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Today the user research is seen as far more important by leadership in the organisations than ever before. User researchers are a curious bunch, uber excited about the prospect of observing people, talking to people, finding the unknown and helping the businesses to become user centric. Keeping the thrill and excitement of the role aside, the researchers are bound to face some challenges. Whether a researcher is part of an organisation (irrespective of a small, medium or large business) or involved as an external user researcher, most challenges are common. Our Senior UX consultants and the UX team at UXArmy attempted to put our experience together and list down those challenges in this article.
Scoping the research
The starting point, a part of research planning, sees most pitfalls. Depending upon the experience of the researcher and the UX maturity of the organisation, poor research scoping can render the research ineffective. Scoping challenges can result from exploratory research naturally lacking a definite direction. For exploratory research, it might take several rounds of discussions to reach an agreement on what needs to be found. For research types other than the exploratory, the challenges are generally around managing excitement, avoiding being over-ambitious and developing a sound understanding of the target audience.
Management and business stakeholders may push the research to find out too much too quickly. Despite that, keeping alignment with business vision is a tough challenge for the researchers. New researchers find these situations more difficult to handle than their seasoned counterparts.
Recruiting research participants
Recruiting the right participants is vital to user research. Diluting the recruitment criteria in lack of availability of the right respondents invalidates the findings from user research. Having said that, recruiting the right respondents for user research can be time and effort intensive. In that case, it is recommended that you engage a vendor specialised in research recruitment. In that way, researchers can focus on the design of research and achieving the desired distribution of respondents in the sample.
Researchers happen to be very busy people. They need to scope the research, dig into the past research repositories (which could be a cloud Drive or Sharepoint) to prepare design of research, handle logistics like recruitment, tools, venue etc. and then perform the analysis and synthesis. At the same time, researchers try to reach an agreement within their team and with other stakeholders on the need and purpose of the research.
Some of the stakeholders might lack context of the earlier research and therefore interpret the findings from the part research in their own way, resulting in further divergent views and more discussions. The researcher then needs to take on the role of a facilitator and ‘educator’ to bring everyone on the same page.
All this work adds up and this bandwidth constraint can adversely affect the quality of research.
Research is undervalued
In some organisations, a common Perception is that User Research is expensive and slow. In fact, it is. This perception is further reinforced among stakeholders outside of the Design department because there are no known metrics to quantify the success of Research. The research is subjective and therefore the likelihood of finding a metric is remote. This is in deep contrast to measuring the performance of other disciplines e.g. Software by the number of bugs and Customer service by the customer ratings or the number of customer calls.
Executives and other stakeholders outside the Design department generally lack the exposure to the users. Their ability to map user behaviour to the product usage is not their competence area. We often meet Design leaders and researchers who simply could not get cross-functional team leads to participate in the research - those were generally busy addressing immediate business priorities. Undervaluing User Research is a deadly disease to an organisation.
Undervaluing research may not mean that the expectation from the researchers is going to be low. In organisations where Research does not feed into the product strategy, the researchers could be considered to be “knows-it-all” people about users, which is indeed not the case. In fact, researchers have the challenge of accepting to themselves that they do not know all the answers.
Factually user research is a relatively new field. Many stakeholders might not see user research as valuable as building a new feature to match or win from the competition. Very few organisations allocate sufficient research budgets because the executives do not realise that research can also open new business opportunities.
Immediate pressures on business stakeholders to increase revenues from existing business and shareholder value forces them to invest less in research. The researcher ends up spending a significant amount of time and energy justifying the value of the research and convincing the stakeholders. Contrary to user research, the returns on investing in technology upgrade, software feature or a design upgrade might seem to deliver higher Return on Investments (ROI).
Some organisations would not even invest in a aptly sized research team because of their powerful business position or in cases their business is serving a highly specialised end user segment. This results in overload on the researchers.
Value of findings
By the time the user researcher synthesises the findings in a Report and presents it to the product team, the project plan may not have the resources to incorporate those findings in the product.
Not all the researchers may have the necessary persuasion or presentation skills to present the key findings in a compelling way. By training, not many researchers are skilled at speaking the language of business profits. Mapping research insights to profit margins is also subjective - compelling arguments are needed to convince stakeholders and project teams about the difference an insight would make to the bottomline.
Research as a formality
Some organisations hire the researchers but the function is more of a “tick mark” than research playing a strategic role in the business. At times we have observed that insights are sought by the project team on extremely short notice because the project checklist included usability testing. However, when the project plan was prepared, the researcher was not consulted. It's also possible that the people providing inputs to planning did not have sufficient knowhow about the research and already available insights.
New researchers may not see the benefit of proactively convincing or educating their stakeholders about the benefits of research. The researchers might be busy polishing their knowledge or delivering the ongoing research all the time.
Being a user researcher does not just need a single skill. It is beyond the ability to ask questions from participants. Skills of Designing good research, asking the right questions and synthesising the findings fall short of expectations! Researchers need to equip themselves with Business mindset, Sales and Soft skills for their research to make a positive impact to the organisation and to the world.
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