“Can you run a usability test for me with x number of participants?”
“We need to have research findings ASAP, can you finish the project within this week?”
“We already did UX research, so our product should be user-friendly.”
Have you heard these above from your stakeholders? If so, that makes me feel less lonely, because those questions were literally what I heard from my product team when I was their first UX researcher.
In the past few years, I have been mostly working together with newly-formed departments, helping them establish the research process from scratch. The experience of being the first researcher in the team, though sometimes kept me up at night, has taught me how to level up research maturity and lead strategic efforts without the lead title. I would like to share with you my 3 steps guide to building an effective relationship with your UX research stakeholders, together with a few templates that you can use for your projects.
Step 1: Understand
As UX researchers, we are the experts in understanding users’ needs. In the meantime, our business stakeholders, our product teams, are also users – they’re the users of our research findings. Therefore, it’s equally important to understand their needs, goals and expectations.
So when we join a new team, the first research project is always leveraging our expertise in anthropology to research our stakeholders. Before I start working with my new team members, I always set up a 1:1 interview with them to understand 3 research areas:
- The research maturity
- The org structure, business model and success metrics
- The expectations for each other
#1 Research maturity
To understand this, I often ask about their previous experience with UX research. Even if they had no dedicated research support in the past, there might be some ad hoc or temporary support from a research agency, so
- What was the experience for them working together with that researcher?
- What did they like about it and what could’ve been done differently?
- What are the research studies that they’ve conducted so far?
- How did they incorporate the findings into product decisions?
These questions will help us understand how they see UX research, and how they incorporate it into the product development cycle.
Check these resources if you want to learn more about how to assess the UX research maturity:
- UX Research Maturity Model, Tomer Sharon
- The 6 Levels of UX Maturity, NN/g
#2 Org structure, business model & success metrics
When you speak the business language, people are more likely to be convinced. The information about the organisation structure, business model and success metrics is often introduced in onboarding training or documented in the content hub of your company. And if not, do make sure to connect with your colleagues and ask them about their business goals and how they measure success.
Being clear about what success looks like to your business stakeholders will help you understand how to make them successful with your research magic. Besides that, having a better idea of the business landscape also helps you become more understanding of your stakeholders. For example, when they don’t follow up on your research findings or product recommendations, it could be because the implementation effort is high, or there is too much overlap in ownership with other teams, which all make things complicated for them to take action.
If you want to learn more about how to hone your business acumen as a UX researcher, check this webinar Impactful UX: Business Essentials for Researchers and Designers featured by Carolyn Hou and McLean Donnelly.
#3 Expectations for each other
For my most close stakeholders, I often run a little exercise with each other in our first meeting. It’s simple: we write down our top 3 important things at work and 3 expectations for each other. Then, we explain why they are important to us.
For example, I made it clear to my product manager that to work with me, I would like you to bring me into your process and involve me early. Also, don’t just name a research method, I need to know the research questions and business outcome you want to achieve, I’m the one deciding which research method to use.
This exercise not only helps align expectations and set up boundaries with your stakeholder but is also great for getting to know each other better and building up rapport from the very beginning.
Step 2: Build trust
We all say that as UX researchers, we want to influence product decisions. There are 2 principles that are relevant for building trust with our teams – authority and liking from the book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.
People gravitate toward those who are more familiar with them or share similar views. Also, people are more likely to be influenced by those they are affiliated with. If you want to gain trust as a UX researcher, you need to make yourself considered as part of the team. Meanwhile, the more authority you’re perceived to have, the more likely people are complying with you. So shaping yourself as a credible expert is important to make your team trust your opinion.
Liking: Become part of the team
To become part of the team, we need to be present and have our visibility. We can do that by setting up (bi)-weekly 1:1s with our key stakeholders and joining their team meetings and rituals.
Many of us are wary of adding yet another meeting to our calendar. But when we avoid the meetings with our stakeholders, we’re out of sight, and then out of mind, especially when we’re working remotely.
The weekly 1:1 with my stakeholders is where we discuss the ongoing research studies and interesting research insights. In these discussions, we treat each other as thought partners to bounce off ideas. I’m also able to monitor the impact and implementation of my insights, or, to find ways to incept an idea/problem so that the insights move from knowledge into action. It is a casual but effective way to engage the team in UX research and influence product decision-making.
As for joining team meetings and rituals, it helps to get updated about planning and changes to have research planned early in the product development life cycle. Besides that, it’s also great for building the synergy of working together.
Authority: Position yourself as the expert
Making our team members ‘like’ us is not enough, we also need to position ourselves as credible experts.
As UX researchers, we want to make fundamental changes and have research become the “must-have” instead of the “nice-to-have” in the business strategy. However, human nature is uncomfortable with uncertainty and big changes. So when we just join a team, rather than starting a UX ‘revolution’, it’s always more effective to start small to prove the value of research with the lower-hanging fruits, then promote the success and scale it up to something bigger.
A usability project is often a good start. By observing users interacting with the product, your team will discover that their initial hypothesis based on their personal experience might not apply to every user. It also brings the eureka moments and inspires them to come up with better solutions, and, most importantly, more follow-up research questions.
Step 3: Make it a routine
After we get the trust of the team and build a good record, it’s time to operationalize the research practice. In general, there are 4 types of research activities that we need to set up clear processes for:
- Stakeholder involvement: Agree on what is expected from stakeholders to make research a team sport
- Research quarterly planning: Integrate UX research into the product roadmap and strategy by planning things in advance
- Research training: Communicate what UX research is, why it’s needed, and how to work together with researchers
- Research cadence: Democratize evaluative research with research enablement programs
UX research templates
My fabulous research team at Miro has been creating lots of great templates. Check out the links below to copy the templates and use them for your research studies.
For building the working agreement with stakeholders
For facilitating research sessions & workshops
Credit to Ana Kyra Bekš, Laura Ward and Justin Mertes
You might have already noticed that there is a lot on our plate. Besides conducting research, there is also stakeholder education, building connections, and sometimes, a little politics.
Set up boundaries and make sure you’re working on the most strategic stuff. Learn to take care of yourself, and be clear about what you’re willing to do and what is just too much.
Many companies may expect that if they hire UX people, they will become customer-centric right away, which could be one of the reasons many UX practitioners struggle. So it’s totally alright if we’re not successful in being the first researcher in the team. I mean, you don’t even marry your first love, don’t you? 🙂
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