What’s the cost to user research leaders when user research is disconnected from business impact? Literally, their jobs and maybe even their sanity. Can you relate?
The participants in WEVO’s Research Leadership Forum in April, all from companies you’d definitely recognize, discussed this topic quite spiritedly: ensuring that user research is respected and has a place at the executive table — and how can researchers do more to gain that respect if they feel they lack it.
Tying the Connection
Not surprisingly, the most successful user research teams are able to connect their research to business impact. That’s obvious, but that’s not all there is to the story. UXRs also need to be adept translators to each constituency so nothing gets lost in translation (or in haste).
Specifically, many Forum participants noted that executives want the results distilled down to top-line bullet points. The result is that so much depth, context and information is stripped away so that the execs lose the “why” — and therefore the ability to understand how to improve specifically.
Researchers, on the other hand, recognize that they can veer too much into the science, which compels them to want to uncover ALL the insights, regardless of what organization timelines and priorities dictate. And often, their work’s impact gets diluted when designers have deadlines to meet, their own requests for research notwithstanding. And product managers often want just enough data to validate their plans and we all know that the purpose of researchers’ work is to discover, not validate!
Consensus Driven Research
So what’s the solution? The consensus was research is respected most often when all sides are able to meet in the middle. While there is no magic bullet, there are practices that help make user research a critical partner in product development. Here’s what our panel said:
- Clearly link the context/research design to the business objectives. This definitely constrains unfettered generative research purely for research’s sake. But this also helps researchers manage their universe into the work that moves their company (and quite possibly careers) along.
- Align with stakeholders from the very beginning. Research should not be an add-on to a project, but part of the product/design team from the earliest discussions of the initiative.
- Build user research into the cadence of the business. Do not reserve it for major decisions or treat it as a bypass loop that takes too much time. Research needs to be incorporated into every product development timeline, the sooner the better. That knowledge allows everyone to make better-informed decisions that earn those company bonuses.
- Contextualize the successes and (potential) impact of user research. While researchers may want to fall back on scientific defaults – presenting the data as is for others to interpret– it behooves them to deliver it in a way that makes it easy for business stakeholders to realize the value immediately.
- Speak the language of your customer. Researchers recognize that the final format of their work and presentations must speak to their customers’ goals. Executives want results, so findings should be concise and impactful. Designers want to know what this means for their designs, so be clear about where those excel or fall short so they can reconfigure. Product managers desire validation of key product assumptions, so first show them what the research reveals, and then whether that validates their expectations or not.
If you want to become a truly insights-led organization the craft of research has to become a daily practice–and as essential a reference point as checking the weather. UX research leaders can help increase their presence and importance with a frequency of research-based discoveries of statistical significance by aligning with business impact. The right tools can help UXR leaders gain a lot of traction.