User research in agile UX: How UX and agile development go hand in hand?

User research in agile UX: How UX and agile development go hand in hand? A great user experience (UX) is one of the biggest drivers of growth, revenue, and customer happiness. However, for some reason, user research is still one of the first things to be eliminated when budgets are cut and schedules are tight.

Instead of using research to uncover insights about users and design better apps, sites, and products, most project managers get stuck chasing milestones and short-term goals.

At the same time, the people hired to know what your users want (UX researchers and UX designers) get bogged down by testing products they had no part in designing, or rush to fit their work into the existing roadmap.

None of them see the real benefits of user research. But what if there was a better way?

In this guide, we cover everything involved in running a successful user research project, from how to create a user research plan to user research methods and how product and UX teams work together.

What is user research? Why should project managers care about it?

User research is a systematic approach to understanding user goals, needs, motivations, and behaviors through two qualitative and quantitative approaches.

The goal of user research is to create the best experience and product possible by listening and learning from your real users. A user researcher may conduct user interviews, analyze product usage data and heat maps, or use a combination of other research methods to understand what users want.

Any good agile team knows that they can’t build a great product without research. Instead, regular user feedback is essential to making intelligent product decisions and planning effective sprints.

However, although UX and Agile development teams share a common user-centric DNA, they often work independently, and as you might expect, this can lead to a series of problems.

User researchers may test your current product without knowing about new features or changes. While the rigid structure of most agile teams can mean you’re planning sprints and prioritizing features without the critical insights that dedicated user research reveals.

Or maybe you are part of a small team and don’t have someone dedicated to user research and design. So you’re stuck in an endless loop of small improvements, with no room to step back and consider the big picture.

What is user research?
What is user research?

On the other hand, doing more research in the development process has major advantages. These benefits include:

It saves your development team time and effort working on the wrong features
By iterating before sending, it gives your customers a better experience
By understanding what users want, it helps you innovate faster
One of the best things you can do as an agile project manager is to create more space through planning for everyone in the company to be as user-aware and focused as possible.

Agile UX: How to incorporate user research into agile software development?

User research can happen as a standalone project or be integrated into your ongoing development process. While both approaches have their pros and cons, integrating user research can be much more difficult.

Agile software development and UX design have a lot in common. However, they are still far enough apart to create friction when you try to do them simultaneously.

Development teams are under pressure to continuously ship software, fix bugs, and prioritize new and exciting features. But as senior UX expert Paige Laubheimer writes, the typical two-week cycle of agile sprints and scrums can put a significant burden on UX researchers and designers:

“As a result [of the speed of agile], designers are under a lot of pressure to create, test, refine, and deliver their output in an unrealistically fast manner, with little of the context and macro-thinking that is appropriate for user-centered designs.”

So how do you bring agile and UX teams together?

Part of it is due to cultural changes.

You need leaders and stakeholders who value user research (beyond A/B testing) and want to research early in development. It also means UX leaders communicate and point out issues or improvements that your development team may have missed.

A bigger piece, however, is adding more “agility” to agile.

The original Agile Manifesto was created to help teams become more flexible and deal with uncertainty. Unfortunately, many agile teams ignore the spirit of the framework and act more like a rigid structure to follow.

But when you accept that every project has levels of complexity and uncertainty, you begin to figure out how to manage tasks and schedule projects while giving researchers time to advance and validate your plans.

For example, instead of a separate UX team that consults or reviews the work done in a sprint, researchers and designers can work on future sprints using prototypes to test assumptions and feed their learning back to development.

It’s this kind of collaboration that creates better-informed teams and better products.

Agile UX How to incorporate user research into agile software development
Agile UX How to incorporate user research into agile software development
6 steps to run an agile user research project

UX designers have a specific research process that they follow. However, we intend to explore how to properly integrate this process into our development framework.

Step 1: Explore the product and define your research questions

Every research project starts with a question.

Just asking “Do users like our latest version?” It can be tempting, however, to take a step back and instead ask questions like:

  • What do our users want?
  • Where are they running into trouble now?
  • How can we make our product better for them?

