Create a user research plan with these steps

6 min read Optimal Workshop

A great user experience (UX) is one of the largest drivers of growth and revenue through user satisfaction. However, when budgets get tight, or there is a squeeze on timelines, user research is one of the first things to go. Often at the cost of user satisfaction.  

This short sighted view can mean project managers are preoccupied with achieving milestones and short term goals. And UX teams get stuck researching products they weren’t actually involved with developing. As a result no one has the space and understanding to really develop a product that speaks to users needs, desires and wants. There must  be a better way to produce a product that is user-driven.  Thankfully there is.

What is user research and why should project managers care about it?

User research is an important part of the product development process. Primarily, user research involves using different research methods to gather information about your end users. 

Essentially it aims to create the best possible experience for your users by listening and learning directly from those that already or potentially will use your product. You might conduct interviews to help you understand a particular problem, carry out a tree test to identify bottlenecks or problems in your navigation, or do some usability testing to directly observe your users as they perform different tasks on your website or in your app. Or a combination of these to understand what users really want.

To a project manager and team, this likely sounds fairly familiar, that any project can’t be managed in a silo. Regular check-ins and feedback are essential to making smart decisions. The same with UX research. It can make the whole process quicker and more efficient. By taking a step back, digging into your users’ minds, and gaining a fuller understanding of what they want upfront, it can curtail short-term views and decisions.

Bringing more user research into your development process has major benefits for the team, and the ultimately the quality of that final product. There are three key benefits:

  1. Saves your development team time and effort. Ensuring the team is working on what users want, not wasting time on features that don’t measure up.
  2. Gives your users a better experience by meeting their requirements.
  3. Helps your team innovate quickly by understanding what users really want.

As a project manager, making space and planning for user research can be one of the best ways to ensure the team is creating a product that truly is user-driven.

How do you bring research into your product development process?

There are a couple of ways you can bring UX research into your product development process

  1. Start with a dedicated research project.
  2. Integrate UX research throughout the development project.

It can be more difficult to integrate UX research throughout the process, as it means planning the project with various stages of research built in to check the development of features. But ultimately this approach is likely to turn out the best product. One that has been considered, checked and well thought out through the whole product development process. To help you on the way we have laid out 6 key steps to help you integrate UX research into your product development process.

6 key steps to integrate UX research

Step 1: Define your research questions

Take a step back, look at your product and define your research questions

It may be tempting just to ask, ‘do users like our latest release?’ This however does not get to why or what your users like or don’t like. Try instead:

  • What do our users really want from our product?
  • Where are they currently struggling while using our website?
  • How can we design a better product for our users?

These questions help to form the basis of specific questions about your product and specific areas of research to explore which in turn help shape the type of research you undertake.

Step 2: Create your research plan 

With a few key research questions to focus on, it’s time to create your research plan.

A great research plan covers your project’s goals, scope, timing, and deliverables. It’s essential for keeping yourself organized but also for getting key stakeholder signoff.

Step 3: Prepare any research logistics

Every project plan requires attention to detail including a user research project. And with any good project there are a set of steps to help make sense of it.

  1. Method: Based on your questions, what is the best user research method to use? 
  2. Schedule: When will the research take place? How long will it go on for? If this is ongoing research, plan how it will be implemented and how often.
  3. Location: Where will the research take place? 
  4. Resources: What resources do you need? This could be technical support or team members.
  5. Participants: Define who you want to research. Who is eligible to take part in this research? How will you find the right people?
  6. Data: How will you capture the research data? Where will it be stored? How will you analyze the data and create insights and reports that can be used?
  7. Deliverables: What is the ultimate goal for your research project?

Step 4: Decide which method will be used

Many user research methods benefit from an observational style of testing. Particularly if you are looking into why users undertake a specific task or struggle.

Typically, there are two approaches to testing:

  1. Moderated testing is when a moderator is present during the test to answer questions, guide the participant, or dig deeper with further questions.
  2. Unmoderated testing is when a participant is left on their own to carry out the task. Often this is done remotely and with very specific instructions.Your key questions will determine which method will works best for your research. Find our more about the differences.

Step 5: Run your research session

It’s time to gather insights and data. The questions you are asking will influence how you run your research sessions and the methods you’ve chosen. 

If you are running surveys you will be asking users through a banner or invitation to fill out your survey. Unmoderated and very specific questions. Gathering qualitative data and analyzing patterns.

If you’re using something qualitative like interviews or heat mapping, you’ll want to implement software and gather as much information as possible.

Step 6: Prepare a research findings report and share with stakeholders

Analyze your findings, interrogate your data and find those insights that dive into the way your users think. How do they love your product? But how do they also struggle?

Pull together your findings and insights into an easy to understand report. And get socializing. Bring your key stakeholders together and share your findings. Bringing everyone across the findings together can bring everyone on the journey. And for the development process can mean decisions can be user-driven. 

Wrap Up

Part of any project, UX research should be essential to developing a product that is user-driven. Integrating user research into your development process can be challenging. But with planning and strategy it can be hugely beneficial to saving time and money in the long run.