Summary
It can be easy to start a study simply because stakeholders ask. However, this makes it easy to deliver findings that aren't immediately or directly tied to how your team works. By focusing on the decisions or actions your team wants to take after the study, you'll be able to conduct specific, actionable and impactful research.
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Topic #1:

Focus on post-study decisions

Before jumping into a research study, you need to understand why the study should happen in a first place. Talk with your stakeholders and explicitly write down what they want to do after the study ends. Do they want to pick one of two design directions? Or are they trying to identify and address gaps in the experience? Perhaps they want to build something entirely new and just want to better understand a segment of users? Once you do this, you can start to frame questions to collect useful data.

Your team might not know what decision they want to take or everyone might have different ideas of what to do. This isn't a bad thing! Recognizing that your team isn't aligned can be insightful in and of itself. Discuss the product roadmap, market forces, larger company goals and current product analytics as a team to align on what to study.
Action Steps

Ask "What do you hope to do after the study ends?"

Have one-on-one stakeholder conversations to map out the important post-study decisions. You can ask your entire team at once, but you might hear only the "loudest" or "senior" stakeholders.

Topic #2:

Collect the right information

Once you know what the team hopes to do after your study ends, you want to work with them to figure out what information will help take those actions. If your team needs to pick one of two design options, is it important to collect usability data alone or alongside how each design made users feel? Would knowing how often people use the latest feature help make decisions after a study?

While collecting the "right" information is a loaded sentence, the idea is to figure out what info from users will help make it easier to make those aligned decisions. In different contexts, the "right" information might be different or even be impossible to get. For example, if your design team wants to know how a user's eye moves as they view a design, it might be impossible to do this without eye-tracking software. If you know something can't be done given your constraints, inform the team early and try to pivot to more answerable questions.

Your team might not always know what's good to learn so be prepared to pitch research topics you could study. Just make sure those topics are directly tied to post-study decisions.
Action Steps

Ask "What information from users would help inform those actions?"

If there are multiple pieces of information that would help make post-study decisions, see if you can group them into larger topics to study. You'd write research questions based on these topics.

See if you can group informational needs into qualitative or quantitative buckets. This makes it easier to plan your study and collect useful information.

Topic #3:

Select an approach

Once you know the decision and useful information to collect, it should be much easier to plan your study. Try to select research questions, methods and participants that are directly tied to that post-study decision. If you've already grouped informational needs into qual/quant buckets, picking methods should be fast.

Make sure to identify the constraints that you need to research within. This includes how long you can run your study, how easy is it to get participants, any study budgets and the types of research tools or software you have. Based on these constraints, you might have to study a qualitative informational need differently (such as remote interviews instead of traveling to a participant's location).

Write it all down into a research plan and get feedback/alignment on it before you start prepping for your study. Make sure to include the following topics in your research plan:

  • Post-study decision(s)
  • Research Questions that collect the needed information
Action Steps

Ask "Does this research plan need to change before we start our study?"

Try to send out the research plan digitally so that it's faster than finding open calendar times to have a large meeting.

Log all of the feedback or comments in one place, making & sending out changes quickly.

Final thoughts

By focusing on the decisions and related informational needs, you set yourself up to conduct meaningful research. The sheer act of narrowing and aligning on what's important can not only bring your team together but make them excited to be a part of your research.

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