User Research Plan: Putting Your Project on the Right Track

Estimated reading time: 12 minutes
December 15, 2021
User Research Plan: Putting Your Project on the Right Track
Estimated reading time: 12 minutes
December 15, 2021
User Research Plan: Putting Your Project on the Right Track
Estimated reading time: 12 minutes
December 15, 2021
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Product Marketing Manager at Aspirity
Written by
This article was written
in collaboration with
Anna K.
UI/UX Designer at Aspirity
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Here you'll find a step-by-step guide explaining how to write an efficient user research plan that will put your project on the right track. In addition, you can get a research planning template that our designers use.

Creating a user research plan is one of a design team's initial steps before conducting UX research. If written correctly, it facilitates the project's flow, preventing any logistics and communication issues. UX research plans help set clear deadlines, keep all stakeholders involved, and identify the key steps to take later on. Thus, all the team is aware of the study's timeline, scope, and objectives.

For our team, a UX research plan plays a vital role as it precedes any testing processes. We at Aspirity are primarily focused on complex projects and services that collect and deliver large amounts of data. A clarifying plan helps us avoid additional time-consuming meetings and calls since all details have been agreed upon and established beforehand.

What is a User Research Plan?

A user research plan is a document that specifies the key information about the project to share with stakeholders for UX research. It ensures that all the initial goals, objectives, and deadlines will be met.

The plan is crucial to conduct the research successfully. However, you will barely use it later on when the UX project is already on the go. It's rather a checklist that includes the questions your study will need to answer.

Simply put, a user research plan helps you capture the project's key points and prevents deviating from the determined route.

Benefits of Creating a UX Research Plan

Building a UX-research plan will make it easier to study the audience. You clarify your goals, measure the timeline, and keep the stakeholders on the same page. Here are a few key benefits of creating a consistent plan for your study.

Adhering to the Goal

A checklist is helpful when you need to complete any complex task. Whether you go shopping, plan a wedding party, or start your own business, it keeps you organized and focused.

The same approach applies to user research. One of the main purposes of UX research planning is to document everything you need to keep in mind. Thus, you can conduct an effective and timely user study.

Validating Ideas

The research stage needs certain time, money, and resource investment. So it's better not to change the approach on the go. To prevent unwanted delays and misunderstandings, discuss all details when planning and record the final decisions.

With a written plan, you can share and validate your ideas about conducting the upcoming user study. It will give you a chance to brainstorm and, if necessary, shift your initial outline.

Obtaining Valuable Insights

UX research should help you find out where the client's ideas meet the users' pain points. Reaching this balance is often challenging. However, if you cannot determine it, it's worth considering to shift your project in the right direction. So if you get an insight about your product's non-viability or divergence with the audience's needs during the user research process, the investments in such a product simply won't pay off.

User research is a great way to find where the client's vision meets the demand and develop the product in this direction. Thus, you will modify it according to the audience's request, not to your own wishes.

Getting Everyone Involved

When you create a user research plan, one of your primary goals is to get everyone who works on the project involved. Thus, all stakeholders will access essential details of the research process and benefit from it. From CEO to product manager and marketing analyst — everyone can contribute to the plan creation and share valuable experience.
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Step-by-Step UX Research Plan

Of course, user research plan details vary depending on your product's type, goals, and complexity. Some UX researchers may involve up to 50 interviewed users and tones of data to process. The others are aimed to expose the reason for a single UX problem. That's why there is no universal solution to build a user research plan that works.

However, there are several key points each plan should include to organize the research properly.

An efficient user research plan is streamlined and concise. You should describe your project goals clearly and effectively, relying on your project's nature. Start with specifying several background theses that explain the research's purpose. Then, follow these few user research plan steps, keeping in mind the nature of your business, product, and target audience.

Collect the Background Information

The initial step is to determine why you conduct the research and collect all essential background information. You should find the key points that force you to start the research. It will help you determine the goals, choose the research method, understand the study's direction, and find the right participants.

Here is an example of the Pick-up-Points project we at Aspirity worked with. It will show you why the background is so important when building a research plan.

Imagine that you represent a company dealing with the delivery of various products on B2B and B2C markets. You seek to expand the number of delivery points, and the retail stores seem to be a great option. They have a large customer flow. The clients are likely to visit quite often to buy something after hours. Wouldn't it be convenient for them to pick up anything they've ordered in the same place? Absolutely!

That's how we found the audience and the most convenient delivery method. But how to get the shops' owners interested in placing our pick-up point on their territory? Read on to find the answer.

