Increasing Your Team’s Efficiency by Using Research Standards and Templates

June 5, 2023

A common refrain among UX professionals is that there never seems to be a big enough research budget. To be fair, it does often feel that this is the case. But, rather than focusing on what my team and I might not be able to change, we have attempted to streamline our use of the one asset that is completely within our control: our time.

Over the past year, I have attempted to improve our efficiency by creating a process for the operational aspects of our research work. Ideally, as an organization grows, they should be able to employ more ResearchOps employees. But, regardless of a UX team’s size, we can always attempt to improve our research practice by reducing the time we spend on operations tasks that we can easily standardize.

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Minimal Mandatory Fields

Like all good things, organization is helpful only in moderation. If every research document employs a dozen different descriptors, not only do you run the risk of unnecessarily burdening your team but also of creating unnecessary information bloat. On the other hand, including a few critical pieces of information at the beginning of every document has proven helpful for our team’s research repository.

Whether you choose Dovetail or Condens, one of the main benefits of using a tool that was designed specifically for user research is that it has the necessary organizational capabilities built right into it. If your company has the budget for such tools, I cannot say enough about the benefits of having a dedicated research tool.

Our UX team has agreed on requiring just three fields in every research note:

  1. Type of Research
  2. UX Contact
  3. Product/Service

A key benefit of using these fields is simply their location at the top of the note. Before anyone reads a research note, they are aware of the following:

  • What they are looking at—for example, data from a user interview, analytics, or a card sort.
  • Who to contact if they have questions.
  • Why the team conducted this research—for what product or service, internal or external.

Perhaps more important, populating the required fields helps your team to find a specific research note via search—even for later projects. Save yourself time in the future and begin each research note with this critical information.

Global Tags: Your Gateway to Greater Insights

Although some research is unique to a specific project, there are many times when a specific insight or data point could be relevant in the future. So you need a global-tag strategy. As your research repository begins to grow, a set of tags that spans all of your products and services is critical for linking together all relevant insights.

Start small. Outline a set of categories that you think would be relevant to your body of research, and create three to seven tags for each one. If your team is debating or doubts the need for a specific global tag, leave it out initially. Then let your team propose the addition of new tags later on. If a tag would truly provide value, it will inevitably come up again in the future.

Our team agreed upon the following categories: personas, user journey, sentiment, and product/service. This has let us identify the representation of our personas among our entire suite of products and how users feel about specific products. These tags often reveal trends that we might not have noticed otherwise, especially if there is a company-wide change that we could make to improve our overall customer experience.

When in Doubt, Create a Template

Once you’ve standardized the fields that you need to fill in for every research document and created a global-tag taxonomy that your team is using, you’re rounding the corner in your ResearchOps journey and may be starting to get a little tired. So now it’s time to implement templates.

Let’s begin with the dreaded email template. Although this might not feel like a true research task, you’re right to think about the amount of time you spend writing email messages to interviewees and usability-test participants. This is time you could be using elsewhere!

Begin by writing out a simple, friendly email message for each of the various points in the email journey—from invitation, to meeting request, to your final thank-you message. Place all the copy in a single, easily accessible document and allow it to evolve over time. Personally, I’ve even found it helpful to have different versions of these email messages based on their tone or the customer segment. Do whatever works for your industry or organization.

As you continue building up your set of research templates, you’ll realize how many times you’ve created the same kinds of document more than once. The next time you receive a research request from another department, think through the questions you need to ask them, and put them into a template. Intake forms such as research requests are easy to create, but you must ensure that you get all of the information you need up front.

Templates ensure not only that you get the details that you need, but also keep your proposals on track for stakeholder presentations. Perhaps more than any other group, executive teams have very little time to spare, so the more consistently you cater to their needs by providing only the most critical highlights and data, the better the response you can expect.

Structure your report template as a simple outline. Each slide in my presentation template has a title, subheadings, and a short description of what each subsection includes. This can be as simple as outlining the following sections for each slide:

  • Introduction
  • Problem Statement
  • Research Premise & Prediction
  • Method
  • Results
  • Key Finding
  • Final Takeaway
  • Action Items

Let standardization not only guide what content makes the cut but also keep your research storyline from taking any detours that would pull your audience into unnecessary tangents that would take them away from your main point.

Keep Your Repository Current and Remove Irrelevant Research

Perhaps the most overlooked step in creating a clean slate for your current and future research operations is the simple task of archiving outdated or irrelevant research.

Imagine that you’d implemented all the organizational techniques I described earlier only to find that some research pertained to products that no longer exist or user segments that your company no longer serves. Keeping everything in your repository up to date helps you avoid any unexpected cleanups or having to wade through data that simply doesn’t need to be there.

To avoid such issues, it’s never too late to do a thorough audit of your existing research. If you have time for only a quick scan, look for the following items:

  • research for legacy applications that have already sunsetted
  • data for features that never came to fruition
  • outdated or unnecessary survey data or secondary information

When I first joined my team, there were also a lot of research notes with only a sentence or two, when the intent was clearly to flesh out a larger idea. Ultimately, my clean-up effort, which began with archiving old data, ended with my discovering new opportunities to conduct deeper research into topics that had long been forgotten.

A Final Word

As you wrap up your endeavor to standardize some of your ResearchOps, you’ll hopefully find a few more minutes in your busy days to think about why your research matters and what users it would benefit. With a little bit of diligence and some thorough analysis, both templates and research requirements can benefit your UX practice. 

UX Researcher at Glidewell Dental

Irvine, California, USA

Karrie Comfort LetuKarrie has been a content enthusiast for almost a decade, beginning her career in digital marketing before finding her way into User Experience via research and content strategy. She holds a BA in English and Journalism from CSULB, as well as an MBA from California Baptist University. Karrie’s passion for organization and consistency have propelled her to improve company processes. She greatly enjoys mentoring college students and discovering new ways of visualizing data. If she’s not buried in a book or a Tableau report, she’s probably gardening in her backyard.  Read More

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