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The UX Research Plan That Stakeholders Love

UX practitioners, both consultants and in house, sometimes conduct research. Be it usability testing or user research with a generative goal, research requires planning. To make sure product managers, developers, marketers and executives (let’s call them stakeholders) act on UX research results, planning must be crystal clear, collaborative, fast and digestible. Long plans or no plans don’t work for people. You must be able to boil a UX research plan down to one page. If you can’t or won’t, then you won’t get buy-in for the research and its results.

This article addresses one key aspect of planning UX research: the one-page plan document. Before we get to that, we’ll briefly discuss the benefits of research planning and identify the audience of a research planning document.

Blueprint Heart1
(Image: Patrick Hoesly2)

A word about stakeholders. A stakeholder in the UX world is a code name for the people who UX practitioners work with. These are our clients, whether internal or external to our organization. These are people who need to believe in what we do, act on research results, and fund and sponsor future research. We all have a stake in product development. They have a stake in UX research.

Further Reading on SmashingMag: Link

The Benefits Of Research Planning Link

Very generally speaking, UX research can answer two types of questions:

  1. What’s useful?
    What do people need? Who is the target audience?
  2. What’s usable?
    Does the design work for people, and how it can be improved?

Dozens of research methodologies could be implemented to answer these and more specific questions, and it is up to designers, researchers and their teams to decide what works best for them and when is the right time to answer their questions.

Here are the benefits of planning UX research:

  • Get a better feel of stakeholders.
    A written plan helps you identify what works and doesn’t work for people, and what questions they are trying to answer.
  • Engage stakeholders.
    A study plan ensures they are properly involved with the study and its results. If there’s no written plan, then there’s a greater chance that stakeholders won’t feel engaged.
  • Writing things down helps you.
    When you put things in writing, they look very different than how you imagined them when they were just thoughts in your head. Always have a written study plan, even if you don’t share it with anyone else.

Now, let’s quickly identify the target audience for the research planning document.

Who Are You Planning For? Who Are The Stakeholders? Link

As with every product or service, the best offering comes from carefully identifying the target audience, their needs and their wants. Different UX research stakeholders are interested in different aspects of a research plan:

  • Product managers and software engineers are mostly interested in the study’s goal, research questions and schedule. In some cases, they are also interested in the criteria for participants. These stakeholders are usually interested in goals and questions because these determine the content of the study and its focus. They are interested in the schedule to make sure it enables them to make timely design, business and development decisions. Criteria for participants interest them when the product targets a very specific demographic and they want to make sure participants are representative of that demographic.
  • Managers and executives are probably interested in the study’s goal and the overall cost of the study, because they are likely sponsoring the study. Usually, their bandwidth does not allow them more than that.
  • You! The plan is mostly for you. As soon as you put your thoughts in writing, something happens, and you find holes in them. These holes help you improve the plan. A written plan also helps you focus and better prepare for the study. The fact of the matter is that if you can’t boil your plan down to a page, you probably don’t really understand it.

Now that we’ve discussed why a planning document is important and who it is for, let’s get to the nitty gritty of the document.

The Plan That Stakeholders Love: The One-Pager Link

The users of a research plan love brevity and appreciate succinct definitions of what will happen, why, when and with whom. Here are the sections that go in a one-page research plan:

  • Title
    The title should combine the thing you’re studying and the methodology; for example, “ field study” or “XYZ Phone data-entry usability test.” Sometimes mentioning the target audience of the study is also appropriate; for example, “ news page interviews with senior citizens.”
  • Author and stakeholders
    State your full name, title and email address on one line. After you get the stakeholders’ buy-in for the plan, add their details as well — the research belongs to everyone now.
  • Date
    Update it whenever the plan is updated.
  • Background
    Describe what led to this study. Discuss the recent history of the project. Be brief, no more than five lines.
  • Goals
    Briefly state the high-level reason (or reasons) for conducting this study. Try to phrase it in one sentence. If that wouldn’t make sense, create a numbered list of very short goal statements. If you have more than three to four goals, you are either aiming too high (meaning you have too many goals) or repeating yourself.
  • Research questions
    These are the specifics, the core of your plan. Provide a numbered list of questions that you plan to answer during the study. It is extremely important that your stakeholders understand that you will not necessarily be asking the study participants these questions. As a rule of thumb, have no more than seven to ten questions, preferably around five. Later on, you will construct your study script to answer these questions. An effective way to think about research questions is to imagine that they are the headings in the study’s summary.
  • Methodology
    In an academic environment, this section has one primary goal: to provide as many details as other researchers need in order to repeat the exact same study. In practice, the goal of the methodology section is to briefly inform the stakeholders of what will happen, for how long and where.
  • Participants
    Provide a list of the primary characteristics of the people you will be recruiting to participate in the study. Have a good reason for each and every characteristic. If you have two participant groups, describe both groups’ characteristics in lists or in a table. Append a draft form that you’ll use to screen participants.
  • Schedule
    Inform stakeholders of at least three important dates: when recruiting starts, when the study will take place, and when they can expect results. Large research projects require more scheduling details. For example, if the study involves travel to another city or country, more dates might be required for on-site preparation and meetings or for analysis workshops.
  • Script placeholder
    When a full study script is ready, it will appear under this title. Until then, all you need is a heading with a “TBD” indication.


