This is part of our guide to help UX research teams drive a human insight transformation inside a company.

In this phase of the UX team’s journey, the company is convinced that human insight is important and should be part of everyday decision making. So much so that the flood of requests for UX research has become a tsunami. And as time goes by, the number of requests just keeps increasing. 

In addition to ongoing requests, you may have colleagues knocking down your door because they want to get into the mix of collecting human insight. This may be due to interest and curiosity, lack of patience (to wait for the UX research team to deliver), or a mix of both.

These are signals that it’s time for you to bring others along in the journey of collecting customer insight and not just consuming it. 

The best practices, tips, and tricks highlighted below are your guide to creating a program that brings more individuals (safely) into a vital process.

Your goal at this phase is to create a repeatable, scalable framework for empowering others to collect and consume human insight, as well as a programmatic approach to bringing new teams and business units on board. 

How might this look in practice? 

At communications company Verizon, UX designers are empowered by the UX research team to do certain types of design research. In this case, designers are encouraged to test their designs and prototypes with users and incorporate the feedback as they iterate.

And at RingCentral, three UX researchers couldn’t keep up with the needs of the company’s 30+ designers and 50+ product managers. They knew they needed to empower those teams to gather insights on their own. With a library of reusable audiences and testing approaches, training, and office hours, RingCentral product managers and designers were able to gather human insight for more than 75 projects. 

Eager to get your company moving toward this stage? Read on to find out how.

Key attributes of the Systematic phase

  • The UX research team has committed to empowering non-researchers to collect human insight.
  • The UX research team members provide expert guidance to empowered teams by developing frameworks, assets, training, and ongoing support
  • Human insight is regularly collected throughout various team workflows and decision points.
  • By empowering others, the UX research team can focus on high value, proactive research to inform strategic decisions. 
  • A research ops individual or team exists

Change your mindset

The very first thing the UX research team must do to embrace the Systematic Phase is embrace a mindset shift. We get it. Relinquishing control of research to non-researchers is unnerving. Yet many UX researchers recognize that they are stretched too thin to handle all of the incoming requests and know that distributing some of the work will help.

If you don’t change your mindset, one of two things will happen. 

One, people will stop coming to the UX research team as their requests will likely take too long or will be filtered out through a prioritization process. Or two, people will go rogue and do their own “research” without any oversight. 

Both of these scenarios are suboptimal as compared to leaning in and empowering teams who are looking to take on some of the responsibility of collecting their own human insight. 

As you get comfortable with empowering non-researchers to conduct their own UX research, here are some important considerations to bear in mind:

  1. Your goal is NOT to turn others into formally trained researchers: The people outside of the UX research team who will begin collecting human insight don’t need to do so with the depth or accuracy of career researchers. They only need to be able to manage what is relevant to their specific function and extract meaningful insight. 
  2. Everyone will work with your oversight: You won’t be handing over the keys to the car and hoping they don’t drive it off a cliff. The Systematic Phase requires the UX research team to handle management and oversight of all insight collection.
  3. Empowered teams will be a natural fit for the work: The non-researchers who get tapped for insight collection won’t be random employees. They’ll be colleagues who have a natural propensity to gather feedback or people with a set of use cases that recur in their work, making them relatively easy to train and guide.
  4. Everyone benefits from working directly with customers: Instead of just hearing insights from the UX research team, these individuals will get to connect directly with customers and build empathy. This will keep them invested in serving the best interests of those customers more than reading a research report will. 
  5. You can focus on the work you love: Many UX research teams are tasked with endless rounds of prototype testing and other evaluative research. By empowering others to do that work on their own, you’ll be freed up to do high value UX research or other activities.

Your mindset shift should also include setting everyone up for success. As you dive into bringing new teams and business units on board, avoid:

  • Making it too hard: While you want to create guardrails and guidelines for your colleagues, you don’t need to put them through a rigorous training process. Don’t force them to watch hours or training or pass some sort of test—formal or informal—before they can dive into insight collection.
  • Being too rigid: As we’ll see in the coming sections, the UX research team must allow for some flexibility. Empowering others to gather human insight means giving them templates and tools, but also a little leeway for improvisation. If you say, “You can only do this our way,” you run the risk of boxing them into research that doesn’t actually help them perform their own work. And as we’ve seen first hand, this will lead to low adoption.
  • Being too harsh: People will mess up and do things wrong. Allow them to fail and learn instead of criticizing them and revoking their insight-collection privileges. If they get it 70% right, that’s better than plowing ahead with 0% human insight incorporated into their work.

