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Product Researchers Are Builders Too: Why You Need UX Researchers on Your Agile Teams

If you include user and product research as part of your business or product strategy, kudos to you! You’re contributing an imperative business edge given that 89% of companies say competing today is largely based on delivering good customer experiences. What you may not recognize, however, is that you could be missing opportunities to leverage that research asset fully in your product development process if your researchers are not well-integrated into your Agile delivery teams. That oversight is costly. In addition to not maximizing researchers’ value, you could increase the risk that your outcomes miss their targets, which in turn builds up your UX debt and hamstrings your speed-to-innovation.

Instead of thinking of researchers as information gatherers and reporters, you can achieve user-centered outcomes more reliably and quickly when you think of researchers as builders who are integral to your delivery teams.

Why involve researchers in delivery?

Though every delivery team member has responsibilities for the user experience, UX researchers have a special charge in this area. Their role, by definition, makes them responsible for stewarding a tremendous amount of data and user feedback to where they can do the most good. Researchers specialize in unearthing latent user needs, exploring and making sense of myriad perspectives, and identifying usability issues so that end products solve real human needs and work the way people expect. By asking the right questions of the right people, researchers can reduce or eliminate faulty assumptions, bias, and blind spots that threaten success. More succinctly, addressing the findings that skilled researchers expose can make or break a product.

Product teams often seek research insights at the beginning of new projects as they’re clarifying user problems and what their product needs to do to solve them. Though valuable (early-stage research can reduce development cycles by 33 to 50%), it’s equally important that insights get discussed, debated, evaluated, and applied to tactical design and development work when teams turn ideas into shippable code. Doing so helps ensure that outcomes track back with fidelity to the product’s core value proposition, and that bad assumptions don’t get entrenched in the product.

Realistically, without a researcher working in close coordination with delivery teams, it’s difficult to manage, generate, and extract the right information to inform the day-to-day decisions that ultimately make up the product. Even with the best intentions, other roles are primarily focused on their respective areas of expertise, and as a result, they can fail to maximize existing research work or plan for new research to be kicked off. When researchers’ contributions fail to surface throughout a project, they become missed opportunities rather than impactful market differentiators.

Invite researchers to put on their Agile hard hats

In the case of Agile teams and popular Agile frameworks like Scrum, turning ideas into reality means breaking down big goals into small, manageable chunks of work. Those “chunks” take a variety of forms, like roadmaps, user stories, backlogs, and sprints. Every time a vision gets chunked up, some amount of context gets lost. Rich observational user studies are distilled down into tickets, for example, and over time, the fact that those tickets represent solutions for real people with real-world problems can seem abstract and far-removed from the original concept.

Researchers who understand Agile frameworks know when and how to seamlessly assert research findings and user perspectives as part of the work cadence so that important context is retained throughout. Whether prioritizing backlogs, mapping user stories, or participating in sprint planning, Agile-savvy researchers can proactively advocate that team activities track back to demonstrable user needs and user-oriented product visions, all while leveraging existing team ceremonies. Consider, for example, a researcher helping to ground sprint planning goals by pulling together user interview clips that bring the true intent into focus, or a researcher examining a product roadmap for high-risk, ill-defined features that they investigate well before design work begins. When integrated in this way, researchers can methodically and efficiently leverage Agile frameworks to build-in informed decisions every step of the way before knowledge gaps have a chance to put a product’s foundation at risk.

At WillowTree, we researchers have extensive experience helping our clients build sound product visions, and we’re also used to working closely with strategists, project managers, designers, developers and other delivery partners to make those visions realities. We’d love to talk to you about how we can make sure your research investment pays off rather than abandoned in a Keynote presentation or Word doc.

WillowTree researchers are highly experienced working in cross-functional Agile teams and working on the stickiest business problems - contact us to learn more and reach out if you are interested in joining our research team.

Jill Heinze
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