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August 8, 2022

5 Questions to Maximize Your Impact and Right-Size Your Research Reports

You’ve just completed an extensive research project. You’ve interviewed a carefully selected group of users and gleaned incredible insights from your analysis. The insights are mind blowing! They’ve changed the way you understand your users.

Researchers love this feeling (our researchers can confirm). There’s so much satisfaction in using carefully honed research skills to teach us something we didn't previously understand.

And it’s awesome to become your own personal expert on the user. However, if you want your research to have an impact on decisions across your organization, you need to share your insights, and do it in a way that leads your stakeholders to experience that same shift in understanding you did. Figuring out how to do this effectively can get researchers to that magical place we call "buy-in."

Getting buy-in is easier said than done, but it all starts with keeping your stakeholders top of mind throughout your process — from when you're formulating your research plan to when you're crafting your reporting and sharing findings. You have to right-size your research for your audience. First, you have to be clear about why you are conducting the research. The why leads into who will benefit from your insights and what particular questions they want answered. Then, you can explore how you can best share the insights and when to share them. This post covers each of these and how they come together to right-size your reports to have the biggest impact.

Right-sizing Your Research Reports: Questions to Ask Your Stakeholders First

  • Why is this research important to you? What decisions will you be making with the insights?

  • Who should be aware of this research project and be informed about the insights?

  • How do you prefer to hear about the research?

  • When is the best moment for you to get the insights?

With these answers in mind, the next 5 questions will help you determine the best way to present your research and how it can have the greatest impact across teams and your organization.

1. Why Are You Conducting This Research?

Before starting research, think about why you are taking on this project. The answer to this question relates to your users: of course, you want to understand their needs or pain points better. But that understanding needs to be communicated to particular stakeholders, so they can use the insights to enhance their decision-making.

Will your research help guide innovation? Solidify planning for the next quarter? Prioritize one project over another? Help with making design decisions? These could all be answers to your why. Figure this out first – then you can move on.

2. Who Is Your Audience For This Research?

Your why relates to who requested the research. One common example would be a product manager. But other stakeholders might benefit from the insights your research generates as well. For example, other product managers focused on adjacent projects, UX designers and writers who need more insight into a particular user perspective, or customer service representatives who would benefit from a research perspective. These stakeholders may overlap in their goals.

Think about a few questions: Who are these insights for? What are your goals for sharing these insights with this group of people? What level of depth do they need to make decisions? This is a good moment to remember the golden rule of UX research: Insights should be actionable, so what action should your stakeholders be able to take after they receive the insights?

Communicate with key stakeholders at the beginning of a project regarding these points — don't wait until the end. That could mean a missed opportunity to connect with them on a specific issue that they found important.

Once you’ve figured out who can benefit from an insights share-out, you can move into sketching out how you can share the insights.

3. How Far-reaching Do You Expect the Insights From This Research to be?

Will this research live on for quarters and even years? Will it touch cross functional teams across your organization? Or is it a specific, quick request from a targeted team?

For example, if you're looking for design feedback for a specific feature, a quick Google Doc is fine. However, if you expect these insights to apply to multiple teams, inform future roadmaps, and/or be more evergreen and explain insights that colleagues should always be aware of for all decisions, then it needs to be bigger. It should be wrapped up with a bow in a larger, more polished report that will serve as a bible for months to come.

4. How Can You Best Share Research Insights With Your Stakeholders?

It's impossible to provide a formula for right-sizing reports that works for every company or stakeholder, but there are guidelines you can follow. You’ll learn what your company needs and to which format they best respond.

Chart showing scope of research

The closer you are to the left hand side of the chart, the more time and effort you should put into creating a full report. The closer you are to the right hand side, you should focus on some research is better than no research and move forward with what you have.

When You Might Not Need a Full Report

If a research project is tactical or lower stakes, optimize your limited resources. Could you simply send the stakeholders survey results in a Google doc along with a few bullet points calling out the most important insights? For your closest colleagues, this could be enough. And it saves you time and energy to focus on the next research project.

At the end of the day, you want the report to be attractive, clear, accessible, and compelling enough to maximize the impact on stakeholders, but you also need to allocate and prioritize your own time.

When a Full Report is a The Way to Go

When you’re working on foundational research or your stakeholder is the CEO, then it’s time to create a polished research report. This needs to be the big perfect report where each of your findings and recommendations are backed up with strong supporting evidence. Plus, if a stakeholder is further removed from your daily work and research, they may need more context for your findings, and a deeper level of evidence.

While we advocate for faster, more efficient research whenever possible, let’s dig a little deeper into the cases where it might be worthwhile to create a report that includes insights, evidence backing the insights (shows your work!), and addresses a broad audience. This is useful for:

  • Stakeholders who were further from the research process and need more context

  • Stakeholders who may be skeptical and need more evidence to gain trust

  • Fellow researchers, current and future, who may need to dive deep into the subject matter

This is when you put it all in there, whether it's a deck or a written report (or both). Then, you can pick out what you need for individual audiences rather than diving into your data to find a new angle every time it’s necessary.

How to Get the Most Out of the Full Report

Once you’ve put the effort into a comprehensive full report, you want to get the most legs out of it by repackaging, repurposing, and meeting stakeholders where they are. You have to customize your approach depending on their area of expertise, their preferred communication method (which could differ from your close colleagues), or the time they are available to hear about the insights. Some examples:

  • Your VIP stakeholder has another commitment at the time you present the insights. Don’t despair – record the meeting, and prepare a summary of key points so they can find what’s useful without too much of a time commitment.

  • Your carefully crafted report won't have impact if it's gathering dust in your research repository and if it’s never promoted beyond your initial readout. Consider proactive ways of async sharing, like posting a few key slides in relevant Slack channels for teams that weren't in the original presentation.

  • Choose one key insight and share a few lines along with video clips of your users discussing their experiences around that point (ensuring data privacy laws are followed, of course). This works well with stakeholders influenced directly by the user’s words.

5. When Is The Best Time To Share Research Insights?

To ensure your insights have the most impact, deliver them when they are most valuable for stakeholders.

You know your why, who, and how. But when should you drop these insights? Be aware of important deadlines that your stakeholders have on the horizon.

Will your insights assist them in making more insights-driven decisions? Will your insights be delivered in time to improve their prioritization for the next quarter? The when should be part of your early communication with these stakeholders.

Right-Sizing Your Advocacy Efforts

A final note to ensure your success as a researcher: Advocate for and protect your time. It might feel like you’ve reached the finish line when the analysis is complete or the first research deck is created.

But it’s not the end: This is when the work of researcher advocacy begins.

You have to right-size your reports to protect your time and resources. You might have another project already starting. You’re fielding requests from teams for tactical research. You have your own strategic initiatives you want to launch to move the needle forward.

And now you have a 5-question framework to determine the best way to share insights to get the maximum impact for stakeholders and buy-in across the organization. When you demonstrate the full value of your research and meet stakeholders where they are, it can grow the value of your practice in leaps and bounds.

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