Rolling research programs utilize regularly scheduled research sessions to give a consistent stream of insights that inform design decisions. With swift and easily duplicated research sessions, this process fits into a regular cadence, such as weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly, and ties directly into the product development lifecycle. Iterative and fast moving, rolling research programs can help teams prioritize research on a set schedule and frequency. There are many ways to structure rolling programs–this article is a great case study of the different ways you can create yours. But before you can design your program, you may need to make the case for it. So, how does rolling research provide value to your team in ways other research can’t?
There are a few distinct benefits to rolling research programs.
Creating a rolling research program begins with a one-time set-up to begin the process, which saves time, resources, and cost in the long-run. At the start, you establish the cadence and demographic, confirm researcher availability, schedule the sessions, and from there, you can keep research on the calendar with minimal logistical effort and additional cost. If you have research scheduled, designers are given a deadline they can work towards and can ensure they’re on track to be ready for research.
Having research on a regular schedule gives you consistent feedback on existing stimuli and can support a fast development cycle. As soon as a team has something built that needs testing, the research program is ready to go. There’s no need for set-up, and because it’s pre-scheduled and organized, any delay is minimal. If teams are working on smaller, tactical design decisions, they can use a rolling research program to get user feedback where they normally wouldn’t.
Rolling research also helps spread out the delivery of findings to stakeholders over time, creating a more consistent research-centric culture. This also prevents overloading stakeholders with findings from large studies and even larger reports, which can often mean many smaller, equally important insights can be overshadowed by a few that are most dominant and obvious.
Here are a few scenarios where we’ve seen rolling research used effectively, making UX teams more efficient and increasing their impact within their organizations.
Fitting into an agile development cycle
The classic example of a rolling program is pairing a research schedule with an agile development cycle. If you have fast moving product teams, rolling research can help designers build research into their design process much more feasibly. Sometimes it can be difficult to prioritize research during an existing schedule, so having pre-scheduled sessions can help teams get timely feedback as they go, rather than slowing down development cycles to plan, execute, and reflect on research studies.
Clearing the backlog
We all know what it’s like to have more research requests than time. AnswerLab has worked with clients who had significant backlogs of research requests. With too many pieces to test and no time to invest in creating a research study for each one, many teams can’t find ways to get through their stack of designs. By creating rolling programs, we’ve helped clients create structured and systematic ways to work through their backlogs. Not only did the teams complete their research, but rolling programs also increased desire for and the value placed on research by teams and leadership.
Making space for larger, strategic projects
Rolling research programs can be helpful for testing small tactical pieces while making room for larger, more in-depth projects. Investing in the one-time cost of setting up a rolling research program allows you to test small design decisions quickly and easily, while investing more of your time in the strategic discovery projects. Rolling programs can clear the tables, ensuring your team handles less of the set-up and prep for smaller research pieces and give them more capacity to work on bigger projects.
Supporting multiple teams
We’ve seen rolling programs provide value to UX groups who need to support multiple teams at once. In some cases, having a weekly scheduled research session allows for a different team to test their designs each week with no delay. It can also be helpful for multiple teams to test multiple things within one session.
Perhaps, a team has a small button decision that doesn’t warrant a full session but needs a quick response. Multiple teams can share one session, allowing smaller questions to be answered for several teams quickly without them having to worry about filling an entire session with content. This also ensures things that wouldn’t normally get tested still get user attention and feedback.
To ensure your rolling program is effective, prioritize the following:
Consistent questions and demographics
First, make sure your questions are clear, simple, and relevant to the users you’re interviewing. By keeping your demographics consistent through each round, you cut out additional work needed to recruit participants and alter your questions, deliverables, and strategy. If you know your one demographic well, you can continue to plan with minimal effort.
Keep stakeholders on time
The biggest hurdle for rolling research is ensuring stakeholders and designers get their designs in on schedule. Be rigorous with timelines by setting up a system to ensure designs and questions are collected swiftly, for example, an online form or simply a spreadsheet everyone can edit. Have a set schedule for your research and get it on stakeholders’ calendars far in advance.
Encourage stakeholders to participate in research
With rolling research, the deliverable for each study is lighter due to the fast pace. Because stakeholders receive less information in the final report, the deliverable can sometimes be harder to follow if they don’t see any of the sessions. Having stakeholders observe the research live can make all the difference in how they understand and interpret the findings.
If you’re looking for ways to engage stakeholders during the research process, check out 7 Observation Room Strategies to Help Your Product Teams Hear Your Users or Why We Believe Workshopping is the Best Way to Activate UX Insights to learn more about making your research intentional and actionable.