Planning UX Research Studies with Stakeholders

April 5, 2021

Planning is one of the most important steps when you’re going to do usability testing, concept testing, or any type of UX research. Collectively planning a UX study with your stakeholders helps align teams on what you need to learn from users. Conducting a planning workshop lets your team members contribute to your research studies, allowing you to capitalize on their various perspectives.

In this article, I’ll briefly highlight some goals for collectively creating a UX research study plan and having stakeholders contribute to your study guide. Then I’ll outline the main parts of a study guide and describe the importance of each section. Finally, I’ll consider the importance of creating a protocol for UX-research sessions.

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Collective Planning: The Study-Guide Workshop

Creating a study guide with stakeholders during a workshop encourages all of them to contribute to your learning process from the beginning. Stakeholders such as an account manager, product manager, or product director can contribute to your study’s goals and your understanding of what you need to learn. They can also help you understand the constraints of a project’s timeline and budget.

One reason for involving stakeholders in the process of planning your UX research is to enable you to use these subject-matter experts’ language and tone. Because these stakeholders are closer to your customers, they can ensure that your questions use language that is familiar to users.

Creating a Study Guide: What Do You Want to Learn?

Prior to your workshop session with stakeholders, you should create a template for your study guide, indicating its basic sections. This template establishes a solid framework for your study guide and helps your team get started.

The template should outline the purpose of the various sections—not only to document what you need learn and what you’ll study when but also to help establish the focus of the group at different points during your discussion. Now, let’s consider the various sections of a study guide, as follows:

  • Background—For this section, discuss what you already know about the subject of your UX research, then document it in a paragraph or two. What do you know about the subject? How did learn about it? It is important to describe this background and how you acquired your knowledge to establish a foundation and structure for your study.
  • Study Goals and Objectives—Discuss your team’s goals and objectives for your study, then outline them. For example, for a usability test, a key goal is usually to test the usability of a particular workflow or feature, identify the benefits and barriers of its user experience, and learn what value the feature adds. Also, specify the business goals for the feature. Why, from a business perspective, are you conducting this research? How will this affect the product and its overall user experience?
  • Study Method—Discuss the method of UX research you’ll use to collect data and the reasons you’ve chosen it. For example, are you at the very beginning stages of learning so want to understand the user’s process or jobs to be done? If so, you should interview participants to learn about their current process or jobs to be done, their painpoints within that process, and their potential needs surrounding that process. Or, if you’re further along in your design process and have wireframed a potential solution, so should test its usability with participants. It is important for stakeholders to understand the various possible methods through which you can learn about customer behaviors and attitudes toward a feature or product, as well as the reasons why each method would provide the learnings you need.
  • Study Specifics—Indicate what type of research you’ll conduct—for example, a usability study—and discuss your approach to it. Also, include the approximate time each session would take and any other pertinent information your stakeholders should know. For example, are you going to ask participants to think aloud as they work, ask post-task questions that would help you understand participants’ attitudes and perceptions of a product’s value, or use any standard measurements such as the SUS (System Usability Scale). Discuss these details so your stakeholders fully understand the process you’ll use to obtain the information you need to improve the product for your users’ benefit.
  • Participant Requirements—Define what target users you’ll look for when recruiting participants. Let your stakeholders know that you’ll be learning from participants who currently use or could benefit from a feature or product. Some team members might have closer connections to users having the personas from which you want to learn. For example, for a B2B (business-to-business) product, an account executive might recommend certain customers who would be interested in participating in your study.
  • Timeline—To ensure that you can meet your stakeholders’ expectations, discuss how long it would take to complete your entire research project, as well as the following parts of the project:
    • recruiting—Discuss your plan regarding who would assist you with contacting and screening potential participants. Equip whoever is taking on this task with the correct tools—such as a screener that matches your participant requirements. Discuss how long recruiting will take—for example, a few days, a week, or longer. Of course, this depends on any variations in the potential personas of your participants.
    • finalizing your study guide with stakeholders—Once your team has collectively created a study guide during your workshop, meet with the group again to finalize the plan. This ensures that you’ve heard everyone’s voices and you’re all on the same page. Set a date for the team to review the study guide.
    • conducting your research sessions—Discuss when these sessions should occur, schedule the sessions, and ask your stakeholders which sessions they want to observe. While the UX researcher moderates the session, your product manager could manage observers.
    • analyzing your findings and writing your report—Conducting a workshop is an efficient, effective way of working through participant feedback. Schedule a workshop for discussing your learnings with the team.
    • presenting your findings and next steps—For any stakeholders who have not been fully involved in the research process, indicate the approximate date on which you and your product manager plan to present your research findings. It’s helpful for your product manager to lead the presentation. State an end date for discussing your results so everyone knows when the next steps begin.

