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Strategic Research Is Where the Magic Happens

User Research Leader Roberta Dombrowski shares advice for UXRs looking to move from tactical projects to big-picture research.

Strategic research is where the magic happens. It’s where our power as researchers are truly able to shine—where we’re able to look holistically at the problems happening and drive wider impact across the business. 

But often—especially on teams where there’s a big research gap that needs to be addressed to move forward with decisions—user researchers can end up focusing on tactical projects at the expense of more far-reaching, strategic ones. 

As a researcher who’s built teams from scratch twice before, I’m no stranger to entering organizations that require tactical research work up front in order to open the door for more strategic work down the road.

Here are some tips based on my experience for any researchers wondering how to move away from tactical user research projects into more strategic work.

1. Show, don’t tell 

In my first full time research role, I made the mistake of not asking the team during the interview process when the last time they talked to a customer was. I quickly learned during onboarding that it had been 2 years since the team last spoke to a customer - yikes! 

I realized the team was hesitant about user research. Being in the education space, they viewed research as incredibly academic and assumed it would take months—maybe even years—to complete. So I made the decision that rather than talking about the impact of research and all of the wonderful impact we could have, I wanted to show what it would look like. 

I started small with some quick wins. 

One of the first projects I took on was a usability test to help evaluate a concept that was going to be released to customers the next week.  I ran it unmoderated so the team could get results faster. When I shared the findings the team was amazed by how quickly the insights came back, opening the door for a larger partnership for more strategic work.

2. Understand the business

Strategic work is, by its nature, focused on the big picture. 

Take time to take a holistic look at the user journey and business. This will allow you to understand customer challenges + pain points, organizational priorities, and stakeholder goals. Map out any patterns and themes that you're hearing to inform the biggest opportunity areas you're seeing around research.

3. Don’t be afraid to negotiate or say no to projects

As you start to deliver a portfolio of impact across the team, you’ll likely start to see an increased demand for your time. Don’t be afraid to say no to projects while also conveying what is being left on the table if you don’t begin to focus on more strategic work. 

It might sound something like “yes, we can do this usability test and it means that the foundational research that could help drive a new revenue driving product line forward will have to be put on the back burner.”

How have you moved from tactical to strategic research?

While this approach worked well for me and the team at UI, each team is unique. 

I’m curious to know: How have you moved from tactical to strategic research on your teams? Be sure to reach out. I’d love to hear from you!

Roberta Dombrowski
VP, User Research

Roberta Dombrowski is a (former) VP, UXR at User Interviews. In her free time, Roberta is a Career Coach and Mindfulness teacher through Learn Mindfully.

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