What to do when your team feels user research is slowing them down

Tired office worker
Image by Andrea Piacquadio

Have you ever felt that conducting research has come at the expense of your team moving quickly?

If you answered yes, you’re not alone.

Plenty of teams, whether they build products, create content, or do just about anything for an organization rely on research to tell them what their customers think, feel, and act on. However, sometimes conducting adequate research can take weeks or even months to get results that your team can use to actually make decisions on.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The goal of user research is to bring the user’s perspective to the table when making decisions on what we are creating for them. It’s important to bring that full perspective to the table but it’s just as important to bring it in a timely manner so that your team can launch problem-solving, benefit-inducing solutions as soon as possible.

Of course, we all want to bring the most accurate representation of our users to the table, but here is how your team can do that in a manner that’s helpful and timely.

Conduct user research earlier

What’s the quickest way to get valuable user research? Easy, just anticipate the decisions you’ll have to make before you have to make them in order to know what research your team will need.

Well, sometimes that’s not easy, but it is quick!

Conducting user research early has several advantages and speed is no doubt one of them. Take time to sit down and think about what questions you’ll need answers to in order to know what research you can conduct ahead of time. Although you’ll need to invest time in research upfront, it will pay dividends down the road when your team hits a crossroads on what to do.

Of course, this sounds good in theory but can be tough in practice. In order to conduct user research early, you’ll need to know upfront what questions your team will have to answer in order to have direction in what you’ll want to research.

When I’m looking to conduct research early, I try to think of as many questions as possible around how users will act or what they will think when they run into a new product or feature. If something is completely new, how can we figure out it will be successful?

If something is an iteration on an existing solution, how do we know this is the right direction to go in?

Try to think of areas your team has blind spots. For each area, come up with as many questions as possible that will give you and your team a clearer picture of how you can be successful.

From there, conduct user research on the questions you’ve come up with to find the answers your team will need down the road.

Look for Minimum Viable Research

In all honesty, just because I’m a researcher, doesn’t mean I want to research everything. There are some things the teams can confidently assume before they launch something.

However, there are some things that the success of a project hinges on. Often times, no one on the team really knows how users will react to what you’ve created. In order to create something that’s a success, those are the things that teams have to research.

Minimum Viable Research helps you understand exactly that: the unknowns that will make or break your work.

In addition to helping your team be successful, only conducting Minimum Viable Research when your team needs answers will allow your team to turn research around quickly.

At the end of the day, conducting Minimum Viable Research is all about prioritization. What is the research that is most impactful to your team’s success?

Knowing this will help you understand precisely what research is critical to your team’s success and can cut out the noise in order for your team to turn around valuable research faster.

Launch, then conduct user research

The reason we leverage user research to make decisions is to understand the unknowns that surround whatever it is we are building.

However, there’s no amount of user research that will tell us absolutely all of the unknowns that will affect how user react to our work when we decide to let it into the wild. At best, we can understand the most important unknowns before launch and learn from the other things that we couldn’t have seen coming.

If this is the case, then sometimes the best user research we can do is just to understand how users react to our work after we have launched it.

Only after launching your product, publishing your content, or releasing your creation into the wild will you fully be able to understand how users react to your work.

But the key is launching something that users can react to.

Take this Medium article for example. I have no idea whether you’ll love it, hate it, or if you won’t even get past the first sentence. I can talk to every reader on Medium and better understand what articles they want to read, but until I write something and get their reaction to it, I’ll never know for sure if what I’m working on is something special, or something that needs a lot more work.

Once you launch whatever you’re working on, you’ll truly be able to listen to your users in a way that can paint a clear picture on what your team can do next to reach success.

When teams come to me scared that conducting user research may slow them down, these are the three remedies I suggest to ensure that we are able to always understand the unknowns before launch or are at least aligned that we will look to understand our users better once we have something for them to react to.

If we can always align on at least one of the three remedies above, we can deliver our work in a timely manner while still putting our users first.

Product Manager > Product Owner > User Researcher