If it all works as intended, then the value of research is perceived to be low. If most of it does not work, teams can get defensive about their baby.

Remember, researchers are only the messengers and not the message.

We also strongly advise researchers to get all (or as many) stakeholders as they can to contribute towards study designs, tasks, prototypes, and participant criteria. This is to avoid a couple of common scenarios: “Yup, that didn’t work, but we had already redesigned some parts of the prototype and the content is all changed now after the executive design review” and/or “These users that you had are really not going to get this task the way it was prototyped, there will be a marketing & education campaign that will educate them.”

If the results are really poor and counter intuitive, have multiple internal friendly reviews on hand to be able to explain why.

6. Use frameworks to organize your findings to make them actionable

Research findings can be presented in various ways. I personally don’t like to dwell on the methodology or give everything away in the first 5 minutes with an executive summary with all results upfront while presenting in-person or over the phone during a 30 min or 60 min read out. Instead I prefer to tell a story and use a framework to help craft the story. Here’s an example of a framework: What? So What? Now What?

Story telling is important, so take your meeting attendees through a journey. Next time you present, try this approach:

  • What happened (what)
  • Why you think it’s significant (so what)
  • Your recommendations on what to do now (now what). This part is what makes the results actionable.

If you have an hour to present your findings and you took all 60 minutes to present what happened – lots of graphs and charts, lots of videos – that’s great. People learned something new. But it’s unlikely anything will directly happen as a result.

It’s up to the researcher to not only show the What, but also the So What. Then they need to also facilitate to some degree the Now What conversation.

For a 60-min presentation, depending on the level of engagement from the larger team, leave 20 mins for the discussion on what will happen as a result of this data. If that’s not possible leave the last 5 mins to determine next steps. Otherwise its almost guaranteed that your beautiful PowerPoint deck will go to a drive somewhere to die.

7. Make insights available anywhere, any time

It’s not enough to plan one presentation. Assuming you have unique, actionable insights, go out of your way to make sure every person who needs to know has that in their hand and has reached their permanent memory. But remember, the thing that was an ‘Aha Moment’ today is not an exciting new thing tomorrow.

Facilitate next steps, conduct workshop, participant in design reviews and bring those insights (reports) with you. Actively market and re-market your findings. Share it on the intranet, write articles and link to the report, add it to your signature, do whatever you need to do to make it available.


Follow these 7 tips to ensure your research is actionable, insightful and people know about it. If you have tried other things or these 7 resonate with you and have examples, please send any comments to We would love to hear your thoughts!