Sometimes you just don't have the exact amount of time that you would like to do your research. But some research is better than none, so sometimes you have to get creative. And these are some things that I've used myself over time that have helped me cut down the time that I spend on research.
Start by Aligning
I recommend starting with an alignment meeting. This might seem like more time, but I can tell you from personal experience that 30 minutes of an alignment meeting can save you 30 hours later on or more.
You want to bring in a representative from each stakeholder group that will be viewing or is interested in your research. The goal of an alignment meeting is to set expectations.
From an integrative thinking perspective, what that really means is you are, for example, bringing in sales and seeing what they really want to get out of this. You're bringing in customer service, you're seeing what they really want to get out of this. You're thinking about your research from the customer and seeing what they really want to get out of this. And when you go through that exercise, you find these really nice synergies that will help you maximise the value of the piece of research you're doing across all those different stakeholders.
You're also setting expectations with all the different various stakeholders that will be interested in this piece of research. You can even set the expectation that folks are not going to get a super nice, well designed PowerPoint presentation with lots of videos spliced together. It can be a verbal readout if you need to do it faster or it can be just bullet points. So long as your group knows that's coming, that's often quite acceptable. When timelines are tight you can waste a lot of time actually documenting your research instead of moving towards the outcomes for the business.
Finally, it's helpful to share the goal of the research. You can send it in writing afterwards if you want with a summary of the alignment meeting to make sure that everyone remembers what was agreed to.
In this alignment meeting, you will probably have a lot of folks adding different things that they want. And if you have a short amount of time, you probably can't do all of them. You don't necessarily want to tell people no, because you may be able to do it in the future. But you want to tuck it away as something that we'll look at later on, we'll assess the value of it, and we'll see if we can prioritise that.
You're not going to be able to please everyone all of the time, but if you go through that exercise, you often get out in front of the objections instead of getting them at the end when you're presenting the research.
Start with existing data
Always start with the data you already have. You can check and get creative about the data sources that might answer your research question.
It's surprising how many folks really don't know what data is available in other departments in the organisation. It's worth asking about things like recording calls, notes in customer relationship management systems like Salesforce. Is there an inbox with customer emails?
When you set up, say, for example, a user interview, you're really artificially creating that situation. You're coming up with questions and you're trying to get people to imagine what they were doing. These other sources are in-the-moment pieces of data, especially recorded calls. You can get some really great insights from those I have found.
If you're looking for opinions, you can use tools like social searchers or UVRX. And you can search to see what's being said about your company if that's something that you're interested in or your company plus keywords if you're interested in perspectives about a certain thing that your company does.
You can also look at session recordings. If you have tools set up like Mouseflow, Datadog, there's a whole host of them. You have tools that can record what users do online. These can be very long so filter down from those recordings into key areas that you're interested in.
You might not need to do usability tests. You might be able to observe existing recordings and see what the problem area is. Review websites are good as well for competitive analysis because people share not just what your competitor has but what they think about what your competitor has.
If you have a research archive, use it. Look at it. Search through it. If you don't have one, set one up. I found Dovetail to be a great tool for this. And it really is amazing how much research gets done because people weren't able to find a previous test or it gets lost in some set of folders somewhere.
You might just want to go to your web analytics tool and look for drop off in your funnel, in your experience flow. Maybe you find the majority of the drop off happens on a certain page you may be able to do a much more focused piece of research. You're always really trying to descale the amount of research that you are doing to be just enough to make the decision.
Unmoderated usability tests can be very quick. You typically buy a platform like usertesting.com or any number of platforms out there. They often have a pool of participants so someone will pick up a test that you create and they go through that themselves. There's a number of advantages to this. First off, if you're doing moderated tests where you have to talk the participant through, you have to do the calendar scheduling, figure it all out. unmoderated testing removes this overhead.
One of my favourite usability tests is to start people on Google or on a blank page. A blank page is better because you're not leading the folks as to what search method to use or where to start. And you just ask them, go ahead and do X. Now, one of the benefits of an unmoderated remote usability test is that you can't interfere with that test. You can't ask questions like you could in a moderated session that might give you different behaviours than if people just went and did it themselves, right?
Another really great thing about this type of test is often people focus on the experience of their products in the context of just their own product. Like they'll start people in their own quote flow, for example. But really, some of the best information I've found is that you start people and you see where they shop and who they look at even before they get to your experience. What are the things that they're thinking about in the broader context before they even get to you. This is a super simple usability test and it's super, super valuable.
One thing I'll also say is if you are exploring different partners for recruitment, a really good question to ask them is if they have recruited this type of user before. It is not ideal to enter a relationship with a recruitment provider where it's their first time trying to figure out how you get these people that can of course extend your timeline.
I'd also say if you're under time pressure, over recruit by two users in these tests. There's a lot of professional testers out there at the moment, right? People that are just faking the tests to get paid the money. If you're really under time pressure, you want to account for that a little bit, not have to get to the end and then have to redo the tests and launch it again. So if you really care about speed, you might want to over recruit a little bit for that.
You don't need to have everything built out to the nth degree fidelity. Sometimes you can get some really good feedback with that.
Sometimes you'll be in a meeting and you'll be trying to gain consensus. Instead of saying, when can you, stakeholder, get me this piece of information that I need for my research or make a decision? Ask how soon can you. Because that puts the emphasis on this being urgent and I need this. Give me the earliest possible time that I can get it.
Another time saving approach is to make quick decisions. There will always be little things that could be done better. But you're kind of saying, hey, group, this is what we're going with unless there are any big objections. And that's often a good way to kind of move the group forward.
Finally, make sure you set expectations and timeframes. "As a next step, we'll meet with whoever and whomever by Y date to determine Z". Too often people leave meetings and it's like, "oh, man, like actually we should have said what we're going to do next when we're in that meeting". You can keep up a nice cadence each time by always setting the next deadline to keep the project moving forward.
First you're starting with what we have observed. You're not introducing your own opinion into this necessarily. You’re saying “I hypothesise” so you're not saying, hey, this is definitely the best way to go. It's just a hypothesis to test. Sometimes when you're very definitive, people can get defensive about that but it can start a whole conversation allowing others to chime in. So it can be good to uncover and resolve objections quickly.
Tight timelines aren’t going anywhere. Running alignment sessions helps to remove ambiguity and misunderstanding that can often derail research timelines. After that, using unmoderated tools can deliver very quick turnaround times, particularly paired with low fidelity prototypes. Finally, it is really important to put timelines on actions so that the insights of the research get put into action.
My key takeaway is that it is possible to do high quality research quickly, it just involves identifying what takes a lot of time in your current processes and trying to implement approaches to minimise them.