Determine Research Goals

Start with a headline question that reveals the reason for your research. For instance, you have an existing SaaS product with a high customer churn rate. Then, you would have to ask yourself the following question: "What makes the customers leave the app?" Answering this question is the main goal of your research.

After this fundamental question, make a shortlist of your study objectives. Majorly, they are the questions you seek answers to. Returning to our hypothetical SaaS app, here is a list of objectives you might include in your UX research plan:
Why do users leave your product?
What motivates the customers to use/not to use your app?
At which stage do users decide to leave the app?
Why do users prefer the competitors' products?
What are the users' pain points?
Do the users recognize your product's value?
What is the complete user journey?
How do the users think and behave when interacting with your product?
Finding the answers to these questions leads to meeting the research objectives. However, to improve certain KPIs and metrics, you will have to conduct several testing sessions and check different scenarios.

The research objectives should be clear (qualitative or quantitative) and answer the direct questions. You should dive into your customers' logic and behavior, analyze their full journey and rely on this analytics when making assumptions.

Choose Methodology

Specifying the chosen user research methodology will help to determine the scope and focus areas. There are a few different ways to conduct UX research. You should pick the most efficient one for your needs, relying on your product's type and the target audience. Building a SaaS platform and designing an admin panel will require considerably different UX research methods.
One-on-one Method
One-on-one is a user interview that allows you to understand your audience's needs through conversations with your customers. To conduct it correctly, focus on asking the right questions. They should directly lead to the problem you're going to solve. A good user interview consists of many "Why?" questions that help you understand the root of your customers' issues.

One-on-one methodology perfectly suits the products that need to be improved. It helps understand your target users and their expectations better.
Usability Test
Usability test is a method to evaluate your product by asking your target users to complete certain tasks. Thus, you can observe how the users interact with your product and check whether the user experience is intuitive and seamless.

The usability test methodology is equally useful for a new product and for the one that needs UX verification. It's also helpful at the UX prototyping stage. With such research, you will understand if your product has any usability issues and, if so, how you can address them.
Survey method
Use the survey method to collect valuable information about your product's performance from a group of users. This UX research type provides valuable data to help you understand the audience's needs and improve your product.

Correctly prepared questions are the key to a successful outcome of such a study.

Data collected with the help of the survey methodology may be helpful for a startup product developed from scratch.
Focus Groups
Focus groups method is used to find the answers you need by involving a limited group of people, normally from five to ten. They represent your target audience, so the main goal of such research is to understand how they perceive your product.

A focus group session may last for a few hours. During this time, you need to determine your product's issues, find out how well the features work, etc. It's a great way to find out if you should make any changes to the UX at the prototyping stage.
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Card Sorting
Card sorting method is helpful in determining how the users perceive and group information. To conduct it, you will need to give the participants numerous cards. They will sort the cards relying on their own logic.

This method will help you understand the users' expectations, learn the way they think, and gather insights about your app's efficiency. As a result, you can come out with a more intuitive, user-friendly, and easy-to-use software architecture, improving the user journey and navigation.
Screen Recording
You can use videos and heat maps to determine the users' activity on the website. Screen recording enables you to learn every detail of their behavior, the way they interact with your product, and the overall quality of their journey. Such a research method will allow you to find out where the users clicked, what they were searching for, which forms they filled and where they faced any challenges.

For such big desk research, you can use tools like Hotjar, Smartlook, Inspectlet, etc.
Diary Studies
Compared to the previous methods, diary studies may be quite time-consuming. This method involves the participants' self-reports regarding their interactions with the app. For a certain period of time, from a few days to weeks or even months, the users will regularly report about any specific experiences when working with your app.

Such an approach can provide useful insights about usage scenarios, habits, customer journeys, and the contextual understanding of user experience over time.
Tree Testing
Tree testing method is aimed to verify the hierarchy and consistency of the product's architecture. To conduct it, you should provide the participants with a text version of the app's architecture. They will complete certain tasks, the results of which will show you if the navigation is clear for the users.

You can take advantage of tree testing when your app or website is at an early production stage. With its help, you will see how efficient your navigation hierarchy is and provide the changes if necessary.
The choice of the applicable methodology entirely depends on the particular project's nature, scope, audience size, and complexity. For instance, research for a large project with a wide target audience will require a few focus groups involvement. In most cases, you will need to combine a few methods to achieve the desired results.

To put it simply there is no definite price tag when it comes to user research for marketplaces or cloud services but you can get the raw estimation for UX research in our pricing guide.

Find Participants

If you don't have a clear idea of your target audience yet, it's worth including the screener questions in your user-research plan. Depending on your product's nature, you may need to specify average users' age, occupation, interests, problems they might face, involvement level, etc.

