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10 tips for working with your user researcher

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Team sport

Whether you’ve just got a user researcher on your team, or you’ve been working together for a while, there are ways you can make sure you’re collaborating as effectively as possible.

User researchers work with the entire team. So whether you’re a product manager, a delivery manager, a designer, a developer or an analyst, your team’s user researcher will be able to help you.

Here are 10 tips for getting the most out of your user researchers’ skills.

1. Know what your user researcher will do

A user researcher is there to help the team learn about users’ behaviours, struggles and needs. This includes: helping you to frame useful questions for user research, designing and delivering user research, then analysing findings and presenting back actionable insights to the wider team and stakeholders.

2. Know what your user researcher won’t do

User researchers won’t do something just because it’s got the word research in it. For example, they shouldn’t be doing technology research or looking at the flow of data in a business process. But they may support this type of research by working with an expert in that area.

Equally, you shouldn’t expect them to tell you how you should change your product. They can help you understand what’s working or not for users. The question of how to change your product is a design and product management conversation, and user researchers will feed into that.

3. Don’t keep your user researcher in the dark

User researchers don’t like being in the dark. Practically or metaphorically.

On a practical level, encourage and enable them to get out of the building and meet users.

Metaphorically, make sure you keep your user researcher in the loop about what you’re planning so they can align their research activities. How you do this depends on your team, but it could include involving them in planning meetings or collaborating with them on your product roadmap.

4. Give them clear direction about what you want from the research

You’ll get poor results if your user researcher doesn’t have a clear sense of what you want to find out and why you need to know it. The more specific you are about questions you have, and why you want to know answer them, the better results you’ll get.

5. Don’t expect them to be certain

Good user researchers are rarely 100% certain about anything. That’s because they are trained to have analytical and skeptical minds that demand proof. That can be frustrating because sometimes you will want certainty. But you will get better results if you ask: ‘Are we confident enough to [build x / change y...]?’

6. Find systematic ways to integrate user research into your product

The team needs systematic ways to incorporate user research findings into the product development and direction. Otherwise it doesn’t happen.

There’s plenty of ways to do this. It could be regular user research playbacks to share research with the team. It could be creating accessible documentation of what questions the user research is asking and answering, such as the knowledge kanban. Or it could be including user researchers in short and medium-term planning conversations.

7. Remember that ‘User research is a team sport’

Make sure someone from the team joins the researcher regularly to observe user research. It’s not for the researcher’s benefit. It’s for the team. Otherwise, the team will forget about their users. I guarantee it.

A researcher and their team working together to review a research session
A researcher and their team working together to review a research session

8. Don’t expect recruiting research participants to be easy

Recruiting research participants is hard. It always takes longer than you want it to, so make sure you plan for that. Even when you get participants lined up, not every test will go well. Sometimes people cancel, are late or just end up not being the right people to test with. Expect this. Screen your participants well and plan for mishaps with the numbers you recruit.

9. Don’t forget that there’s work to do after the research (and not just before it)

Doing the research sessions is not the end of the process. Make sure you set aside time to analyse the research data, and create and communicate clear findings. We say ‘1 part research, 2 parts communication’. Expect and plan for this.

10. Be open with your researcher if you’re not getting useful things from the research

Sometimes you may feel you’re not getting useful things out of your user research. Be open with your user researcher. Make sure they have specific questions to answer, and help them to focus on things the team can take action on.

So that’s my starter for (literally) 10.

Do you have your own tips for working with user researchers? Please put them in the comments. I’m sure this is just the first 10 points of a much longer list!

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  1. Comment by Rob Maslin posted on

    I'd add two things from my experience: 1) Evidencing (the process of writing up, filling and putting research into a format that it can be analysed) is sometimes the most time-consuming part of the process, longer than interviews themselves in some cases. It means you can't expect researchers to do 4 or 5 interviews in a row, which is also exhausting. But it takes less time to write interviews up when they are fresh in the memory, so listen to researchers, plan time for evidence. However, don't expect to evidence always take the same amount of time, it depends on the technique the coherence of the person interviewed, the duration and if using audio it can depend on how clearly people speak.

  2. Comment by Tom Walker posted on

    I love this Kieron but how do you introduce this to your team? I’d worry it would come across as provocative. Any advice? Has anyone had success showing this to their team?

    • Replies to Tom Walker>

      Comment by John Waterworth posted on

      Thanks Tom, we tend to work gradually with teams. Start with the simplest things that a user researcher can do to help the team learn about users and make better services - some usability testing of latest features, some visits to users with some group analysis after. Then gradually build up as the team gets more experience.

  3. Comment by Sharon posted on

    The secret to useful research is asking the right questions. If you have identified a problem area, tailor your questions to yes and no answers. Any extra detail you get is a bonus.