Scaling insights means letting go, which can be extremely challenging. The result is worth the discomfort, though, since shifting into the Systematic Phase brings your entire organization closer to sustainable and universal customer-centricity.

Find your champions

In previous phases, there are recommendations around building relationships, socializing, and evangelizing human insight in order to be successful. For any sort of culture shift, you have to bring others along. 

In the Systematic Phase, you need to find champions across your company and especially within the teams you are empowering. These champions are a key to your success; they are the biggest advocates for human insight when UX research isn’t in the room.

And these people don’t need to be managers or executives. Of course, that is always helpful, but don’t underestimate the power of an individual contributor or a team leader in demonstrating how human insight has helped them be more impactful in their work. This advocacy will always encourage others to follow suit.

Another great practice is to bring your champions together on a regular cadence. These champions don’t have to be in the same team or even the same business unit. 

At a global software company, a group of human insight advocates get together regularly to share stories and case studies of how they’ve integrated human insight into their work and the value it’s provided. Others around the company join these sessions to hear the stories, learn, and get inspiration on how to optimize their own approach to human insight.

Get leadership alignment and support

Without leadership support, your efforts to empower more people to collect and leverage human insight will fall flat. You’re going to be making changes to processes and protocols in their departments. You’ll definitely need their backing to make that possible.

If you’re worried about securing their buy-in, tie the changes to something they care about. Show them the value of this process shift and illustrate its power. We recommend doing this through storytelling and case studies, weaving stats and numeric results throughout a narrative. 

Show a stumbling block, a fix suggested by customers, and how the recommended improvement has driven sales or increased customer satisfaction … then point out that empowering more people to access human insight would increase the company’s ability to replicate these results. 

And once you have them on board, make them a spokesperson. For example, a UX research team at a telecommunications company empowered a team of UX designers to collect their own human insight. As part of this evolution, the UX Design leader prominently endorsed the program and importance of human insight in front of the larger UX team.

Integrate human insight within the processes and technologies that empowered teams embrace

In order to get teams successfully trained up and actually using human insight for everyday decisions, you have to show up in the processes and technologies that they already embrace. No one wants to adopt a new practice that doesn’t fit into the way they work today.

Whether it’s SAFe, the Double Diamond, Kanban, Scrum, or some other methodology, you must show them where human insight can be integrated and how they can collect and use it effortlessly to inform important decisions.

Usually, this means limiting the number of times human insight can be collected throughout a process as well as the number of use cases available. This is especially important when you’re just getting teams onboarded. If you give them too many options or ideas at the start, they will suffer from decision fatigue and may not do anything at all.

As an example, an innovation team at a large financial services company has a new product development process they use to vet the (endless) ideas they could invest in. As part of this process, they have three places where they integrate human insight:

  1. Problem definition: Instead of doing customer interviews, which the team was too intimidated to do on their own, they use self-guided tests to get their target audience to react to and rate a set of problem statements. Remember, it doesn’t matter if you create a beautiful experience if you aren’t solving a relevant problem.
  2. Solution assessment: Once they identify a problem worth solving, they ask their target audience to review the ways they solve the problem today to understand what works, what doesn’t, and where the opportunities are.
  3. Concept feedback: As they come up with ideas to solve the identified customer problem, they use a framework to assess whether or not the concept is a viable idea that should pass “go” and get put in front of leadership. 

Also, you may want to give specific use cases to different roles within a team. For example, product managers could do customer interviews or competitive assessments and UX designers could do concept or prototype testing. 

In addition to integrating into workflows, providing specific use cases, and assigning use cases by role, think about how you can set the teams up so human insight can be consumed or retrieved from the technologies they already use. For example, does the team use Confluence or Sharepoint to collaborate? If so, set up ways to effortlessly pull human insight into these environments so they show up where people work.

Your human insight solution should:

  1. Provide test plan templates that fit naturally into common workflows that product, digital, and marketing teams follow.
  2. Have integrations into technologies where teams collaborate today, including Slack, Figma, Confluence, SharePoint, etc.

