UX research strategy 101: How to start setting priorities

In the early days of UX Research we had to work really hard to be seen and our efforts were focussed on selling UX research internally. But we have been so successful in creating an appetite for our work that we now face a new challenge: we’re struggling to keep up with demand. The snowball we started turned into an avalanche of research requests.

You might be taking all research requests. Or filling up your calendar and saying no to new requests that don’t fit. These are probably not the tactics that benefit you and your craft most. It’s time to take a more strategic approach to project prioritization and start saying no more often.

In this article, I’d like to share a hands-on process of how to get started with UX research strategy and the art of prioritizing (+ a Miro template that can help you along the way).

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Why say NO in UX research?

If you are going to be setting priorities it is unavoidable that you will also have to say no. And that’s going to be hard.

As humans we are wired to be wanting to fit in and avoid conflict. But we’re not just any ‘type of humans’, we are UX researchers. Many of us are driven by the motivation to help others, and telling stakeholders ‘no’ just isn’t our way to do so.

So it’s hard and uncomfortable but saying no is a crucial step in maturing our research craft within organizations and delivering on our strategy:

  • It provides focus – saying no leaves room for strong yeses​
  • You can perform well on​ activities you say yes to
  • ​More & steady growth as a team and individuals (since we spend our resources on where we believe it matters)

UX research strategy: Mission, Vision and Goals

In order for you to decide which battles to pick, and which ones to say no to, it is crucial to take a step back and think from the start.

Discuss, define and refine your Mission, Vision and Goals – which form the foundation of your UX research strategy.

  • Your Mission describes why your team exists, its core value for the organization, and covers why you do what you do.
  • Your Vision makes that Mission more concrete in the form of an aspirational statement that describes more of the ‘how’. How do you work towards your Mission?
  • Your Goals are the final component, the most concrete and short term. Which goals will you pursue in the upcoming year? What will you be doing in the upcoming (half) year to move in the direction of your Vision?

Your research strategy allows you to evaluate requests, and start saying no to the ones that don’t align or align the least. You can subsequently use your Mission, Vision and Goals in communication with stakeholders. In that way they can understand why you don’t fulfill their request which creates clarity and transparency.

How to define your Mission, Vision and Goals

Run workshop(s) with researchers/allies

A good way to get started with UX research strategy is to gather input during a workshop with your research team. From that workshop you can derive statements that form your Mission and Vision as well as collaboratively define Goals.

If you’re a research team of 1 you can do such activity, with some adjustments to the audience, with your research ‘allies’. For example, your UX design peers, favorite stakeholders or your manager.

Below I’m sharing 5 workshop activities that I put together for my research team at Backbase (plus, a Miro template!). These exercises walk you through multiple steps to help you collaboratively ideate on your mission, vision and goals. There are multiple great workshop examples you can find on the web (find resources that were my inspiration at the bottom). Pick and mix what you believe works best for you and your team.

Mission workshop activities

Each of the following activities follows a set structure of brainstorming/writing, discussing and then voting for the highlights of the exercise.

1) What are we proud of

For this step every workshop participant writes down what from the past (half) year they are proud of. Those could be things they achieved as an individual and things we achieved as a discipline and team.

This is a nice icebreaker to start the session and it puts everyone’s brains in a positive, constructive mindset. Next to that, it also gives a good first peek into your purposes.

The things that you are proud of and that made you feel achieved are often the ones that are most aligned with your purpose.

An example from our session was that we were proud of kicking off our first version of the Insights Center – a company wide insights repository.

Image from Miro template with the workshop activity #1 - What we're proud of

2) Why are you a researcher

Investigate and share with one another why we chose to be researchers and what makes us enjoy the role.

Continue by creating a list of all people (roles) who benefit from research work. Keep adding how they benefit and what the value of research is to them. This can be both value you believe it should have or wished it had, as well as the value it currently has.

For example: our value for business is that we save them money as we help to avoid building things no one needs.

Vision workshop activities

3) Start dreaming. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if….

Talking about purpose and mission can be quite abstract. But with discussions regarding the vision, the aim is to make it more tangible. Imagine if you were to do the first exercise again, in a few years time: What would be the things you look back on as major achievements?

Brainstorm ideas by completing aspirational statements:

  • Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we created …
  • Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we influenced … 
  • Would it be fantastic if we are able to control …
Image from Miro template with the workshop activity #3 - Wouldn't it be fantastic if...

