DISCLAIMER: Decoding Research shares the experience of User Researchers in the form of illustrated stories. This article is written based on the story of a researcher in the financial sector who shares their challenges and tips to scale user research in a fast-growing organisation by providing a space for recurring feedback.
At the company I worked for, the user research team was just starting to grow and interest in user feedback was increasing. I believe you can say a lot about how people understand user research based on their requests. I noticed that many stakeholders had a superficial understanding of user research. Here are some examples of requests I got*:
Binary requests — Questions that have a yes/no answer: Do you like ice cream?
Leading requests — Questions that had the answers already: Do you like ice cream because it’s delicious and sweet?
Future conditional requests — Questions that precondition the answers: Would you eat ice cream on a summer day?
*The ice cream examples are illustrative 🍦.
I quickly understood that people were excited about user research, which meant they were aware of the potential benefits, they just hadn’t experienced its value.
I began inviting people to take part in user sessions. This is a powerful strategy to increase the reach and impact of user research; seeing users interact with the product, their struggles, and ways of use is an eye-opening experience for stakeholders, which boosts their interest in research.
However, I quickly noticed the limitations of this approach:
- Scalability: A research study has limited participant sessions. When you don’t have a lab or streaming set-up, it is not possible to accommodate everyone who wants to attend a session, making stakeholder participation hard to scale.
- Passive approach: Planning and facilitating sessions, as well as synthesis, fall within the research team task; stakeholders often take a passive attitude when it comes to the sessions, taking the role of observers.
- Sporadic: Research studies were conducted on an initiative basis. For someone outside the team or not taking part in initiatives that require large research efforts, user research becomes a sporadic event rather than a continuous practice.
I realised that these limitations were preventing the organisation from moving from awareness to adoption. The next step was for them to be more intentional by leading sessions themselves and writing research plans.
“The better the team gets at thinking about user research requests, the easier it gets to scale research practices”.
FeedForward: user feedback coffee sessions.
We created FeedForward, an event for designers, product managers, and others in the organisation to talk to users regularly. The event created a space for them to hear users’ feedback, check their assumptions, and validate ideas. Moreover, it was an opportunity to get familiar with user research and put it into practice.
How does a FeedForward session work?
A FeedForward session has a speed dating format, where you invite users to interact with different teams in 15 minutes slots.
During these 15 minutes each team can:
- Have an open conversation with users about their experience
- Do a small usability test
- Gather first impressions about design concepts
For a FeedForward event, each team is responsible for:
- Plan the session: Define the objective, key questions, and materials — including the prototype.
- Conduct the session with defined roles: a moderator and a note-taker.
- Synthesise and share findings: analyse the user’s input and share it with the organisers and the rest of the team.
How to set up a feed-forward session?
Here is our rough sketch on what to do to set up a session:
- Define the space and the organising team.
- Create documentation that explains what is FeedForward, how to join a session, who are the organisers, and what to expect.
- Have a signup page and template for teams to add their research objective, questions, and prototype.
- Run a pilot to fine-tune the format and get support for the initiative.
- Recruit participants and send them a reminder the day before the session.
- Ensure that the organising team is available for prep and trial sessions if needed.
- Create guidelines for how to conduct the session, what to do and what to avoid.
- Conduct and document the session with a facilitator and a note-taker.
- Have the teams synthesise their work and share it.
- Iterate. Have a short debrief, learn and make it better.
The power of FeedForward sessions:
Get people to learn about user research through something they care about. Teams signed up to FeedForward because of their interest in making their designs better or getting input on how to prioritise work. But this motivation encouraged them to up their skills planning and conducting research.
Accelerate the learning curve by setting up an environment to practice research. At first, the user research team closely guided and supported the teams to ensure the quality and value of findings. However, as stakeholders conducted the sessions, experienced the challenges, and synthesised the outcomes, they rapidly identify what went wrong and more importantly, why.
Increase positive brand perception by letting customers be part of the process. Participants felt a sense of co-creation and appreciated teams’ interest in hearing them.
The research team stops being a bottleneck. When more people in the organisation are empowered and confident with research practices, the researcher role evolves to assuring research quality and focusing on larger, more complex requests.
So far, we have run several successful feedforward sessions. I call them successful because the requests have evolved. They are no longer superficial. There is an evident research mindset growth. Furthermore, team members have more ease and confidence when running sessions.
What other ways have you used to empower stakeholders with user research efforts?
🎙 Do you have a story to tell? Share your learnings with us! email@example.com