Creating a Study Protocol: What Do Your Team Need to Learn and How?

As part of the overall Study Guide, you will want to prepare a Study Protocol in which you outline what you want to learn. What do you want to ask your participants? It is important to create a protocol for your UX research sessions to clearly map out what you want to learn during your sessions and how you want to achieve your learning goals. Establishing such a protocol enables all team members to contribute to your learning goals.

Here is an example of a UX research protocol that focuses on a usability study. The sections of this study protocol define what you want to learn and how, as follows:

  • Welcome and Orientation—Discuss with your stakeholders how a moderator would introduce the topic of the study and provide an overview of what the session entails. During this orientation, stress your openness to receiving any positive or negative feedback from participants, allowing them to contribute all their thoughts and assist you in improving their specific process.
  • Initial Participant Questions—Work with stakeholders to develop some basic questions that would let you achieve the following:
    • Understand who you are interviewing—which is necessary even if you did pre-screen participants.
    • Make sure participants meet your participant requirements.
    • Learn what participants are currently experiencing in relation to the feature you’re testing.
    • Most importantly, ease participants into the conversation to make them feel comfortable.
  • Tasks—Discuss with your team what task scenarios or sets of tasks you should create to test the usability of the product. For example, if you’re getting feedback on a feature that lets a user view and pay an invoice, create a task scenario or set of tasks that ensures participants perform this task so you and your team can watch them perform the task. The task that your team collectively creates should instruct participants on what to do, but avoid offering any hints—for example, prompts that match the terminology of the user interface.
  • Measurements—Discuss any subjective measurements that could follow up tasks and how they would help your understanding. For example, should you ask all participants an ease-of-use question such as How difficult or easy did you find the task?
  • Post-Task Questions—Discuss what else you could learn after participants complete a task—for example, questions that would let you learn more about participants’ attitude toward a feature or how much value the feature would add to the product.


After you’ve created your study guide during the initial workshop with your stakeholders, spend some time cleaning it up so it is clear, concise, and completely ready for your user interviews. Once you have cleaned up your study guide, send it to your stakeholders to ensure transparency and give them an opportunity to offer any final additions or edits, or convene a follow-up review session with stakeholders.

The goal of involving stakeholders in planning a study is to bring all members of your team along with you when you’re doing a UX research study. Conducting a simple workshop to align stakeholders on what you need to learn saves time in the long run. Plus, getting their different perspectives can assist you in improving the overall plan so, hopefully, you’ll glean as much value as possible from your study. 

Head of UX Research at TreviPay

Kansas City, Missouri, USA

John KilleAt TreviPay, a global fintech (Financial Technology) company that serves customers in a variety of domains, including transportation, manufacturing, retail, and ecommerce, John creates digital-payment solutions that make B2B (Business-to-Business) payments easier, faster, and smarter. Over the past decade, John has led extensive user-centered design and customer-research projects in the lab, online, and in the field, across the US and in other countries such as India, Germany, and the Netherlands. He earned his PhD in American Studies from Saint Louis University.  Read More

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