I love MasterChef! Particularly the Australia version (which, I’m certain, most people do too). It’s a show that beautifully captures the journey of home chefs from starting small to going big, from being a cynic to being hopeful and having trust in one’s abilities, and ends with a great display of strategic thinking and grit. The more I watch this show, the more I cannot help but draw parallels with how organizations start with User Research - they start with hesitation and cynicism about the effectiveness of user research and eventually, they believe in its values and make it a critical ingredient to their strategic thinking.
For the uninitiated, the goal of user research is to provide individuals and teams connected with products/services/businesses with user context and perspectives that they can use to make informed decisions and build user-centric products and services. The users are not necessarily just the end-user but often the people, spaces they use and live in, processes, etc. in the user’s ecosystem too. The user stories elucidate upon their needs, wants, aspirations, motivations, pain points which are gathered through a systematic inquiry.
Often it happens that business leaders are not aware of the value that user research can bring to the table. However, slowly, the industry is warming up to learning about user research and success stories of businesses and advocacy through user research believers have led to a shift towards getting buy-in for user research.
Now, this is where the story actually begins: The leadership of an organization has realized the criticality of conducting user research to arrive at actionable insights for a strategic boost.
Milestone 1: They have moved from being user research cynics to hopefuls.
Inciting incident: How to start with user research?
In comes the user research-Master Shifu to bestow the organization with his wisdom.
Here are some critical considerations and steps to be taken to start successful user research project, initiatives or engagements:
1. Onboard the right stakeholders to create a robust stakeholder ecosystem
When we think of user research, we associate Product and Design teams to be the biggest stakeholders by default. User research footprint can positively impact not just these two teams but beyond. Sales, Marketing, R&D, Engineering, Customer Experience/Success, and any team that is deeply connected to the problem at hand should be involved as core stakeholders. Leaders and executors from the stakeholder teams should be closely involved with the user research project.
Some of the tools that can be used are knowledge workshops on approach & methods of user research, empathy building and stakeholder mapping.
2. Identify the right stage to bring in strategic user research
User research is not just about learning and fixing usability issues with your product. That’s a shortsighted view of it. Strategic user research brings in value to product-related decisions at a strategic level and it closely aligns to the vision and strategic priorities of the business. When user research is brought in at that evolved level of thinking, it can truly work wonders in answering the questions that keep the stakeholders up at night. This can be done by documenting the stakeholders’ research needs and hypotheses, and collaboratively arriving at the low, medium and high priority research requests.
3. Draw the research strategy and plan with user research expert(s)
To get things right from the beginning, it’s best to onboard a user research expert as they have the expertise to envision how user research can be used strategically in the organization. Once that’s done, it’s time to form a resilient research roadmap. Identify and align the problem statement with the type of research method. Generative research can be a game changer to arrive at a product strategy from the ideation to the growth stage where you want to innovate, improvise and be ahead of the game. Evaluative research would help inform day-to-day product/feature-related decisions. The problem at hand (that is prioritized by the stakeholders) will define the scale and path of the user research.
You need to build a research roadmap compiling the research opportunities, priorities, goals for each research statement, timelines and impact metrics that are aligned to the business goals. It’s critical to tie business metrics with research impact metrics because that gives you the window to showcase the direct business impact user research has created, and it also influences the stakeholders in recognizing the value of user research.
4. Build a team to conduct user research
The complexity of the research will help you define whether there are internal capabilities to conduct research or it needs to be outsourced to user research experts who could be agencies or consultants. Also, at this stage it’s important to identify the owner(s) of the research project as that will help the research team know the core stakeholders who need to be involved in the project, who need to be informed and who need to be influenced. Ensure that the team is capable of hand holding the stakeholders across the entire process/cycle to design, validate, iterate and deliver user-centric products/services.
5. Socialize, drive and proclaim the impact of user research projects to the stakeholders
Do not forget to make noise about the work you have done. Once the research has been concluded, present the actionable insights and findings to the core stakeholders. Socialize the learnings through varied mediums - workshops, presentations, emails, printouts, and infographics. Handhold the involved teams to implement the project insights and be the live wire between the various teams/experts and the users to move the actionable insights to ‘actioned’ insights.
Track how the stakeholders are applying your insights and recommendations. Internal teams can revisit the learnings from the research project to keep the learning document live and relevant as products keep changing.
Strategic research requires shifting of mindsets and that can be a continuous process at times depending on the organization size and the number of stakeholders. When you are armed with the right process, organized to involve research right from the beginning, and are reflective to keep a check on the progress and impact of user research, you can achieve the maximum value out of it.
Don’t forget to celebrate your victories, the strategizing and the grit the MasterChef winner way :)