The 2020 Guide to an Effective User Research Workflow
There are endless variations to how researchers assemble their workflows—not to mention among the myriad toolsets available. However, the overall structure of a user research workflow is generally homogenous and consists of four phases: planning, execution, analyzing, and storing research within a repository.
At Tetra Insights, we use a decision-mapping process to ensure our research planning is strategic and specific. First, we define the decisions we are trying to make with the help of research—the “what” and the “why” of the research goals. Examples include determining whether you should build a product or determining which sign-up process will create optimal conversions. Identifying clear answers to these questions is essential, as they will guide the rest of the planning.
It is advantageous to create a tag library when you are creating your research questions and test plans. This helps make your analysis and synthesis easier later on. These can include organization tags that refer to sections or parts of your test plan, research-question tags that are related to products or prototypes, or standard tags that include common instances such as #success, #failure, #suggestion, or #quote. You can easily set up with these tags in advance with Tetra’s free platform.
The next steps include deciding how you are going to collect the data and choosing the methods and tools you’ll use to complete the project. It’s helpful to begin by defining your target research participant profile. Depending on your research goals and/or existing target consumer, you can define precise demographics that your participants should fall into.
After these decisions comes recruitment. If you want to conduct in-person, qualitative research, you’ll need to either source participants locally or have the budget to travel. However, you might find remote research a necessity or even preferable. This decision will in part determine how you recruit your participants.
In some cases, companies hire research companies that have their own panel databases, which they can mine to find you people who fit your participant profile. While this strategy can be efficient, it also has some downsides. For instance, you won’t have full access to background information about the participants. You also won’t be able to have ongoing dialogues with them, which is very helpful when you want to gather further insights such as repeating research with a new version of your product.
At Tetra, we offer custom research panel development. We take the target participant profile and find ideal people through direct outreach and other creative sourcing techniques. With this method, you’ll know more about your participants and their relationship to your business (e.g. have they used your or a competitor’s product before?). And, you can work with them over time during development and track data however you’d like.
We also provide participant phone screens for enterprise clients. These are designed to make sure each person will be a high-quality interview participant. We want our clients to receive the best data possible, so it’s imperative to establish that participants can clearly articulate their thoughts and ideas and that they can use the necessary technology with ease.
The next step of the planning process includes choosing how you will conduct your research. Will you send surveys, perform interviews, or use another data-collection method? For surveys, you’ll decide whether you will ask open-ended or multiple-choice questions and then write your questionnaires accordingly. Similarly, for interviews, you’ll write the questions that will be asked during a session.
Then, you’ll need to select the appropriate tools such as Zoom for user interviews or your preferred survey tool, which can as simple as Google Forms or as robust as many research-specific survey platforms.
For interviews, video has clear benefits, but a researcher might choose to conduct telephone interviews. For example, if you need access to high-profile or busy experts, they are often more open to agreeing to a phone interview that can be conducted on the go. Occasionally, you’ll have participants who have technical limitations with computers or internet access who will require audio interviews.
Collaboration among individuals, teams, and stakeholders is imperative throughout the research process, but especially during the planning phase. Establishing broad buy-in at this point will help ensure the rest of the research process goes smoothly.
Before you conduct your research, be sure to address matters of compliance such as agreeing to the terms of the project and signing confidentiality agreements.
Regardless of how you’re conducting your research, an excellent practice is to test your survey or interview questions with a small sample size of participants. This way you can ensure you are getting the data you need and make any necessary adjustments.
Once you’re ready to conduct your research, it’s time to actively use the tools you’ve set up. You can send surveys via email and actively monitor them to ensure they are being delivered and that participants are responding in a timely manner. For interviews, we have found that Calendly is a helpful tool for scheduling. Our researchers determine interview windows and participants can sign up for a convenient time and receive a custom link to access a unique Zoom or other link.
If performing interviews, we recommend always having two researchers in attendance—one asking the questions and the other focusing on technical and administrative tasks. And, of course, don’t forget to record each session and afterward doublecheck that the recording worked.
The next step is to follow up and thank the participants. It’s helpful to provide a followup survey about their experience so you can continue to improve your research processes. At Tetra, we are always timely in sending the incentive—usually a gift card via Ribbon—to show that we are grateful for participants’ time and effort. If your company is in charge of doing this, be sure to track any payments for tax purposes. One benefit of working with a company like Tetra that offers panel sourcing is that we track participant payments and ensure we are always in compliance with tax laws.
When you begin the analysis part of the research process, start by segmenting the data based on themes and answers. You can apply the tags that you have identified pre- or post-research as well as highlight and annotate specific clips. Your goal is to find stories in the data that answer the questions you created in your research planning and to identify any new emergent themes that you discover. Again, this phase should be thoroughly collaborative, so be sure that you obtain perspectives and reactions from people in different job roles.
Cross-tabbing and filtering the data is a helpful tactic our team employs to discover new research insights. For instance, we might segment participants by a demographic data point and see if there is congruity between their answers to certain questions and/or disparity from those outside of the subset.
Lastly, you’ll need to create a research deliverable. Some key attributes of this deliverable are that it should be shareable, impactful, actionable, and storable. Via the Tetra app, users can generate highlight reels based on tags and themes in just minutes. These highlight reels have been shown to be incredibly effective at influencing stakeholders and increasing the value of research.
Creating a Research Repository
A word of caution: When you don’t have a good research repository in place, your work is unlikely to have a long-term impact and might perish altogether, forgotten or lost to the abyss of information. This can happen due to staff changes, a lack of broad access to the research throughout the company, and many other reasons. One obstacle that can devalue research is a perception that its shelf life is short. Therefore, researchers will benefit when they ensure their insights are fully accessible and can go on to influence future decision-making. When a company is truly insights-driven, employees and leaders across the organization can tap into the important business intelligence that research provides.
An optimized research repository should accommodate your source data as well as your insights. In some cases, the storage locations can be different, but they should be easily linked to one another. And, you may require different repository solutions for different research projects. The most important thing is to ensure that the locations are synchronized, tracked, and accessible throughout the organization.
We’ve outlined and dug into how to create and optimize the four essential phases of a user research workflow. There are, of course, many variations depending on your research project. Here are a few additional resources that can help you develop a system that works for you:
- Science of Influential Research Webinar
- Using Decision Mapping to Generate User Test Plans
- How to Create an Optimized Research Repository
- The Definitive Guide for Remote Research