UserTesting resources

Give empowered teams reusable assets and tools so they collect, consume, and communicate human insight that retains rigor and integrity

In order to empower teams safely and at scale, you must create starting points and guardrails to guide them through knowing what questions to ask, who to ask, how to interpret the data, and what action to take.

Target audience networks

Your company may have a common set of personas or segments to target or it may vary by team or business unit. Regardless, ask empowered teams to define their target audiences and then create recruiting requirements that can be reused so they get feedback from the right people. 

Test plan templates

Test plan templates are a practical way to provide guardrails around collecting human insight. They also give empowered teams a place to start learning and working; if they dive into insight collection with no parameters around what they’re seeking or how to extract it, they’ll likely make mistakes. (Or they’ll feel so overwhelmed that they never get started.) 

You can create test plan templates based on the common use cases you identify for each team. Each empowered team will likely need its own customized set of templates, but the UX research team can create master templates that can be tweaked by team.

A key point for setting up templates is to focus on question types that will provide the fastest time to insight. Leaning on technologies like click tracking, sentiment analysis, and survey style questions will help the teams get to key learnings quickly so they can make informed decisions and move on. Above all, focus empowered teams on getting to answers quickly!

Test plan review & approval

If you provide test plan templates for empowered teams, they may want to tweak questions or even create a new test plan of their own. In these scenarios, the UX research team can review the approach before human insight collection begins. Some ways to approach this include:

  • Hosting office hours for empowered teams so you can consult, review, and approve edited or new test approaches
  • Providing a way for teams to route test plans for review asynchronously, such as through a form, an email alias, or through a human insight platform. 

As you coach and develop empowered team members who are editing test plans or creating new ones, lift the review process over time. This could be more of a judgment call (when you feel they are ready) or happen automatically after a certain number of reviews. For example, one telecommunication company lifts the review process after an empowered team member reviews 5 unique test plans with the UX research team.

Reporting templates

Instead of just offering test plan templates, consider creating reporting templates that help empowered teams sift through their data and findings. Not only will it provide faster time to insight, a reporting template will help teams communicate key learnings with minimal effort.

Your human insight solution should: 

  1. Allow you to create reusable assets, such as test plan templates and audience profiles, and assign them to specific workspaces. 
  2. Provide a workflow and functionality that allows the UX research team to review proposed test plans from empowered teams. 
  3. Allocate human insight collection permissions by workspace.
  4. Allow you to manage and run reports on team usage.

UserTesting resources

Encourage empowered teams to share human insight to build interest and spur discussion

Sharing is an effective way to build greater engagement and interest around human insight that empowered teams are collecting. By spreading the excitement around customer feedback beyond the UX research team, you’ll build a groundswell of support for human insight.  

Sharing has the added benefit of sparking interest from teams and roles not yet empowered to collect human insights independently. Spreading interesting findings and key learnings serves as a kind of evangelization, raising awareness and potentially creating a viral increase in usage. 

Your human insight solution should

  1. Provide ways to easily share human insight directly or via integrations into other technologies

UserTesting resources

Create shared environments where empowered teams can organize and share the human insight they’ve collected

During the Organized Phase, you created an environment to organize and share the human insight that the core UX research team collected. Now, you need to allot a subset of that environment to each empowered team that will be collecting insights independently.

Let’s say you’ve trained a team of UX designers to test their own prototypes, including giving them some test templates to use. Give them a space or section within your shared environment—separate from wherever the UX research team works—so they can store their files, discuss their findings amongst themselves, and collaborate easily. This allows them to learn and explore in a safe environment.

Your human insight solution should:

  1. Allow the admin to create separate workspaces or folders for the UX research team and each of the empowered teams or initiatives they support. This will enable teams to organize their work, focus only on the human insight that is relevant to them, and enable them to protect the confidentiality of work. 
  2. Invite as many team members as you’d like to relevant workspaces and assign appropriate permissions. UX research team members should have permission to create tests and others should be view-only.
  3. Support SSO, auto-provisioning, and other features to support expedited user onboarding
  4. Allow you to establish a standard set of tags to make human insight easy to find and consume. 
  5. Curate findings in easy-to-digest modules.
  6. Provide search capabilities to quickly locate themes or findings by the established set of tags.