A Sample UX Research Plan: Link

XYZ Phone Data-Entry Usability Test
by John Smith-Kline, Usability Researcher,

Stakeholders: Wanda Verdi (PM), Sam Crouch (Lead Engineer)

Last updated: 13 January 2012

Since January 2009, when the XYZ Phone was introduced to the world, particularly after its market release, journalists, bloggers, industry experts, other stakeholders and customers have privately and publicly expressed negative opinions about the XYZ Phone’s keyboard. These views suggest that the keyboard is hard to use and that it imposes a poor experience on customers. Some have claimed this as the main reason why the XYZ Phone will not succeed among business users. Over the years, several improvements have been made to data entry (such as using horizontal keyboards for most features), to no avail.

Identify the strengths and weaknesses of data entry on the XYZ Phone, and provide opportunities for improvement.

Research Questions

  1. How do people enter data on the XYZ Phone?
  2. What is the learning curve of new XYZ Phone users when they enter data?
  3. What are the most common errors users make when entering data?

A usability study will be held in our lab with 20 participants. Each participant session will last 60 minutes and will include a short briefing, an interview, a task performance with an XYZ Phone and a debriefing. Among the tasks: enter an email subject heading, compose a long email, check news updates on CNN’s website, create a calendar event and more.

These are the primary characteristics of the study’s participants:

  • Business user,
  • Age 22 to 55,
  • Never used an XYZ Phone,
  • Expressed interest in learning more about or purchasing an XYZ Phone,
  • Uses the Web at least 10 hours a week.

[Link to a draft screener]


  • Recruiting: begins on November 12
  • Study day: November 22
  • Results delivery: December 2


Recap Link

A short plan that you and your stakeholders prepare together is key to a successful start of a UX research project.

  • Boil down your collective knowledge, agreements and understanding of what will happen, why, with whom and when.
  • Set the right expectations among stakeholders.
  • Try to keep the plan to one page.
  • Secure buy-in for the UX research by making it a team effort.
  • The core of the plan is the list of questions you are trying to answer. Choose the right ones.

Happy planning!

(al) (fi) (il)

Footnotes Link

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Tomer is a user experience researcher at Google Search in New York City and author of the book, It's Our Research: Getting stakeholder buy-in for user experience research projects (2012). He founded and led UPA Israel and is the co-founder and organizer of leanUXmachine, a weekend of UX learning, collaboration, and mentorship for Israeli startups. Tomer holds a master’s degree in Human Factors in Information Design from Bentley University.

  1. 1

    Niiice. thanks for the onepager plan and example. I always had problems with summing my plans within a4.

  2. 3

    Decent write-up, but vague and generic. I feel like many articles on SM have been this way since the sub-par re-design. Find myself reading the network more then I do the blog itself now.

    • 4

      Thanks for your feedback, David. What would have made it less vague and more specific?

      • 5

        Avelino Tiu III

        January 31, 2012 2:01 am

        I don’t think this write-up is vague at all.. Thanks for this article Tomer..

  3. 6


    January 26, 2012 1:48 pm

    Speaking just about websites…

    All this UX mumbo jumbo, all the so-called research, all the design theory, yadda yadda, and almost every website falls into three layouts: clean and grid-like, artistic and bubbly, in-your-face and loud. All of which look like the 1000s and 1000s of generic WordPress themes out there. Why bother trying to act like you plan out each website so much when they all look the same in the end?

    Just make a no-brainer design that conforms to standards and that you know any user can figure out. They don’t wanna go to site A through Y, that all look the same, then come to your Z and have to figure out a whole new nav system. Even though UX people and artsy designers wanna make this out to be rocket science, it’s practically as easy as making bread dough. Just don’t obfuscate the call to action stuff, and you’re golden.

    • 7

      @jerkaholicCoder, Do me a favour, grab the bottom right corner of your browser window. Now, drag the corner to make the viewport smaller. See how the site responds to different users with different screen sizes with presumably different contexts? With tongue firmly planted in cheek, I say to you: Nah, didn’t take planning or research or even a whole lot of thought to execute that at all.

    • 8

      Then someone says “I want to add an order/purchase history system to my commerce site that shows order history, warranty information, product guides, return and exchange info as well as recalls or other notices. Then I’d like to have an upsell recommendations and personalized offer area. ”

      What’s the best way to do that? Hmm let’s see, any “1000s of WordPress templates” out there with this feature?

      No! This will require research! User testing, wireframes, prototypes and ultimately multivariate studies.

      Oh that’s one example of my 2012 project list.

