How To Set Up A Kick-SaaS Research Study [Template Included!]

Taylor Jennings
September 23, 2022
min to read

How To Set Up A Kick-SaaS Research Study [Template Included!]

Taylor Jennings
September 23, 2022
min to read

I once had a manager that often compared user research to a wedding. She’d say, “you spend weeks planning and making sure everything is as perfect as can be for only a few hours of fun.” Welp, she was right. 

Now I haven’t personally planned a wedding (yet 😉), but I’ve helped friends and conducted enough research to know that she was onto something. As with planning anything, the fastest way to failure is by neglecting the critical first few steps. For a wedding, that’s probably choosing the wrong partner. 

But that’s enough wedding talk — let’s talk about research. 

For research studies, failure happens when you breeze through the initial planning.

What is user research?

User research broadly focuses on understanding user needs, motivations, and behaviors. 

There are several methodologies to choose from to help us understand how people interact with our products and if our solutions meet their needs. If you’re new to UX research, don’t worry! I’ll walk you through everything you need to know to get started. 

I’ll also cover common methodologies and how to write compelling research questions in parts two, and three of this article… stay tuned! 

You can conduct user research at all points throughout the development and product lifecycle. Regardless of what stage you’re in, setting your research study up for success follows roughly the same path. 

  1. Understand the hypotheses and assumptions you are testing
  2. Define success criteria
  3. Define participant criteria
  4. Select the appropriate method
  5. Document a realistic timeline 

This might sound daunting, but it doesn’t have to be! I’ve created a handy-dandy template to make this as easy as possible for you and your team. I call it ✨The Research Brief ✨ 

Why is this little document so important? 

A research brief drives team alignment and documents everything; it’s a single source of truth for all interested parties to reference. Gone are the days of stakeholders saying, “I thought we were studying XYZ,” or “why did we talk to those participants? I thought we were going to talk to blah blah blah.” When used and circulated properly, all information is laid out in the open and available in the document. 

I’ve found that this works especially well for async work. I largely populate this brief and plan a study async with a few cycles of review, but you can just as easily use it at the start of a study — meeting with the core team on a Zoom call or getting together in person to document everything.

Lastly, it’s a good introduction to anyone reading your conclusion months or even years later. 

Now, on to the good stuff. 

The research brief contains five parts and is how I start every single project, no matter how big or small. I recommend pausing to download the template so that you can follow along with each section’s purpose.

Section 1: Context

Here is where you can explain a bit about why you are conducting this study in the first place. How did you or your team realize that you needed to plan this research? What additional documentation can you include to give a more well-rounded picture of the focus? Try to keep this to 1-2 paragraphs tops.

Section 2: Key Questions and Objectives 

At the highest level, what questions or objectives are you trying to answer? Don’t go too crazy — I try to keep this to less than five line items. Any more than that, and you might need to divide this into multiple studies. This section also doubles as your success criteria, as you can assume that your study is a success if you have answered these questions and fulfilled these objectives. 

Section 3: Assumptions and Hypotheses

This is where I document assumptions we have about what we are studying. For example, maybe we are redesigning a key feature in our application. An assumption might be “the updated design is preferred over the current design and perceived as easier to use.” 

Often there’s a bit of overlap between this and section 2, but I’ve found it’s better to over-document than leave things undocumented. 

Section 4: Methodology

Use this section to define the testing method you plan on using, as well as participant criteria and how you plan to recruit participants. Choosing the right methodology is key, which is why I’m writing a separate blog post on that topic. Until then, I recommend consulting the NielsenNorman Group website for help. 

Section 5: Timeline 

Last but certainly not least is the timeline section. This is something I recently added to the template as I realized it didn’t make much sense to have all the information on one page — except for when people can expect key milestones to happen. 

In this table, I list out the week that key activities will occur. I also include any out-of-office or holidays that might affect the timeline. If you were conducting exploratory interviews or moderated usability tests, your timeline might look something like this:

Et voilà!

Now you have a thoughtful, detailed research brief to kickstart your study. Having your context, key questions, assumptions, participant criteria, and timeline documented ahead of time will help set you and your team up for success as you embark on your research journey together. 

