What is a Pivotal Research Iteration?
As a designer at Pivotal Labs, I treat every week of research as a new opportunity to iterate, to learn something new from real people and apply it to our products. I’m not a designer sprinting towards a finish line — that needs a lot of recovery time. Rather, my team is reliably crushing assumptions and increasing product fidelity as part of a research iteration, ahem, a Pivotal Research Iteration. We start the week with research goals and end with a backlog of features that are prioritized, designed, built, and shipped.
So, I’ve created the Pivotal Research Iteration Trello template to share the week(ish)-long process* I follow with researchers inside and outside of Labs to make the most of our time — whether we’re planning, conducting, or sharing exploratory or evaluative research. Every checklist, best practice, and step in the process has been hard won, so I hope whatever stage you’re at, you can start using it right now. Of course, this template works best when you copy the board, read the instructions and work through the first checklist, but feel free to start wherever you need.
Not sold yet?
Here are three reasons I can’t live without it:
- It’s fool-proof lean research. Just follow the checklists and you’re using the latest lean research methods. Read a few best practice cards to avoid rookie mistakes. And never forget to print an NDA, grab a water, or send an Amazon gift card again.
- It’s remote-friendly and collaborative. No matter where my stakeholders, clients, or fellow researchers live, everyone can learn, see progress, and contribute.
- It’s self-documenting and glanceable. By keeping each iteration week visually in one place, presenting to stakeholders and looking back on past weeks’ research goals, learnings, and impacts becomes effortless. This Trello is so light-weight, it practically fills itself out.
*What’s the process?
After doing user research with many different types of Labs clients and users — and learning from the best lean researchers I know — I’ve captured the research process I find most useful in 8 simple lists. These lists document your weekly research iteration’s…
- Goals — realistic research goals for the week
- Links — quick links to the screener, participant list, interview guide, NDA, and prototype
- Participants (Day 1) — scheduled participants on day 1 of interviews
- Participants (Day 2)— scheduled participants on day 2 of interviews
- Quotes — important quotes tagged with the participant who said it
- Insights — patterns of behavior shared across three or more participants
- Action Items — new features and next steps that address user insights
- Done — completed checklists and action items
Anyone on your team can fill out these lists by working through the five checklists. The checklists detail what steps to take…
- Before research starts (2–5 days)
- Before each interview (20 min)
- During each interview (20–60 min)
- Right after each interview (30 min)
- After you’ve finished all the interviews (60 min)
Along the way, you’ll be reading best practices, tips, and examples for every step — including how to set realistic research goals, write interview guides, and create clear action items from prioritized insights.
After the lists have been filled out and checklists completed, you’ll end up with both well documented research sharable via Trello, and a list of action items that will change your product for the better.
Thanks to Kim Dowd, Jamie Crabb, Chris Amavisca, and Rhea Kaw for their advice and feedback