      The one page stakeholder plan is essential for RFP, buy in, planning, scheduling and keeping each step SMART.

      Instead of being such a Jerk, realize that it doesn’t apply to your current projects but maybe if you’re lucky it will one day.

  4. 9

    Paulina Makuch

    January 26, 2012 2:39 pm

    That’s really great piece of research knowledge!
    In my research plan, I always put the same sections, but never can fit on one page. For me and my stakeholders very important is to make an agreement about tasks and interview issues. Thus, my plan usually reaches 3-4 pages.

    • 10

      Thank you for sharing your experience, Paulina.
      The plan I described in this article is the first document I use with stakeholders. Notice it has no tasks yet. Later on, under “Script”, I specify a lot more and share with my stakeholders. It then gets longer. Sometimes, a lot longer. But the first communication they get from me wrt a planned research is this one-pager.

  5. 11

    Thank you very much, this is really helpful. I’ve been looking for something like this with no luck. Thanks again!

  6. 13

    It is amazing to see the number of places you go where they write an essay for essentially a cover sheet.

  7. 14

    Just finished a plan pretty much like this, earlier today. Great advice.

  8. 16

    Tomas Barrios

    January 26, 2012 3:32 pm

    Hey, cheers from Chile. Great article. Just this week we are planning on starting a UX test on our app. This is just very useful.

    BTW, why people can’t say something more intelligent, and acknowledge the effort in just putting all these words together in a nice way to read, and sharing for free.

    • 17

      Cheers Tomas and thanks for your comment.
      People are just being, well, people.

    • 18

      The Sexperts’ Lounge Book Review: Bonk by Mary Roach Great goods from you, man. I have urnsnetadd your stuff previous to and you’re just too fantastic. I really like what you have acquired here, certainly like what you are saying and the way in which you say it. You make it enjoyable and you still care for to keep it wise. I can not wait to read much more The Sexperts’ Lounge Book Review: Bonk by Mary Roach again from you. Thanks For Share .

  9. 19

    Martin Christensen

    January 26, 2012 10:42 pm

    Fantastic! I did just this, a very short plan with keywords, yesterday. It looks just like your example, but I actually did not think it through before. I just went with my gut feeling, because I was in a rush. The stakeholders loved it and we came to a good agreement.

    So, I endorse this way of writing a plan! :)

  10. 21

    This article helps a smaller agency or
    Individual better understand corporate best practices. Well demonstrated :)

  11. 22

    Nice and simple structure for the plan.
    This looks good and can work for the usability testing part of a project, though I think it brings us to look at the big picture of building the “right thing”

    The key I believe is getting stakeholder buy in for research from the beginning of the project. To do research (contextual inquiries, diary studies, interviews) at this stage.

    But, I’ve found it’s the most difficult part to get buy in, clients want to just build it, they know in their mind what they want, etc… hence a lot of projects I’ve worked on is aimed at “fixing” problems which could’ve been solved earlier.

    I think your template could be modified to fit the need, but I just wanted to clarify that it would be good to position the template to solve the bigger need, because after that, concept, usability testing and so forth will be much easier to implement.

    • 23

      I hear you and agree we, UX research practitioners, are in a great position to help solve bigger problems than the ones we find in usability testing. How many times can you prove that blue links work better than black ones? ;-)

      That said, I have used this one-page template for planning and communicating research activities that are aimed at discovering user needs and wants as well as identifying who users are to begin with. The great thing about a one-page plan is that it forces us to pick the truly important things about our plan, which then makes it much easier for our stakeholders to understand what we suggest and how it can help.

  12. 24

    Thanks for sharing your experience and its really work for me….

  13. 25

    Lisa (usabilitygal)

    February 5, 2012 1:16 pm

    Great article! As a UXer who often conducts user research I’m definitely going to be implementing this. I’ve experienced the same problems with research reports, clients just don’t read them. So, I now just create a short Keynote presentation that doubles up as the client presentation. Writing the long, formal research report was always my least favourite part of usability testing so it’s a win-win situation all round ;) Thanks again!

  14. 26

    Thanks for this post. I am starting a new large project soon and which will require User Research very soon, and this is going to be very helpful for me, as I haven’t really done much user research on a brand new product before (only existing systems)

  15. 27

    good to read :) I learned a lot with this post but the one that caught my attention is the reminder about to keep the plan to one page.

  16. 28

    I was weondring if you ever thought of changing the structure of your site? Its very well written; I love what youve got to say. But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better. Youve got an awful lot of text for only having one or two pictures. Maybe you could space it out better?

  17. 29

    Tim from IntuitionHQ

    February 14, 2012 3:54 pm

    Hi. Great read. I was just looking for this kind of information and here it is. Great research, and very helpful. Good to remember is to keep it short to one page. Thanks

  18. 30

    just what I was looking for!! thanks a million!!

  19. 31

    Thanks for such a great write up! This helped me out tremendously.

    Do you have any suggestions on presenting the review/results in a way that clients/stakeholders can digest easily?


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