How to create a yearly UX research roadmap?

Loïs Gauthier
January 18, 2023

Like any other practice, UX research is more powerful when strategically planned ahead with coherence, vision and purpose. This requires your company’s overall goals to be formally expressed so that UX research can align with and serve these goals.

Planning your UX research can be done with several timeframes in mind: daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually or even bi-annually for the companies who have enough visibility and ressources. Having this sense of direction will help you create more impact and show it with more clarity.

In this article, we explore steps you can take to plan your UX research for the year and how to transcribe this into your day-to-day work.

A UXR yearly rendez-vous

A great way to start planning your UX research is by taking a look back and see what has been done over the last year/period. Gather data about the resources that were used, discuss with stakeholders, ask for their highlights, quote your users, list UX improvements and achievements. Use these elements to create a report, a presentation or even a video that you will share with stakeholders.

If there is already an existing event at your organization dedicated to this type of presentation, use it as a platform to share the value of UX research.

If there is not one yet, ask around if people would appreciate creating such a ritual (either dedicated to UX or to overall performance at your organization depending on its size).

This will create beneficial cycles at your organization:

  • teambuilding: gathering all team members can become rare in the post-Covid era of remote work, many people might be happy to get together. This helps foster collaboration, synergies within and between teams as well as creating a sense of belonging.
  • transparency and accountability: creating a company culture where everyone embraces the collective responsibility of both struggles and successes. The clarity brought by collectively sharing feedback will serve the performance of your future actions.
  • evangelizing UX research: talking regularly about UXR in a semi-formal setting is a great way to spark conversations, slowly build knowledge about the practice, involve people in the research process and convince them of its value

After sharing achievements of the past year, you should also outline your UX research strategy and plan for the next year. This will help people at your organization align their expectations and figure out ways they could take part in the advancement of user experience (how can they help you research?, how can they research themselves?, how can they use your research insights?).

How to report on the performance of user experience and research?

Inputs: What have you put into your UXR?

Looking back on the year, describe and quantify all of the efforts that have gone into your UX research and assign a money cost to each.

Here are a few examples of inputs: Number of people dedicated to user experience and research, number of hours worked on UX by non-UX dedicated team members, budget spent on UX and research tools and processes.

If possible, do this review collectively so that everyone is able to share their perspective on the past year and avoid forgetting parts of your investments in UXR. If one person is responsible for making this list, have it reviewed by other team members so that they can adjust afterwards.

Outputs: What came out of your UXR work?

If you already have a log of deliverables that UXR teams have handed-out, use it to make an exhaustive list of results derived from the past year’s UXR.

Here are a few examples of quantifiable outputs: Number of problems/frictions solved, number of insights delivered to design and product teams, number of users met, number of user feedbacks gathered

You can also measure the evolution of user satisfaction and other UX KPIs: Net Promoter Score (NPS), Customer satisfaction score (CSAT), conversion rates, time on page, bounce rate, findability and usability among others.

You might want to include ResearchOps improvements as well because they contribute to the evolution of your UXR’s ROI.

If you have enough resources you can precisely compare inputs and outputs of your UX research. This will give you the return-on-investment of your actions. This is especially valuable for organizations where the value of UX research is not understood yet or for bigger corporations with higher reporting needs. There are 2 ways to do this:

  • give a value to your outputs and compare it to the resources used. For example, let’s say your overall UXR budget amounts to 110K€ a year. You estimate the value of your UXR outputs amounts to 340k€. Then, the ROI of your UXR is 3,1. The value of UXR outputs should be estimated collectively (with UX, design and product teams) so that stakeholders agree on the ROI of UXR and can act on it. You can then compare it period over period to assess the evolution of ROI.
  • measure the cost of each output (by allocating inputs’ use) and follow-it period over period. This will help you answer this question: How does the cost of [UX research action] evolve? For example, let’s say your overall UXR budget amounts to 95K€ a year and your insights have helped solve 92 friction points. Then, the resolution cost for friction points is 1032. If you calculate and compare this variable period over period, it will help you monitor the evolution of your UXR’s ROI.

How to create a research roadmap?

A research roadmap will give you a direction for the year: the clarity of where you are going which will in turn unite team members around a common goal. This plan must be precise and agile, allowing for modifications or even U turns.

Translate the company’s overall goals into user experience goals

A common challenge of UXR is to align actions and outputs with business goals. When there is misalignment, UXR can end up not feeling heard.

To avoid this, wonder how your work can support and lead the advancement of your company’s KPIs.

Understanding business objectives

If the company’s goals are clearly established, make sure you understand them and have clarity about how your work will contribute to their achievement.

If the company’s goals are not clearly established or shared, ask for them by explaining how this will help you be more productive and aligned.

Understanding product roadmap

The product roadmap is derived from business goals and will be your reference to build your UX research roadmap. Once again, make sure you understand it and your contribution to it.

In this roadmap, identify priorities and estimate your ability to support each of these. If you believe choices have to be made in terms of where your work is most needed, state it clearly from the get-go so that expectations are aligned with what you can deliver.

For each of the product roadmap’s elements, define whether your work is needed before, during and/or after. For example: if a V1 feature launch is planned for May, you can allocate time for discovery in April and evaluative studies in May. If another project’s timing comes in conflict with this schedule, share your concerns beforehand so that adjustments can be made, resources found or know which project will most need your insights.

