How to manage user research priorities when you have limited resources
When your organization has bought into the idea of running user research throughout the entire design process, there’s one side effect you may not have expected to be an issue – the sheer volume of requests from multiple teams asking for your UX expertise.
Now it’s obviously a nice problem to have, and democratizing UX through training and education can help, but how else can you prioritise research requests in the most stakeholder-pleasing way that’s ultimately also best for the user?
To answer this question we sought the advice of Sr. UX Researcher Ted Boren from Infrastructure and Brandi Arnold, Senior UX Research Consultant at HBO. Here are their detailed recommendations on how to manage user research priorities.
Five sizes fit all?
Ted Boren, Senior UX Researcher | Instructure
Setting priorities is a lot easier if you know where you and your project are exposed to risk — in our case, risks to providing a good user experience for as many people as possible.
With that in mind, assessing UX risk during the design’s discovery phase or soon after is an important part of our UX design process at Instructure.
How risky a new design is depends on a lot of factors, including:
- Scope and uncertainty of the new design
- Frequency of use
- Risk to safety, data integrity, business drivers, or reputation, if something goes wrong
- Difficulty to roll-back or undo
- Audience, including size, role, and influence
- Feature priority and strategic importance
As these factors increase, so does the risk of producing a bad user experience, if we don’t conduct adequate research.
To help us assess UX risk in a consistent (though not scientific!) way, we created a survey to help teams walk through their projects and decide which ones are in the most need of solid user research. The results directly inform our research project priorities.
Here are some screenshots of that survey:
After completing the survey, we give the project a ‘T-shirt Size’ for UX risk (and therefore research effort), and some general recommendations about how much research to do.
For example, the project above would result in a report like this:
In addition to this report, we email the team a copy of their answers, to help them remember what factors they considered in arriving at their risk score.
Note that while all of these factors matter to us as a company, there’s nothing magic about the factors we chose to estimate, nor about the somewhat arbitrary designations of Small, Medium, and Large.
We hope the recommendations are useful, but a lot of the value comes from the team just having the conversation. This helps us plan more realistically for adequate user research. Of course teams can decide to do more or less than recommended, but this can provide a gut check on the tendency to rush to release before we’ve done our due diligence.
- Assessing UX risk is an important part of the discovery phase
- Create a survey to help teams walk through their projects and decide which ones are in most need of user research
- Give each of these projects a ‘T-shirt Size’ for UX risk, and some general recommendations about how much research to do.
- Most of the value comes from teams actually having the conversation with the researcher
Everything you need to secure budgets and resources for user research!
Here’s an exclusive collection of content tackling one of the biggest UX challenges of 2019 – securing budgets and resources for research.
This free-to-download bundle contains all the following resources:
- 25 expert opinions on getting stakeholder buy-in for user research [Article]
- Top tips for presenting user research results to stakeholders [Article]
- Benchmarking 101 [ebook]
- Proving Value & Quantifying the Impact of UX Research through Benchmarking [On-demand webinar]
Prioritize aggressively but strategically
Brandi Arnold, Senior UX Research Consultant | HBO
Managing priorities and limited resources — ah yes, the eternal struggle of UX research. I’ve worked at a larger company with deeper pockets and a smaller one with a scrappier team but the story is the same.
There is so much research that we could do, that we should do, and that we want to do, but never enough time, money, or people to get it all done.
Here’s how I’ve learned to cope with it:
First, accept that you can’t do everything you want to do. It’s hard, I know. I’m sure most of us are highly motivated by making things better, and we live in a world that has SO MUCH potential for improvement! But in order to preserve your sanity and still be effective, you’ll have to start with admitting that some things just won’t get done with your limited resources.
Next, prioritize aggressively but strategically. Keep track of all requests for research and who requested it, and find out the latest date that the research would still be impactful.
Review that list frequently. How much impact can this one have? How urgent is it? Can I combine request number 2 and request number 4 into one study and still answer my research questions effectively? Are there ways I can automate, speed up, or slim down parts of my analysis or report but still get the findings to my stakeholders in a meaningful way? Is there a way we can outsource that study? Have we answered this question before in the past? What will happen if we don’t do this one?
Team A always utilizes my insights but Team B tends to cherrypick what they agree with, so should I choose those who value my work more? Is there another faster or cheaper way I can answer that question without sacrificing validity? What is more important, the quantity of research that gets done or the quality of it?
Finally, communicate with your stakeholders about the status of their requests. When someone asks for your help, let them know you may have to weigh their request against other priorities before you can commit to it. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, and be honest if you don’t think you’ll get to something. Hold on to the important-but-not-urgent asks and try to get to them when you can. Learn when and how to say no, and don’t be afraid to say it. Don’t spend time or resources on research that isn’t likely to have impact.
Do the best you can to have the most positive impact on your products, within reason. But if you try too hard to do everything and get burned out, everyone loses, so don’t overdo it. If you can consistently prove the value of the work you do by producing impactful and high quality insights, hopefully you can make a case for more resources for your team.
- Be realistic about what you can achieve
- Keep track of all requests for research and who requested it, and find out the latest date that the research will still be useful
- Don’t spend time or resources on research that isn’t likely to have impact
- Communicate with your stakeholders about the status of their requests
- If you try too hard to do everything and get burned out, everyone loses, so don’t overdo it
Learn how to integrate user research into Agile Sprints by downloading our comprehensive free e-book:
Main image by Austin Distel
Christopher is the Content Marketing Manager, which basically means the skipper of the good ship ‘UserZoom blog’. So far his requests for changing its name to the ‘USS-erzoom Blog’ have been rightfully denied. In his spare time, Christopher is a filmmaker and the editor of wayward pop culture site Methods Unsound. He used to be the deputy editor of Econsultancy, editor of Search Engine Watch, staff writer for ClickZ and features editor of CMO.com.