When a new product, feature or improvement is being considered, getting user testing involved as early as possible is vital to the success of a project. 

It allows research to be done before the heavy investment into building new products or features, thereby avoiding costly mistakes before development gets too far down the line. This is where the true value of research and user testing can really shine – saving the company money, time and resources right from the start.

As part of our ongoing series where we ask a variety of industry experts their advice on overcoming the biggest UX research challenges, we asked the following senior research leaders for their recommendations on successfully integrating research with product development as early as possible.

The roadmap should be defined by user testing

Lucía Martin GarciaLucía Martin Garcia, Sr. UX Designer / Researcher | adjust.com

“I think this really ties in to standardizing the research process. Much of it goes hand-in-hand. I think a big part of standardization is about involving the UX discipline in product development at the same time as the other product stakeholders (product management, engineering…)  and giving it the same importance.

For me it is crucial to be part of the roadmap creation when developing the UX strategy. When UX is pulled in after the roadmap is defined, the UX decisions are tied to whatever has already been decided will be worked on and you won’t have the chance to develop the best solution.

Also, I think the roadmap should be defined by research too. What research finds as the biggest pain points for the user should have an impact in prioritization. If not, how can you call your product user-centered?”


Takeaways:

  • Involve user research in development at the same time as the other product stakeholders – it needs to be of equal importance
  • User research should define the product roadmap – otherwise the finished product won’t be truly user-centred
  • The users’ biggest pain points should have an impact in prioritization

You won’t be involved if you don’t ask to be involved

Samantha Alaimo, Sr. UX Researcher | GrubHub

“I’ve had the best success with this by looking at product roadmaps and talking with product leadership to align on what areas they feel may be a blindspot. Typically, you may have to create or ask for these meetings if you are not being involved at this level. You will not be involved if you do not ask to be involved.

This is something that should evolve over time. It can be tough for a new team or small team, and as you are able to show impact, it will become easier to get that stakeholder buy-in you need. Getting a view on the product roadmap to see what the organization is thinking about for the future can be a really good strategy for proposing generative work.

Ask stakeholders about future projects and what kinds of questions they need answering before they start working on it as their main focus. Before your team becomes fully part of the process you need to wiggle your team in to the current process that is in place. You want to be seen as a helpful resource and always be encouraging and promoting how research can be used in current and future projects.”


Takeaways:

  • Talk with product leadership to align on blind spots early in the roadmap
  • You may need to ask for these meetings if you’re not already involved
  • As you show more impact, it will become easier to get stakeholder buy-in
  • Ask stakeholders about future projects and what kinds of questions they need answering before they begin
  • Be seen as a helpful resource – always promote how research can be used in current and future projects

Gradually make yourself a vital part of the team

Almudena Caballero Díaz, Service and UX Designer | Infojobs (ePreselec)

One problem I’ve come across repeatedly is joining a team where there’s no tradition of UX and therefore doesn’t understand the value you bring to the table. It’s an important first barrier because no one will hear what you have to say if they don’t understand what your job is and if they think you don’t understand theirs.

What has worked best for me in these situations is not to try to force the adoption, but to introduce my UX contributions little by little to the already existing team dynamics: take advantage of the dailies to explain what I’m doing and why, involve developers to give their opinion in early stages of prototyping, help with testing
and fixing bugs, make it routine to share feedback from users in a simple and fast way (just a compilation message by Slack every Friday, for instance), listen to what customer service people have to say, and do something about it.

In my opinion, the job of a UX specialist is not only to investigate in an aseptically scientific way, neither to give closed and “theoretically perfect” solutions. It is necessary to get yourself very involved with all those who participate in one way or another in the creation of a product, because only by unifying all those perceptions we will be able to understand how the internal gear of the product works, and that will be what will allow us to transmit in an appropriate way at the right time the needs of users.

If your team perceives research as something unrelated to their daily work, you won’t get them to listen to you. In order for them to perceive your results as something that applies to them and can contribute to them, they first have to perceive you as part of the team and for that you have to listen, be interested in the tasks of others and participate in team dynamics.