Goals workshop activities

You can derive your Goals from the rough definition of your Mission and Vision that you ideated and voted on in the first exercises.

Where a Mission statement can last forever and a Vision statement at least multiple years, with Goals you will define what you’re after for the upcoming year.

If you feel your mission and vision are defined enough and clear you can continue to the next exercises. However, if they are still too vague or if workshop participants aren’t aligned you might want to spend additional time polishing them.

4) Run a retrospective

Next to the Mission and Vision statements other relevant input for your goals is generated by conducting a team retrospective. On the one hand, this helps to bring our brains back to the more tactical layer of our work. On the other hand, it provides insights into the bottlenecks and opportunities for research right now.

5) Ideate Goals based on indicators of research maturity

With those inputs in sight you will start brainstorming ideas for research team goals. As the basis for this ideation and to make sure you get to the right level of depth/breadth, brainstorm around the various attributes that were identified by Dscout as indicators that define an organization’s research maturity:

  1. Scope: What do we consider to be research’s purpose?
  2. Approach: How are we getting research done?
  3. Talent: Who makes up our research teams?
  4. Structure: Where does research “fit” within an org? 
  5. Tempo: What timelines do we expect for research projects?
  6. Output: What do we do with findings once a study concludes?
Image from Miro template with the workshop activity #5 - Ideate based on indicators of research maturity

Synthesize workshop input & get feedback

At this point, the exercises from the workshop and the dot votes should give you a lot of input and inspiration to start drawing up the Mission, Vision and Goals.

It’s best if one or two people do it. At this stage, it is very much about the semantics. Play around and explore different combinations of words, sentences and synonyms to get to statements and goals that capture the essence for your team best.

Pick a few diverse options and run them past your team for feedback. Ask them what resonates with them most, what they feel less connected to and be open to suggestions for alternatives.

After a few rounds of polishing – you’ll have your UX research team’s Mission, Vision and Goals. Here’s an example of what we came up with at Backbase:

UXR Mission: As a UX research team we help product teams understand and empathise with the needs and experiences of their end-users so that they can develop banking solutions that are desirable, easy and delightful to use.
UXR Vision: Through collaboratively conducting, facilitating and sharing user research we create and nurture a widely shared and in-depth understanding of end-users and their needs
UXR Goals: 1. Do more explorative and less evaluative research 2. Enable UX designers to run quick (but not dirty) evaluative research 3. Decrease time-to-insight by investing in research ops excellence

How to use it in practice 

We have various ways in which we use our statements and goals, both explicitly in putting them on boards or slides as well as more implicit, keeping them in the back of our minds.

  • When introducing new colleagues to research
  • To set personal goals
  • When we talk about research as a craft (e.g., in all hands sessions or our UX guild meetings)
  • In our quarterly research roadmapping and prioritization workshops with stakeholders

What a UX research strategy can bring you

Project prioritization becomes more of a conversation instead of a ‘you-ask-we-deliver’ mindset. We run quarterly workshops with all product teams that revolve around understanding the needs and research opportunities as well as discussing its priorities. Our mission, vision and goals provide strategic guidance before we continue with the more tactical prioritization of projects (e.g., based on effort/impact, assumptions/risk, etc.).

Through those conversations we also build a better understanding of ‘why’ research exists which helps our stakeholders to gradually bring more interesting and impactful questions to the table.

The researchers become more confident and in control of their work and workload.

Finally, we also feel more united as a team. Rallying as a team around a common vision is truly motivating and inspirational.

Resources and additional inspiration

  • Moves to Modern Research: A New Maturity Model for User-Centric Organizations by Michael Winnick and Mac Hasley (Dscout)

Cover photo by Pauline Bernfeld on Unsplash

Ilse Blom (she/her)

Ilse started her career as a UI/UX designer at a health insurance company and then later moved to funda. When a UX Research position opened up, it was through her participation in the hiring interviews and passionately telling those candidates about the role that she discovered her secret crush on research. Eventually, it was her that got the role and the opportunity to build the in-house research practice; later the research team from scratch.

In the past couple of years she continued to enhance her strategic and coaching capabilities as UX Research manager at Backbase. Currently she is exploring new realms as a freelancer in the role of Service Designer for Jumbo Supermarkten.

Ilse is passionate about empowering and enabling fellow researchers in defining and pursuing their personal and professional missions in making companies, processes and products truly human-centric.


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