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User Research: Make your Findings Actionable

The roots of making your research findings actionable begin before it’s even time to start planning, in the inception and shaping of the research idea. At each stage of the process, the key is making the right choices.

Questions to consider at the conception and planning stage:

  • Do you have a clearly defined purpose for the research? (Where does the idea come from? Assumptions? Business driver? Past research?)
  • Do you have well-defined research questions? (What do you already know? What knowledge gaps do you have? What stage of development are you in? what assumptions do you have?)
  • Does the research align with your team’s business goals or customer problems? (Do you have the support and buy-in of the team to run a study?)
  • Is this the right time to run research? (Do the whole team agree that this is a research priority? Will the research be used if you run it? What will it be used for?)

It is essential to involve the team in identifying the research question: everybody needs to be on board and agree with the scope and direction of the research.

Choosing the right method at the right time

To choose the right research method, there are a few factors you should consider - such as where you are at in development, whether you need to collect behavioural data or attitudinal data. And what will the data collected in research help you do?

  • Design the right thing
  • Design the thing right
  • Expand contextual knowledge
  • Stop work
  • Start work

If you aren’t collecting the right type of data, it is difficult to get the answers you need and allows you to take action. The wrong data can lead to making inappropriate decisions or not making use of the data itself.

Here is a super useful cheat sheet created by Elisa Baliani to help you pick the right method, which I discussed in the second edition of User Research.

Involving your team in the process

Keep your team up to date with every decision you make.

If you are doing moderated research, invite team members and other stakeholders to observe the sessions: this will allow them to be familiar with the kinds of information that you are generating. They’ll be able to see for themselves how the users think, feel, behave, and perhaps how they struggle with your product or service.

Can they help with the initial analysis or refinement of the initial analysis? Depending on what method you’ve used, and hence what kind of research data you collected, group analysis may be a useful exercise once the data gathering is over. In addition, the user researcher will often do some analysis on their own: group analysis sessions can be useful for getting diverse perspectives, but they often don’t go deep enough

Not involving the team in the process might make it harder to persuade them to take action on your research, once it’s finished. If they have been involved to some extent, they are already invested in the work, and hopefully keen to do something with the results.

Sharing the finding

You will most likely learn far more than what is relevant to the current work: fight the impulse to share everything and store the extra data for another day.

When sharing your finding, it's important to structure the story in the most influential and understandable way:

  • Remind your audience of the research questions you are answering
  • Focus on what they (team, stakeholders etc) are interested in and the most important things you have learned (you could, for example, point out that they are clearly aligned with the team’s objectives)
  • Use language they are familiar with and avoid technical user experience jargon, as much as possible
  • Describe the finding, its context, and why it's important
  • Highlight the risk of not taking action on the finding
  • Suggest actions to explore, if possible
  • Show confidence in the data by, for example, underlining the size of the problem not just based on your research (number of participants who experienced the issue, and if you’ve triangulated this with other sources of data, such as customer service tickets).

Working together after sharing the finding

You can’t assume that just by sharing the findings, action will be taken. There is work to be done to support your team to translate those findings into actions.

It can be useful to organize ideation sessions to brainstorm the work to be done, grounded in the evidence. It is important to be working with the right colleagues to break down the work into manageable chunks: what is feasible?; what is a priority?; do other things need to be deprioritized to allow for new work to happen based on the research findings?; does the research have implications beyond your team?; do you need to collaborate with other teams to successfully achieve your goals?

You may need to support your colleagues pitching to senior management for additional resources, budget, change of objectives based on the evidence. You may need to reframe the findings or use different language to share them with a different audience.

Refer to the second edition of User Research, to read more about the difference between data and findings or findings and insights; different ways to make findings and insights actionable; methods of persuasive UX storytelling.

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