If you’re new to UX research, be on the lookout for my next article covering common research methodologies. Until then, I’d love to hear how you have used this brief! Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn 🤗

I once had a manager that often compared user research to a wedding. She’d say, “you spend weeks planning and making sure everything is as perfect as can be for only a few hours of fun.” Welp, she was right. 

Now I haven’t personally planned a wedding (yet 😉), but I’ve helped friends and conducted enough research to know that she was onto something. As with planning anything, the fastest way to failure is by neglecting the critical first few steps. For a wedding, that’s probably choosing the wrong partner. 

But that’s enough wedding talk — let’s talk about research. 

For research studies, failure happens when you breeze through the initial planning.

What is user research?

User research broadly focuses on understanding user needs, motivations, and behaviors. 

There are several methodologies to choose from to help us understand how people interact with our products and if our solutions meet their needs. If you’re new to UX research, don’t worry! I’ll walk you through everything you need to know to get started. 

I’ll also cover common methodologies and how to write compelling research questions in parts two, and three of this article… stay tuned! 

You can conduct user research at all points throughout the development and product lifecycle. Regardless of what stage you’re in, setting your research study up for success follows roughly the same path. 

  1. Understand the hypotheses and assumptions you are testing
  2. Define success criteria
  3. Define participant criteria
  4. Select the appropriate method
  5. Document a realistic timeline 

This might sound daunting, but it doesn’t have to be! I’ve created a handy-dandy template to make this as easy as possible for you and your team. I call it ✨The Research Brief ✨ 

Why is this little document so important? 

A research brief drives team alignment and documents everything; it’s a single source of truth for all interested parties to reference. Gone are the days of stakeholders saying, “I thought we were studying XYZ,” or “why did we talk to those participants? I thought we were going to talk to blah blah blah.” When used and circulated properly, all information is laid out in the open and available in the document. 

I’ve found that this works especially well for async work. I largely populate this brief and plan a study async with a few cycles of review, but you can just as easily use it at the start of a study — meeting with the core team on a Zoom call or getting together in person to document everything.

Lastly, it’s a good introduction to anyone reading your conclusion months or even years later. 

Now, on to the good stuff. 

The research brief contains five parts and is how I start every single project, no matter how big or small. I recommend pausing to download the template so that you can follow along with each section’s purpose.

Section 1: Context

Here is where you can explain a bit about why you are conducting this study in the first place. How did you or your team realize that you needed to plan this research? What additional documentation can you include to give a more well-rounded picture of the focus? Try to keep this to 1-2 paragraphs tops.

Section 2: Key Questions and Objectives 

At the highest level, what questions or objectives are you trying to answer? Don’t go too crazy — I try to keep this to less than five line items. Any more than that, and you might need to divide this into multiple studies. This section also doubles as your success criteria, as you can assume that your study is a success if you have answered these questions and fulfilled these objectives. 

Section 3: Assumptions and Hypotheses

This is where I document assumptions we have about what we are studying. For example, maybe we are redesigning a key feature in our application. An assumption might be “the updated design is preferred over the current design and perceived as easier to use.” 

Often there’s a bit of overlap between this and section 2, but I’ve found it’s better to over-document than leave things undocumented. 

Section 4: Methodology

Use this section to define the testing method you plan on using, as well as participant criteria and how you plan to recruit participants. Choosing the right methodology is key, which is why I’m writing a separate blog post on that topic. Until then, I recommend consulting the NielsenNorman Group website for help. 

Section 5: Timeline 

Last but certainly not least is the timeline section. This is something I recently added to the template as I realized it didn’t make much sense to have all the information on one page — except for when people can expect key milestones to happen. 

In this table, I list out the week that key activities will occur. I also include any out-of-office or holidays that might affect the timeline. If you were conducting exploratory interviews or moderated usability tests, your timeline might look something like this:

Et voilà!

Now you have a thoughtful, detailed research brief to kickstart your study. Having your context, key questions, assumptions, participant criteria, and timeline documented ahead of time will help set you and your team up for success as you embark on your research journey together. 

If you’re new to UX research, be on the lookout for my next article covering common research methodologies. Until then, I’d love to hear how you have used this brief! Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn 🤗

Taylor Jennings

Taylor Jennings is a Senior UX Researcher at Chili Piper. She is passionate about asking questions (sometimes too many) and understanding user needs. Outside of work, you can find her exploring one of our beautiful National Parks, reading a book, or trying out a new brewery.

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