SSC Debrief
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SSC Debrief

“Start, Stop, Continue” Debrief

Easily drive evidence-based actions with your team

What is SSC?

Start, Stop, Continue syntax that connects observed evidences to an action

When to use the SSC exercise?

The Prerequisites

  • Members of the debrief team must observe several research sessions so they are not so biased when sharing insights.
  • They must be trained to observe user studies objectively. For example, they must be able to differentiate their own ideas from their observations.
  • They must take notes of their observations and ideas while observing participants. They should take notes independently and try to avoid inter-observer inferences until the debrief.

Observer training before interview sessions

Start, Stop, Continue note-card template.
  • Tell them why it’s important to make objective observations and not to mistake their own ideas for objective evidences, and explain to them the structure of SSC syntax.
  • Show them that they will be filling out post-its like the ones above so that they know what kinds of things they should be paying attention to.
  • Tell them that they are going to be generating a lot of these post-its — at least 1 post-it for each observation they make.
  • We can dive into the details at the time of the debrief.
  • An effective observer intensively watches, listens to, and records the participants’ attitudes, behaviors, reactions (visual and audible), words, and messages. They try to identify recurring themes over time and across users, but not to immediately jump to solutions.
  • To avoid jumping to solutions, emphasize that observers should take notes of what exactly happens. It is better to record what the participant said as close to verbatim as possible or at least summarize what the participant said, not what observers think the participant meant or would want. They should be able to read their notes and be able to confidently say, “This is what the participant said,” or “This is how the participant behaved,” or “This is how the participant felt.”
  • Participants may sometimes provide solutions. For example, a participant proposes, “You should send me emails updating me about my application status every week.” If this is the case, it can still be valuable to write it down. However, observers must understand WHAT problem it solves and WHY the participant thought their proposed solution would solve their problem because participants could be making assumptions. The problem might be they don’t know the status of their application frequently enough (ie. weekly). They check their email regularly so they think emails would be the best way to get updates. They think weekly updates are sufficient because they expect the application to take more than a few days. In this case, we can identify two assumptions that participants has:
  • Encourage observers to identify recurring themes within and across participants. Tell them to record the repetitive findings, not to ignore them. Having it written down on paper makes it more compelling.

How to run the Start, Stop, Continue Debrief?

Start, Stop, Continue wall for the team debrief
  • Large 8x6” post-it pads for each observer participating in the debrief. The standard square post-its are too small and hard to read when on the wall.
  • Sharpies. It is difficult to read anything on the wall when written in regular pen because it’s too thin.
  • A timer.
  • Large wall to post and cluster everyone’s post-its
  • Start, Stop, Continue Overview Deck
  • Book a meeting room for ~60 minutes
  • Invite anyone who observed several sessions
  • Designate three areas on the wall for “Start,” “Stop,” and “Continue” items (see figure).
  • Distribute post-it pads and sharpies.
  • Explain how the debrief works (you can show this deck to your group).
  • Everyone in the room is required to jot down ONE idea per post-it, always following the format of “Start [Action Item], because [Observed Evidence].”
  • The goal is to generate as many post-its as possible. Don’t overthink things. Write out all possibilities even if you think they’re not good. Don’t waste time cleaning/editing your ideas.
  • Encourage the room to refer to their notes if they can’t remember.
  • Shorten/extend the time limit to suit your needs.
  • Some people may forgo the [Observed Evidence]. You can do some “quality control” to ensure people are adhering to the framework. Encourage the group to provide the [Observed Evidence] either immediately after the 5 minutes are up or as people are sticking post-its to the wall.
  • Choose one person to start the read-out.
  • Have them start reading one post-it out loud at a time. If they have forgotten to write down the “Observed Evidence,” have them write it down.
  • After each post-it is read out, have them stick the post-it under the “Start” section of the board.
  • After the first person has finished sharing and posting all their post-its, move onto the second person and have them read and post their ideas.
  • Cluster similar ideas with the post-its already on the wall.
  • Continue until everyone has posted all their post-its on the wall.
  • Go over each of the clusters with the room.
  • Ask anyone who wants to “+1” an idea if they agree with an idea they didn’t have a post-it for. Add their initials to the bottom corner of the post-it.
  • Repeat steps 1–3.
  • Repeat steps 1–3.
  • Take a group selfie 😊.
  • Take pictures of the completed board.
  • Collect all post-its. Make sure to retain the categories so it’s easier to type up.
  • Make a copy of this spreadsheet template.
  • Type each post-it up into the spreadsheet. You can ask your teammates for help!
  • Share the spreadsheet with your stakeholders and debrief teammates. Have them contribute to the spreadsheet (e.g. column “Changes incorporated into next iteration?”)
  • Revisit this spreadsheet to track progress of changes implemented as a result of your research and debrief (e.g. after 2 weeks, 1 month, etc.).

Variations of SSC debrief

  • Conduct the debrief exercise after EACH interview session then collate, categorize, and tabulate the post-its after all interviews have been finished.
  • Record all your sessions.
  • Assign one video per stakeholder.
  • Conduct the debrief as described in the article. Emphasize that they must record the participant ID on each post-it.
  • Alternatively send observers a survey (detailed in “Variation 4: Virtual Form”)
  • Example tools: Mural, Figma, Miro, Google Jamboard, etc. (some are free or have free trials)
  • Mural example below:
An example of using Mural to do virtual SSC debrief
  • Not ideal, but insights and facts are fresh in your stakeholders’ minds. This is an opportunity to have cross-functional stakeholders engage and collaborate with each other.

One more thing!



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George Zhang

Sr. Director of UX Research at Course Hero. Formerly Google, Uber, Intel. Received Ph.D in I/O psychology.