Takeaways:

  • If there is no understanding of UX, don’t force adoption
  • Introduce UX contributions gradually over time – explain what you’re doing in daily stand-ups, invite developers to early testing and routinely share feedback
  • Get involved with everyone who participates in the creation of a product – you need to be perceived as part of the team

Build the perception of value

TraeTrae Winterton, Sr. UX Researcher | Workfront

“Everyone thinks that what they do is the most important job in the company. This isn’t wrong, in their first person experience of their life, they are investing more time into their job than anything else. It should be important to them.

Also, product teams have many different types of information coming in telling them how they should build their products. User research is just one of those information streams, it is important to know and understand the ‘competition’.

Once you acknowledge those two facts, it becomes much easier to get earlier investment from Product teams
you’ll work with as a researcher. No one wants their life to be harder. No one wants another person to debate. What people want is to achieve their goals and to look good doing it.

If you want to be involved in research earlier in the product development process, rather than just a checkpoint after something has been built, you must help them see the value you give them (them specifically) in achieving their goals. You want them to be excited you’re around. You want to be seen as a help. Build these beliefs about you.

One of the best ways I’ve done this is just to talk to people I’m not currently partnered with about the work they are doing. As they tell me what they are working on, I take a sincere interest and look for opportunities they could benefit from research.

When there is an appropriate time in the conversation I ask ‘Have you considered putting it in front of a customer early to see if they are able to do that job with a design prototype before you start the development work? You would know 3 months sooner if you’ll be able to hit that metric you’re really hoping to move.’

Very deliberately tell the team members what benefit they’ll individually gain because they will have better information earlier on. Don’t be timid, but don’t be arrogant. Be confidently humble in the power of user research. We are lucky as researchers because it’s never about us. We serve as proxy voices for the user. We get to say neutral in all discussions.

If you can build this reputation of self awareness, humility, and someone who adds value, you will have no push back when you offer to partner with someone early. The key part there being where you offer to partner with someone early. Go after those research opportunities like your job depends on it, because it just might.


Takeaways:

  • Know the competition – understand all the information streams that product teams have coming in during development
  • You must help Product see the value you give them specifically in achieving their goals
  • Talk to people you’re not currently partnered with about their work – be sincere, ask if they’ve thought about user testing, and describe how you can help
  • Be confident, but humble

Invite Product Teams to your initial test sessions

Michael Mancuso, Director of UX, Digital Education | Wiley

While there are likely many ways to get a product team invested in UX research early, the best way I know is to invite them to initial research and the prototype testing session based on that initial research, so they can experience the entire arc of problem to solution.

At Knewton, we effectively socialized the research methods and results with all internal interested parties, which built real trust and a reliance on that validation we didn’t have before. Try it, and I’ll bet your team becomes addicted too.


Takeaways:

  • Invite product teams to initial testing sessions so they can experience the entire arc from problem to solution
  • Socialize research methods and results with all interested parties to build real trust and validation

Help product teams understand the ‘why’

Jeff Chen, Sr. UX Researcher

What I’ve found works well is to guide product concept creation with exploratory research.

If it seems that the ‘Why’ behind creating a new product is not apparent, product teams can be persuaded to do some exploratory research to understand ‘Why’ a new product or feature might matter to the target audience.

Once a product concept is in place, it takes a lot longer to use UX research and design iteration to get a product to that right place.


Takeaways:

  • Use exploratory research to guide product concept creation
  • This will help explain ‘why’ a new product or feature might matter to the target audience
  • After the product concept is in place, it’s harder to integrate user research in development

In summary…

Be proactive in championing and involving user testing in the product process. If you aren’t in the right meetings, find out when they are happening and join.

If UX is new to the organization or not yet an integral part of the process, make an effort to review the current roadmap and see where you can fit in. Once you’ve started to prove out the value of user testing, push to be part of the team that creates that roadmap.

As the backbone of user-centric products, user testing should be welcomed into the earliest aspects of product planning.