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Rapid research: A framework for faster insights to accelerate decision-making

Rapid Research: A Framework for Faster Insights to Accelerate Decision-Making

Fast research needs structure. Learn how to build a rapid research framework to help you accelerate decision making.

In agile environments, speed is king. To meet the demand for fast-paced product development and decision-making, some user research leaders are introducing rapid research frameworks to their research teams.

Take for example, Feleesha Sterling. She’s a user experience researcher with 10+ years of experience who launched a rapid research program at LinkedIn from the ground up, and even founded the ALIGN Rapid Research Agency to help teams execute on design decisions faster.

Whether you’re a user researcher scrambling to meet explosive insight demand or a person who does research (PWDR) looking for guidelines to do research faster, a rapid research framework can help you meet the urgency of agile processes and make faster decisions—all while protecting the quality of insights.

Below we’ve created a guide to rapid user research adapted from our previous webinar event: Rapid User Research with Feleesha Sterling to help you create a structure for doing research faster and more efficiently.

You’ll learn:

  • What is rapid research?
  • When to use rapid research and when to skip it
  • Actionable steps to build a rapid research framework
  • A timeline for rapid research projects
  • Tips for conducting rapid qualitative analysis
📽️ Missed the webinar? Watch the full Rapid Research webinar with Feleesha Sterling and stay in the loop with upcoming User Interview webinars.

What is rapid research?

When you’re faced with challenging constraints like strict deadlines, you need to think critically about how to approach UX research. Rapid research is a great framework to help you work faster and smarter to turn research insights into actionable decisions. 

According to Feleesha Sterling, rapid research is:

“A flexible framework for quickly executing UX research for fast, tactical or evaluative feedback.”

You’re essentially creating a framework to accumulate quick feedback through small research wins to execute on designs more quickly than traditional user research.

But what makes a rapid research framework “rapid?”

The rapid research framework isn’t a methodology by itself, but a set program that requires speed and limits the types of research methodologies you can use. It’s “rapid” because it streamlines various parts of research like planning your project or evaluating qualitative data to help teams make decisions faster.

Some common rapid qualitative evaluation methods include:

  • Real time evaluations (RTE)
  • Rapid feedback evaluations (RFE)
  • Rapid evaluation methods (REM)
  • Rapid-cycle evaluations (RCE)

Rapid research is also iterative. You can’t start doing rapid research overnight. The framework requires continuous improvement to streamline each step of the research process. 

As Feleesha says, rapid research programs help teams do research in a “less ad-hoc way” by creating criterias or goals around the program.

Rapid research programs typically:

  • Are iterative frameworks
  • Provide structure for more tactical research
  • Emphasize fast execution and analysis
  • Are standalone resources that multiple teams can use

When to use or skip rapid research

With the constant pressure to deliver timely user insights despite tight timelines and budgets, the idea of always doing “fast research” is tempting. However, rapid research shouldn’t be your number one pick for every research project. 

Some research projects require more time and effort than others, like longitudinal diary studies, surveys, or long-form interviews. It’s important to understand when to use rapid research at the right time so you can do faster research without sacrificing the validity or quality of insights.

When to use rapid research by Feleesha Sterling
From Feleesha Sterling’s webinar: Rapid User Research

🟢 In Feleesha’s words, UX researchers can use rapid research to:

  • Gather focused and impactful insights: Quick answers that have a measurable impact or help unblock a project.
  • Provide direction: Gathering preliminary, bite-sized research for a clue in the right direction or to eliminate some options.
  • Support other research: Follow-up on more foundational and generative research or address a backlog.
  • Inform agile or design sprints: To help you validate a product launch or update before shipping or launching.

Those are general guidelines to help you understand when rapid research is applicable and useful. These guidelines also come with limitations to the types of research you can do quickly. 