Research ops and continuous improvements

Maybe some of your efforts this year will be dedicated to improving your processes to deliver with a better ROI. For example:

  • you might be looking to automate some processes so that you can dedicate more time on higher added-value tasks.
  • you may start using a new repository tool for which you have to allocate time to set-up, establish processes, train and evangelize
  • you could be looking to increase the share of your time dedicated to discovery by reducing time spent on research ops tasks
Align business and user goals

The key is to find balance between user goals and business goals. As a designer, you might have a tendency to lean towards users over business. It creates a risk of misalignment with your colleagues of other departments. They might think you don’t value the company’s interest or don’t understand business goals. If you are able to align business goals with users goals, you can create a beneficial synergy that has higher chances to last than if you solely focus on user goals over business’.

It is also you role to challenge stakeholders if they don’t grasp the users goals that need to be met if business goals are to be achieved. This is done by creating empathy, using data and storytelling to advocate for your users.

Company life

Your yearly roadmap should also take into account your company’s major evolutions to come. For example, if you know teams will expand/or shrink, allocate time and resources to adapt to these changes: teambuilding, training, reorganization. This will help you to be more realistic about what can or cannot be done.

Adapt your UX roadmap

Translate user experience goals into research goals

User experience goals will need to be fed by user research to maximize their chance of success and impact. You have to wonder what questions have to be answered to go forward with a clear understanding of what has to be done and how it will serve users.

Here are examples of questions UXR can answer:

  • How do users act today?
  • What is currently working well?
  • What drives X or Y behavior?
  • Which users meet X problem and what are their characteristics?
  • Are users satisfied with current solutions?

Here are examples of question UXR CANNOT answer:

  • Which solutions/features should we develop?
  • What offer should we build?
  • What is the path to success?
  • Would users use X/pay for Y?

Managing your stakeholders’ expectations is important to advance your UX research.

Turn research goals into actionable steps

Depending on your company’s and your UXR team’s size, you can adjust the level of precision for this step. The more resources you have, the more opportunity you will have to plan and detail your actions in advance. The bigger your company, the more necessary it becomes because purpose can be easily lost when teams grow and specialize.

  1. What do you need to deliver?

Define the format of the deliverable (written report, presentation), what you include in it (what data, quotes from users, screenshots, video extracts

  1. When do you need to deliver?

Deploy your actions over the year: break your goals into monthly or even weekly steps. Make it clear with your stakeholders when they need each deliverable and whether it is manageable on your side. If not, ask for more resources or prioritization.

  1. What do you need to conduct UXR?

List the resources you will need to reach your research goals by answering the following questions:

  • How many team members do you need? Is the need steady along the year or are there picks, low and high seasons? If the latter is true, you can use external resources in times of high-demand to absorb the extra workload.
  • How do you plan on recruiting your testers and how many do you need? At what frequency will you meet them? Where? Do you need to rent a dedicated space?
  • What tools will you need? To recruit, meet, compensate testers? To record interviews, take notes, analyze, translate and organize transcripts? To design and send surveys? To analyze survey answer? To gather and share insights?

If you are in the process of investing more in UXR tools (because your team is growing or you have more resources), try to start slow in order not to overwhelm team members and ensure a high acceptance rate. Allocate time to train, create processes and gather feedbacks.

If you are starting to implement several new tools, spread their introduction over the year to give each of them the opportunity to be understood and accepted correctly.

Overall, what budget will your require to put in place all of the elements mentioned over?

  1. Who will deliver?

Which team members, internal/external, dedicated to UX/research or not?

Depending on the team members you have available and their skills, you might decide to outsource some of the work. This can help absorb peak research activity if you estimate it will be temporary or access skills that are not available in your team at the moment.

How will the roles be allocated? Are you separating research ops and research itself?

There are 2 strategies regarding research operations:

  • have everyone do their own research ops. In this case, ensure team members are sharing best practices.
  • have dedicated people taking care of the research ops . This option requires more resources and confidence in the amount of research that needs to be conducted. However, the added specialization creates opportunity for increased efficiency.
  1. How will these insights be used?

Conducting research only makes sense if it drives decision-making and actions. Although your strict role as a UXR is to deliver insights, in order to enhance the value of your work, you should also work on following-up with how your insights are used.

  • What are the resources available to other teams to implement your recommendations, in what time frame? Ask this question as soon as you receive a request for research. This way, you avoid focusing on problems you don’t have the budget to solve.
  • How will you be included in the follow-up of UXR insights? You can plan ahead with your stakeholders when you will meet them after insights delivery to discuss their advancement.
  1. How will you measure the success of your research?

What KPIs will you choose? (You can find a list in the output section over).

Here are some methods you can use to measure the impact of your research: web analytics, heatmaps, feedback widgets, user testing and surveys.

These KPIs should be understood and shared with all stakeholders. They have to reflect both user goals and business goals.

Creating a yearly UXR roadmap should be done according to your resources. It will help small companies identify key highlights of their year while giving bigger organizations a clear path to achieve UXR goals and how.

Investing time in creating such a tool will drive more clarity, alignement and engagement which will increase the ROI of your UX research.

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