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Communicating User Research Findings Amidst Resistance: How to Navigate a Disconnect Between UX Researchers and Stakeholders

Joey Mangini explains how to present findings to stakeholders, improve communication, and set the right expectations for stakeholders.

Matt Goolding

User researchers sometimes find a disconnect between themselves and other stakeholders. Research findings may fall on deaf ears, especially if someone in the team is in love with their original idea. And when a product or design team is on a tight deadline with a limited budget, they may be hesitant to incorporate work that could complicate the project.

There are plenty of enthusiastic research advocates out there, but not all product managers have worked hand-in-hand with a user experience researcher before. This means they may have unrealistic expectations about the research process or might need convincing about the value of research. 

These are parts of the job that have led Joey Mangini (pictured above evaluating an eye-tracking device before testing it with users) to see communication as a central theme of his work. Joey is a UX Researcher at Snapchat (Snap Inc.), and his back-catalogue includes roles at Google, Health Net, and Oracle.

In this interview, we talk to Joey about:

  • How he presents his findings to hesitant or resistant stakeholders
  • How he improves communication and common understanding between parties
  • How he approaches difficult conversations with other stakeholders
  • How to set the right expectations for stakeholders
  • How to get the rich insights that the product team wants.


Note: Looking for a specific audience to participate in your UX research? User Interviews offers a complete platform for finding and managing participants. Tell us who you want, and we’ll get them on your calendar. Find your first three participants for free.

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How to Present Challenging Research Findings to Stakeholders

Naturally, if an organization wants to succeed with a new product or feature, multiple teams must align to work together. According to Joey, the type of collaboration between research and other stakeholders depends on the type of research — and where the product is in its lifecycle.

“Design and engineering need to be close to the research process when we’re doing generative studies, because they’re building something based on a narrative — the power of people’s words. But for low-fidelity and high-fidelity usability testing, it’s far more important for product development teams to be tied into research, because they decide what gets prioritized,” he says.

Joey emphasizes that he’s been incredibly fortunate to work with lots of “UX champions”: people in product, engineering, design, and project management who just “get it.” They’re more than happy to base design decisions on user experience research.

However, it’s still part of his job to educate resistant or uncertain stakeholders on how research can help them. Sometimes, this involves explaining why research is impactful and tangibly proving its worth. This becomes more challenging to achieve when his research findings differ from the team’s hypothesis. In this case, he needs to tactfully convince them that the idea they’re committed to might not be best for the organization. 

Communicate Results from the User’s Perspective

According to Joey, having soft skills is essential to being a good UX researcher. Not only do those skills help you run better interviews, but they’re indispensable if your findings are at odds with what the design or product team were hoping to get.

If your research indicates the need for a big change, he recommends a delicate approach:

  1. Mix praise in with fair critique.
  2. Use tact: Realize that you need to be sensitive and respectful if you’re challenging someone’s cherished idea.
  3. Give all suggestions from the user’s perspective rather than from your own personal judgment. 
  4. Tie all feedback into an overarching narrative about the customer. Telling a story helps people stay awake during presentations, but it also makes them more willing to listen to findings.

Most of the time, those four steps are enough to satisfy the people he collaborates with. Most product designers want to align their work closely with user needs. But if not, he has another ace up his sleeve: buttressing his own findings with other data sources.

Support Your Own Research with Other Findings

On the (relatively rare) occasions when he has to convince a resistant stakeholder, he sometimes arrives prepared with a combination of his own research insights, information about basic design principles, and solid scientific work from elsewhere. Joey emphasizes that this isn’t needed most of the time, but researchers should be ready and willing to back themselves up.

“I show previous studies to compound the findings of current research, and back up the recommendations with other peer-reviewed literature. If I can show that our findings are systematic rather than just feedback from a few people, it tends to be really effective. If it’s not just us saying these things, it’s usually an ‘a-ha’ moment in the conversation,” he says.

Case Study: How Joey Presented Tough Research Findings to a Resistant Product Team

Before Joey joined the team at Snapchat, one of his previous positions involved a project to take an existing vehicle infotainment system and make it function on a mobile device (rather than a built-in system). The idea was to create a mount on the dashboard, so drivers could simply use their own device if their car model didn’t have the built-in screen installed.

There were strict safety protocols in place to limit interactions between the driver and their device, so the team was constrained in how they could design the product. The first qualitative study found a potential problem: users didn’t like the menu interaction scheme.

“This was because drivers needed an extra step to do anything on the mobile system. The bigger built-in dashboard display had a ubiquitous menu on the bottom bar, but the mobile version had a hamburger menu which had to be tapped to reach menu items. These seconds were crucial: People might look down and not pay attention to the road!” Joey says.