According to Heidi S. Toussaint of Google’s Rapid Research program, rapid research works best for tactical research like:

When to skip rapid research by Feleesha Sterling
From Feleesha Sterling's webinar: Rapid User Research

🛑 Unless you’re doing tactical research, skip rapid research when you run into:

  • Inconclusive outcomes: When the research insights lead to more questions rather than an actionable path forward 
  • Bigger scope: When the research requires deeper analysis and more time for more clarity
  • Lack of organizational support: When you need more support for a rapid research program (gather support for the program first!)
  • Limited methods: When you need to explore more strategic research methods for your goals rather than tactical research

📕 Want to learn how to prioritize certain types of research over others? Explore our Framework for Decision Driven Research.

Building a flexible and scalable rapid research framework

For growing research teams, scalability is key to relieving the constant pressure for more and more high quality insights. Creating a set program for rapid research helps UX research teams continuously build value from small, quick research insights.

But just like any other user research framework, building a rapid research framework from the ground-up can require several iterations over time to get it right for your research needs. 

Don’t know where to start? Here are some pointers. 👇

Step-by-step process to build a rapid framework

  1. Assess your team. How fast can your team execute on findings? How many teams or groups will it benefit? What does your backlog of research questions look like?
  2. Get support. Identify your key stakeholders, potential naysayers, reasons why people might push back on rapid research, and your inventory of resources that you can realistically dedicate to rapid research.
  3. Socialize. Brainstorm ways to get others hyped about rapid research. Understand how you can impact the UX culture. Identify who to share the hype with and strategize how you will share your findings.
  4. Come up with a process. Plan a 10-15 day cycle of planning, reviewing, executing, and sharing research insights.
  5. Identify the best model and cadence. How often should you conduct the rapid research? Start with a wider timeline (like 6 weeks) to see what happens. Narrow it down to 10-15 days as you iterate on your process.
  6. Establish roles and build research operations (ReOps). You’ll need a team consisting of the following: a notetaker, designer or prototyper, study moderator and observer, and someone from the Product team.
  7. Document everything. What parts of the process can be templated? How do you allow access for your team and others from non-research teams involved? Make sure to keep track of a research repository to build organizational knowledge.
  8. Experiment and iterate your process. What worked well? What could you have done better or more efficiently? Keep track of your progress and make changes as needed.

Timing is key for rapid research

As Devin Harold, Head of Design Research at Capital One, points out in his recent article on rapid research: Rapid research isn’t “rapid” unless it truly is faster at each step of the way.

If your rapid research projects are taking the same amount of time as normal research studies, take time to identify areas of your research process that you can streamline.

When you begin building a rapid research framework, your project timeline might look different depending on how much time you want to start experimenting with. Additionally, there are several different factors that you should consider baking into your research cycles.

Factors to consider for a rapid research timeine

Keep these factors in mind for your rapid research timeline:

  • How long research sessions take
  • How much time and effort your team can commit 
  • Design turnaround time
  • Participant recruitment
  • Scheduling research sessions
  • Research operations 

A tip from Feleesha Sterling in the Rapid Research webinar:

“You can do some of this in advance. So if you go like every 10 days, you can recruit in advance. That’s the advantage of making [rapid research] into a program as opposed to ad-hoc research.”

✨ Looking for the best participant recruitment tool to help you save time? You can get matched with your first participant in under an hour with User Interviews’s Recruit. Sign up for a free account to get started

Creating a rapid research timeline

You don’t need to drastically cut down your research process right away. Start wide with a longer timeline and iterate on your process as you take note of what works for you. You can start out with a 6-week timeline and eventually iterate until your rapid research project runs in a cycle of 10-15 days. 

Here’s an example timeline of what a rapid research project might look like across the span of 15 days:

Day 1-2: Plan the rapid research study

Day 3-5: Conduct the rapid research

  • If interviews are involved, schedule and conduct them.
  • Send out online surveys and collect responses.

Day 6-8: Analyze the rapid research findings

  • Transcribe any interviews conducted during the research.
  • Use automated data extraction tools for text and sentiment analysis.
  • Use visualization tools to gain insights from the data quickly.

Day 9: Synthesize and share your rapid research insights with others

Day 10-11: Document your findings into a research repository

  • Organize the research data and results into a well-structured format.
  • Use a metadata and tagging system like atomic research for easy retrieval.
  • Upload the findings to a research repository or knowledge management system.