UserTesting resources

Provide targeted training and ongoing support to empowered teams

Once you’ve shown empowered teams where and how to collect human insight within their workflows and set them up with reusable assets, you should focus next on building a training curriculum around these practices. 

Because they are likely focused on a specific set of user test approaches, use those as the focal point for your training and support. Keep everything short, punchy, and to the point. By doing so, you won’t overload them with educational content they can’t use; targeted training will allow them to focus on what matters most.

Also, provide options for people to attend training live or asynchronously, and at their own pace. Don’t assume that everyone wants to attend a 3-day training at headquarters. Provide ways for them to consume training content in small chunks or in longer sessions.

In some cases, UX research teams require empowered team members to pass a certification before they can begin collecting human insight. While we don’t necessarily see this as a key requirement before empowered individuals can start testing, it might be appropriate for you.

In addition to specific training, many UX research teams that run successful scaling programs will tap their most experienced and knowledgeable UX researchers to provide guidance in the form of direct mentorship. Ensuring that empowered teams can get the coaching they need is a great way to ensure they adhere to high research standards.

Finally, offer office hours or other forms of coaching to empowered teams. Setting them up for success requires the UX research team to be available as a resource before, during, and after customer feedback is gathered.

Your human insight platform should:

  1. Provide out of the box on-demand education options
  2. Offer live training or consulting sessions
  3. Allow you to create and host a curated curriculum 
  4. Support a certification process 

UserTesting resources

Refocus the UX research team to proactively deliver human insight to inform strategic decisions.

When the UX research team is in the Organized Phase, they’re forced to be (primarily) reactionary. Everyone is so overloaded with work that all their time is spent fulfilling requests. Moving into the Systematic Phase means the UX research team offloads some of their work to become more proactive. And in doing so, the team becomes more strategically valuable to the company.

As you get to know your stakeholders and what they value, you’ll be able to provide timely, meaningful customer insights that they may not be explicitly asking for. 

So how do you do this? And how do you do it in the most efficient way? We have a couple recommendations:

  1. Look for emerging trends and patterns in the huge body of knowledge you own. Sometimes, being proactive doesn’t mean doing more research. Instead, it means synthesizing all the information you already have and looking for emerging trends. And if you’re organizing and curating insight over time, these trends should pop naturally.
  1. Conduct regular health checks of your experiencesand even your competitors. While teams are rolling out new features and updates continually, they sometimes neglect to regularly look at the holistic experience. Consider testing the top key user flows regularly. This could be monthly, quarterly, or even semi-annually. You will be able to keep tabs on the overall experience and, ideally, the improvement over time as you pull human insight into more decisions. You’ll also be able to pinpoint when something goes awry. To bring this to the next level, test these same flows on your top competitors. A competitive scorecard that shows how your experience stacked up against your competitors will never be ignored.

Your human insight solution should:

  1. Provide search capabilities to quickly locate themes or findings by the established set of tags.
  2. Provide capability to set up recurring tests so you can gather human insight on a regular cadence.

UserTesting resources

Moving to a culture of human insight 

In order to determine if your program is ready to scale up to company-wide access and empowerment, assess how many of the following elements you have in place:

  • UX research team understands value of and executes against empowering others
  • Leadership supports programmatic application of human insight
  • Human insight integrated into existing workflows and technologies
  • Collaborative environment established for each empowered team as well as the UX research team
  • Reusable assets for empowered teams available 
  • Training, mentoring, and coaching support for empowered teams
  • UX research refocused on high value research to inform strategic direction

If your team is prepared to check most or all of these boxes, you should feel confident progressing to the next stage.

Now that you’ve begun to scale the work of gathering human insight and emphasizing its importance to the business, you’ve laid the groundwork for making a true culture shift. The next step is to refine the model until the whole company is united in its efforts to gather and leverage human insight. 

In the next stage, we’ll discuss the often slow but critically important work of transforming your company into a place that develops deep customer empathy by constantly talking to its customers and socializing the resulting learnings. World-class companies meet their customers where they are by listening to them, in their own words, and changing right along with them.

Ready to become one of them? Read on to find out how.

Click below to choose the phase you want to see next:

Photo by Håkon Grimstad on Unsplash

The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of UserTesting or its affiliates.