Once a user research project has kicked off, there will be executives and senior stakeholders in your organization who are keen on seeing results as soon as possible. This should be done cautiously, like a balancing act.
Sharing some interesting results part-way through with regular updates will keep the momentum flowing, but saving the bulk of your research findings until further down the line is wise. You don’t want your stakeholders to get ahead of themselves and draw conclusions too soon.
We recently published an ebook on how to get executive buy-in from executives, in which we discuss how to communicate UX insights in an impactful way to secure budget and ensure you continue building user-focused products.
Based on that advice, we asked the following senior research leaders for their recommendations on how they share results with executives in a fast, efficient way that keeps their attention and ensures their future investment in UX.
“Really understand your senior stakeholders. Once a project has been given the green light it’s fair to assume that everyone is invested in the project, but we mustn’t assume the level or type of investment is the same. It’s important to understand the goals and whys of each stakeholder as this will help you choose the best methods of sharing and collaborating. I’m a fan of creating Slack groups for projects; everyone is able to keep track of the communications that are happening, but also have the choice not to respond if a particular point or stage isn’t as relevant to them. It’s also great for dripping key insights straight after some user testing, before any detailed reports. Picking the best tool for you is going to be a matter of preference and what type of team/organisation you’re in. I always advise starting with what you already have. If current channels don’t appear to work, then it’s a great reason to start exploring externally and put the team through a test and learn phase. I do feel a lot of what makes us (researchers) successful is in the planning. Making sure we have a research plan that has been drafted with stakeholders’ input sets us off on a good start, but that collaboration should be from start to finish. If it’s a collaborative experience, then you reduce the delay of communicating results as stakeholders have been involved in the research throughout.”
Tina Akinmade, StepStone
Senior UX Researcher
“I can specifically relate this to when I need to ‘communicate results rapidly within a complex, labor intensive research schedule’. Traditionally and academically, conducting research is a long, expensive and time-consuming process. As the first and only full-time UX Researcher at my company, I sometimes struggle with balancing the need to produce quality meaningful results while keeping up with rapid design and product development and schedules. One way to combat this is to involve stakeholders in the process and give them a real sense of how labor intensive research can be. Let them know that without research, you may waste time and money on developing the wrong thing for our users. For example, during discovery research (which can be especially time consuming), let them see your full process. Encourage them to be a part of developing the study plan in conjunction with the team. Work with them to produce iterations of just the right questions to ask participants, and then have them be a part of interviews. Show them what it means to record, transcribe, code, memo, analyze and prepare your results and just how long this takes. If you’re handling recruitment, scheduling and incentivizing too, give them a pulse on a regular basis of your status on meeting participant requirements outlined in your study plan. Make time to share out research findings on a regular basis that you define with the team as appropriate. Send out quick, top-line results on a daily basis if that’s what you decide with the team, and prepare more developed presentations for intervals of 1-10, 10-20 interviews, etc. You should always be conducting analysis as you conduct research, so sharing basic information and findings should always be relatively easy. Make sure the fidelity of your findings is clear – if stakeholders want something rapid, such as quick top-lines, your analysis may be less in-depth. And, if there is already primary or secondary research that makes a strong case for your research initiative, share those findings – making sure the data is engaging and easily digestible for your stakeholder audience.” For validation testing within a sprint cycle, it helps to produce short colorful infographics with an online infographic tool. This makes passing on engaging findings to a remote dev team quick and easy.
Paige Nuzzolillo, Delta Dental of Washington
Sr. UX Researcher
How to get executive buy-in for user research
“This is a real balancing act; you want to get stakeholders results quickly, but you also know there is a tendency for stakeholders to take preliminary data and run with it. This excitement is fantastic, but it means potentially acting on incomplete findings. What I find remedies this is a combination of preparation — with respect to the collection, coding, and analyzing of data – and transparency in communication – with respect to communicating results. For example, if I’m running a usability study, I set up my specific data collection fields, formulas, and charts in Excel, and link the charts into a PowerPoint template before I start. That way when I start inputting my data, everything populates automatically. I can then pop in a few quotes and my observations from the sessions, and send it off to stakeholders. I’ll generally send preliminary results like this after we’ve collected about 25-30% of the total expected responses and make it extremely clear that no action should be taken on the results until significant patterns/trends have been identified, or the completion of the study.”
Kyle Brady, Keap
Sr. UX Researcher
“Communicating research insights with stakeholders is equally important to conducting the research itself. We generally try to follow a few key guidelines when developing new approaches for communicating research: Meet your stakeholders where they are. Different stakeholders require different levels of summary. Some want a full report to comb through, others prefer a high-level executive summary of the findings, and some just want it distilled to a few bullet points in an email. The important thing is to be able to scale up and scale down your findings to what’s most approachable for your audience. Don’t be afraid to experiment with new formats. Write-ups are great for some things, but video was transformative for our organization. Being able to show people the problem using footage from real users, and then answer their follow-up questions in person really helped build rapport and ownership of the issue. As with any new approach, it can take time to do this efficiently, but part of the process is learning how to separate what parts of the new method(s) are effective and what parts can be discarded. Make your insights durable and proactive. This is something we’re actively working on within our organization; how to make the results of a study live beyond their immediate context. Building an archive of insights allows stakeholders to potentially self-serve the perennial question; “What research do we have on x?” By allowing them to filter down to the feature or product level for specific insights, research no longer becomes a static point in time, but a constant accessible reference point for rapid insight. And in the event that additional research is needed, stakeholders are enabled through the additional context of all the work that was done previously on the topic at hand.”
Jared Forney, Okta
“I involve the designers and PMs in the research as much as possible. They are usually in sessions or taking notes in sessions. We can debrief together, and that gets ideas turning in their heads before we even have a formal read out, which can help findings to be impactful asap. Personally, I like creating decks and doing larger read outs – it can take some time to do so, but I find they are more likely to live beyond a readout in that format. Keeping a deck/ readout template ready to rock can help save time too.”
Samantha Alaimo, GrubHub
Sr. UX Researcher
Why not start sharing findings with your audience as you go? Make it clear these are preliminary results and conclusions should not be drawn yet. It may seem a little scary but people love getting updates as they feel like they’re a part of the project, as opposed to waiting for the analysis to be complete.
Then follow up at the end with a debrief and directions for future application of the findings. When this becomes part of a process, executives and team members feel involved and informed. You’ll even get less questions during the research as people know what to expect and trust you to give them the updates they want and need.
Clearly, communication and involvement are key elements to making user research work at a company level. And that’s good news! People are interested in you and what you’re doing. If they aren’t, it’s because they don’t understand it yet and haven’t experienced the value UX provides.
Education, consistently showing value, and a bit of persistence can build a robust and valuable user research program in any company.