Day 12-15: Review and finalization

  • Review the entire rapid research process and identify where you could improve.
  • Ask colleagues for feedback.
  • Make note of your findings with your format of choice.

How to make slow qualitative analysis “rapid”

If you’re familiar with qualitative data analysis, then you already know how time–consuming it can be.

Analyzing large volumes of qualitative data can involve time-intensive tasks like manual tagging and qualitative coding, transcription analysis, and data visualization. 

Tips for rapid qualitative anaysis

Here are some actionable tips for rapid qualitative analysis:

  • Automate data extraction and transcription. There are tons of tools available that use machine learning and natural language processing to help you glean relevant information.
  • Automate text analysis and sentiment mining. Use computational algorithms to help you identify key themes, sentiments, and relationships within your qualitative data.
  • Use mind maps and data visualizations while research sessions are going. This helps you summarize findings as they emerge real-time.
  • Analyze data directly from audio recordings. If you’re short on time or tools, you can skip transcription and analyze data directly from the recordings.
  • Automate coding with AI UX research tools. According to the 2023 State of User Research Report, 1/5 researchers are currently using AI in their research and an additional 38% plan to incorporate it in the future. 

⚒️ Some tools to help you accelerate qualitative data analysis include:

  • MaxQDA
  • Google Workspace
  • EnjoyHQ
  • Condens
  • Notably.AI

🗺️ Want to explore more tools for UX research? Look up almost any UX research tool you can imagine in the 2022 User Interviews Tools Map.

Staying agile with rapid, continuous improvement

According to our internal study on continuous discovery research, one of the biggest motivators for starting continuous discovery is speed. 

In order to turn research insights into actionable decisions more quickly and efficiently, user research teams need to shift their focus from irregular research efforts to more continuous discovery research that builds long-term organizational learning. 

Building a rapid research framework helps agile teams focused on speed to build continuous research with quicker turnaround times, efficient processes, and improved cross-functional collaboration.

In a nutshell, here are some tips from Feleesha Sterling to help you do faster, continuous UX research in an agile team environment:

  • Incorporate action items from the UX backlog into Product sprints. This helps you avoid UX debt over time.
  • Do research and design outside of the current sprint. Research and design work shouldn’t be a reactive afterthought; this work should be proactive and preemptive. 
  • Involve cross-functional team members at all points of the research process, including planning. Regular communication helps maintain cross-functional alignment.
  • Keep your team roles consistent. Shuffling people around requires reestablishing expectations and knowledge sharing.
  • Set up a system to monitor progress and adjust strategies quickly. Take note of what’s working and what’s not working to continue iterating on your rapid research program.

Use these tips to continuously iterate your defined rapid research processes and execute on decisions faster.

About Feleesha Sterling

Feleesha Sterling is a user experience researcher with 10+ years of experience across different industries including eCommerce, social media, and finance.

She launched the Rapid User Research Program at LinkedIn and also founded the ALIGN Rapid Research Agency to help other teams execute on design decisions faster.

Rapid User Research webinar with Feleesha Sterling
📽️ Want more information about rapid research? Watch this Rapid Research webinar on-demand!

Run rapid research with User Interviews

Participant recruitment and management takes a lot of time—but it doesn’t have to. 

When creating your rapid research program, consider streamlining the participant recruitment process with tools like Recruit or Hub by User Interviews.

With Recruit, you can get matched with your first participant in under an hour with access to a pool of over 3 million participants. Combine this rapid recruitment with streamlined participant management through Hub to cut down on the time it takes to schedule studies, invite participants, and manage research studies. 

Get started with a free account to start eliminating busywork for your rapid research program with User Interviews.

Rachell Lee
Copywriter at Seamless.AI

Rachell is a SEO Copywriter at Seamless.AI and former Content Marketing Manager at User Interviews. Content writer. Marketing enthusiast. INFJ. Inspired by humans and their stories. She spends ridiculous amounts of time on Duolingo and cooking new recipes.

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