These questions help you shape your research questions – the specific features, workflows, or experiences you want to explore. Here are some examples of the main questions:

  • Why do many customers abandon their shopping carts before purchasing?
  • What CTA (call to action) should we use on our pricing page to increase conversions?
  • Why do users bounce before going to our product page?
  • How should we categorize our content to make it easier to navigate?

Each question gives you a specific part of the product to review. However, it also helps define the best user research methods to use. For example, the first question is best suited for usability tests or interviews, while the second question requires A/B or multivariate testing.

Step 2: Fill out your research plan and get stakeholder signatures

After you’ve come up with a few research questions to focus on, it’s time to fill out your research proposal.

A research plan covers your project’s objectives, scope, timeline, and deliverables. This is essential for self-organization as well as for attracting stakeholders.

Project stakeholders have a vested interest in your product and can be a great way to validate research questions. Make sure you share your research plan with them early on so they agree on the focus, scope, and deliverables.

It’s okay if you don’t get all the answers right away. Fill out the research plan through the steps below and use it to keep stakeholders updated on your progress.

Fill out your research plan and get stakeholder signatures
Fill out your research plan and get stakeholder signatures
Step 3: Prepare any research supplies

Every project design requires attention to detail. The same is true when it comes to a user research project. Here are some important logistical questions to answer:

  • Methodology: Based on your questions, what is the best user research method?
  • Timetable: When will the research take place? How long will it last? If this research is ongoing, how does it fit into your agile process?
  • Location: Where will the research be conducted? This can be a physical location or an online tool like Zoom.
  • Resources: What resources do you need? This could be technical support or team members.
  • Participants: Who is eligible to participate in this research? How do you satisfy and reward their efforts?
  • Data: How do you get user data? Where will it be stored? How do you create reports that are easy to understand and actionable?
  • Deliverables: What are your success criteria for this project?

Review these with your team and add them to your research plan.

Step 4: Briefly brief the observers on how to proceed and what to look for

Many research methods would benefit from additional assistance. However, the more people involved, the greater the chance of biasing your results.

Typically, there are two ways to test:

  • Moderated testing is when you or another researcher is present during the test to answer questions, guide the participant, or probe deeper.
  • Unmoderated testing is when a participant is left alone to complete the task.

Again, your approach depends on the user research methods you use. However, if you have a moderator/researcher, make sure they know what is expected of them, have a script or notes to follow, and instructions on what to do if things go wrong or participants become aggressive.

Briefly brief the observers on how to proceed and what to look for
Briefly brief the observers on how to proceed and what to look for
Step 5: Run your research session

Now, it’s time to start collecting data.

How you conduct a research session depends on the question you ask and the methods you choose. For example, if you use a survey, you should send it to users or place an invitation banner to find participants on your site or app.

If you’re using something qualitative like analytics or heat mapping, it’s best to implement any software and start tracking data.

Step 6: Report the research findings and share them across the company

User research is only valuable if you can easily share and act on your findings.

An easy way to create a report of research findings is to start with your original research plan, remove unnecessary details, and add new sections for results and findings.

Here is the information that should be included in the research findings report:

  • Details of the research project such as the team, methods, and objectives
  • User profiles and sample anonymous participant profiles
  • Scripts, checklists, tested prototypes, and any other important elements
  • Primary findings as a report, slide, or section in your research proposal
  • List of bugs for developers
  • Recordings, raw data, and other deliverables

Finally, share your report with anyone who could benefit from the findings. This could mean running it during a sprint retrospective or sharing information during a breakout session.

Report the research findings and share them across the company
Report the research findings and share them across the company


Open any tech magazine and you’ll find an article celebrating a company or entrepreneur that “followed their gut.” But even though it’s possible to make an amazing product without research, why make things harder than they already are?

User research is like a cheat sheet for your company. Instead of guessing and hoping, you can ask real people what they like and see how they use your product in the real world.

Check Also:

A step-by-step guide on how to create a product roadmap

What is the stakeholder theory and what is its application in business?

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