It's much easier to find suitable participants for an existing product. In this case, you will simply need to recruit some of your app's actual users.

However, if your product hasn't entered the market yet, you should carefully select the research participants. It might be helpful to choose your direct competitors' customers. Thus, you can get an idea of a common service user. Besides, it will help you learn how to make your product stand out.

Interviewing target users gives precious insights that you will later use to create an MVP or redesign an existing product. No efficient UX solution can be created regardless of user expectations and pain points. That's why you should prepare an accurate list of questions you're going to ask — the basis of your research.

Schedule Meetings

Specify the approximate time scheduled for the interview in your UX research plan. The timeline completely depends on the type of research you've chosen.

However, the interview is only the tip of the iceberg. You should also add time for the researchers to conduct analysis, recruitment time, and consider potential issues. When interviewing real users either offline or remotely, the human factor might also result in delays.

Scheduling is one of the reasons why you should build a user research plan. It enables you to estimate the approximate timeline and scope of debriefing and research sessions. Thus, all the stakeholders will access this information and understand how the time is distributed and why.

Each user research is unique, so it's hard to set the average timeline. Based on our experience, it may take 3 to 6 weeks or beyond, depending on the study's complexity.

Example of UX Research Plan

We at Aspirity use the following UX research plan template when dealing with a new product or a product, some part of which isn't purchased.
User Research Plan 1
Company name and website

Information about stakeholders
Contact information

Step 1. Provide product information
  • What is the product?
  • What is the product's core value?
  • Who are the target users, and what do you expect them to do?
  • How can we make the users happier?
  • What are the types of user personas?
Describe all the possible roles.

Step 2. Conduct user interviews
Ask the key questions that will lead you to the research objectives. For example:
  • What kind of apps do you like using, and why?
  • What is your main problem when using similar services?
  • etc.

Step 3. Process the obtained information
Analyze the collected data and put forward a hypothesis for further testing.

Step 4. Test hypothesis
Conduct the initial testing session based on the assumptions you've made.

Step 5. Verify the testing results
Check what has changed in the users' behavior and interactions with the product.

Step 6. Repeat step 4 and step 5
Conduct more testing sessions and verify the results until finding the hypothesis that works.
The following user research plan example is suitable when the customers using the product come to a certain point and don't perform the required action.
User Research Plan 2
Company name and website

Information about stakeholders
Contact information

Step 1. Record a video and analyze at which stage the failure happens.
Step 2. Look for the problem and conduct testing on different resolutions.
Step 3. Conduct several testing sessions and verify if the problem is gone.
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Find Insights with Aspirity

Remember the Pick-up-Points project we mentioned when discussing UX research background? Well, we managed to find the solution to this dilemma. We came out with an idea to use the advantage of additional promo materials related to their current discounts. Thus, the end-users got a notification about the delivery and the store's special offer.

The investigation phase showed that the shop owners preferred smartphones. Thus, we developed a pixel-perfect mobile version of the website where they could quickly and easily place their special offer.

As a result, everybody wins: our clients get their distribution network expanded; the shop owners get an additional opportunity to promote their goods; the end-users get notifications about the delivery and discounts in the same place.
Finding this solution wouldn't have been possible without well-planned user research.

That's why a UX research plan is an essential step you should take before conducting your user study. It documents all the highlights of your upcoming research. A common plan includes the following key points.
The background information
Your research goals and lead to its objectives.
The chosen methodology that will be the most efficient for your very case
The desired participants' description: screener questions, user persona, etc.
The expected interviews timeline and the key research milestones.
A well-written plan is key to successful research. It helps organize and validate your ideas, clarifies your study's goals and objectives, and keeps all stakeholders involved.

What is more, a UX research plan is a perfect checklist that will help you keep every detail in mind and verify if you've managed to meet the study's core objectives.

Hopefully, our UX research plan sample helped you get inspired to create yours. However, remember that each research is unique, as well as its plan. Most importantly, rely on the specifics of your project.

Looking for an experienced partner to help you out with building an efficient user research plan? We at Aspirity have dealt with dozens of complex UX researches, each of which needed a clear and consistent outline. So you can safely rely on us in this matter. Drop us a line, share your project's details, and get a UX research plan template to your email!
This article was written in collaboration with Anna K. UI/UX Designer at Aspirity
Product Marketing Manager at Aspirity
I've been working at Aspirity for almost 2 years now. I work to find the right customers and provide them with the best teams and services helping develop and launch their digital products.
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