As a result, there could be an unsafe increase in swerving, acceleration, and deceleration. Despite these findings, the team made no immediate plans to change the design. They weren’t enthusiastic about dedicating the time and resources to changing something they already liked. But Joey knew it was a problem that needed fixing quickly.

In response, he commissioned a quantitative study with the hypothesis that it takes people more time to complete the actions they need to take. Of course, this hypothesis proved to be correct. Joey backed up these conclusions with national and international protocols, which showed they were definitely in the red zone for what was permitted by law.  

The product team finally took this research on board, and implemented the ubiquitous menu. Joey sees this as a huge success, despite the challenge of getting heard.

“The data showed that everybody was fine with it afterwards. People were driving safely, and they were barely looking at their mobile device because they knew where everything was. It was a big win for research, even though we needed extra studies and supplemental information to convince stakeholders of what we needed to do,” he says. 

How to Set the Right Expectations for Stakeholders

Part of navigating your relationship with stakeholders is setting expectations early. This can head off common misunderstandings and quibbles later in the process.

How to Navigate Misconceptions About the Research Process

When people aren’t exposed to the inner workings of a research project, they can have some misconceptions about how the process goes. For example, Joey says it’s easy for stakeholders to underestimate the timescale for recruiting participants and gathering data. And this process can become even more challenging when the purpose and audience for a study aren’t clear. 

So, before anything else, he needs to get to the heart of what the product team wants to achieve.

“Sometimes a product team will just want general ‘feedback’ on a new design or new feature, and they’ll want it yesterday. But they won’t have an audience in mind or a specific question to answer. If this happens, we’ll hold an extra meeting to iron out three main things: the research objectives, the research questions, and the details on who specifically we’re targeting,” he says.

Joey emphasizes that the product team knows more about their own goals than the research team does, so it’s his job to make stakeholders think about what success or failure looks like for them during the design process. This specific information forms a solid basis for the research project, and allows Joey to prepare the structure, research methods, and recruitment strategy for his study. 

Once Joey secures the objectives, questions, and audience, he likes to recruit participants and manage the research more efficiently by using User Interviews.

“With User Interviews, I can set a study up in the way that I want. I know exactly who I’m looking for, and recruitment is strictly based on the criteria we define together as a team. And the process is much smoother. There’s not ten different emails back and forth; User Interviews usually nails it immediately. I’m shocked when other researchers aren’t using it,” he says.

How to Get Rich Information for the Product Team

Once a study commences, Joey first digs into the basics: who, what, when, how, and why? He wants answers to questions like:

  • Who are the people using the product?
  • What are they doing with it?
  • When do they take certain actions?
  • How do they behave, and why do they behave that way? 

That usually ticks a lot of boxes for the product team, but Joey doesn’t stop there. He wants to dive deeper to uncover participants’ “ideal vision” for how the product should work. This is where he builds on initial questions to encourage a broader, open-ended conversation.

“Of course, we need to remember that the people we interview aren’t designers or engineers. They don’t think in terms of placing a button five inches to the right or left, but they do have a sense of whether something should or shouldn’t be as it is,” Joey says. 

“It’s open-ended feedback that we actually want more than anything. So we start with the basic scripts, and get into the probing questions as the conversation drifts into different areas.”

Participants can answer questions in a way that is totally unexpected, Joey says. Some stakeholders expect UX research to be a clean-cut thing, when in fact he thinks the best researchers riff on conversational tangents and probe to draw out meaningful gems of insight. 

Joey explicitly prepares other stakeholders for these messy narratives and unexpected feedback points. This is especially important to do if they’re sitting in on the interviews, because they need to trust that the researchers will guide the conversation, distill the information, and make it useful for the product team at the end of the process. 

“It’s important to account for the fact that answers are often not black and white. We have to build on the plan for what the product team wants to learn, and use overarching questions as a foundation. Participants often won’t answer statically — there will be a lot of nuances,” he says. 

Final Thoughts

As a psychology graduate, Joey loves digging into how people think and act. While that’s mainly applied to the research he does, he also uses those skills to understand what the engineering, design, and product team members want and need, too.

By ...

  • Setting expectations early on,
  • Supplementing his own research with other supporting data,
  • Weaving findings into a story about customers, and
  • Using some good, old-fashioned empathy and tact,

... Joey is able to successfully collaborate with the teams he’s paired with on projects.

Note: Looking for a specific audience to participate in your UX research? User Interviews offers a complete platform for finding and managing participants. Tell us who you want, and we’ll get them on your calendar.  Find your first three participants for free.

Matt Goolding

Matt Goolding is a writer and content strategist, based in the Netherlands. He writes with leaders and teams in a variety of industries. You can find him on LinkedIn or via mattgoolding.com.

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