Starting a new user-research project can sometimes be intimidating—especially if you are a junior UX researcher. When I worked on my first UX research project, I battled impostor syndrome along with the anxiety of being a newcomer at my company. My intent for this article is to help other UX researchers—especially those who are early in their career—plan and conduct an effective UX research kick-off meeting—the first step in the research process.
What Is a UX Research Kick-off Meeting?
A research kick-off is a meeting that you should conduct prior to launching a UX research project. It involves all of your key stakeholders who can help you determine the scope of and plan your research project.
Why Undertake a UX Research Kick-off Meeting?
The goal of the research kick-off meeting is to align all your stakeholders’ answers to the following questions:
Why? This is the problem space your research should address.
What? These are your key research questions and hypotheses.
How? These are the project logistics, including time and budget.
During this initial meeting, you’ll set expectations and resolve conflicting priorities. The UX researcher is in the driver’s seat for this meeting and moderates the discussion.
What Is the Format for a Kick-off Meeting?
You could conduct a kick-off meeting either synchronously—whether in person or during an audio or video meeting—or asynchronously, collaborating with each of your stakeholders at their convenience. However, it is often beneficial to conduct a kick-off meeting offline, with everyone in the same place, at the same time. This often makes it easier to iron out details. Synchronous kick-offs usually last 60 minutes or longer, depending on a project’s scope and the number of stakeholders. During this workshop-like meeting, your stakeholders should participate in cocreating a plan, using a physical or virtual whiteboard. In this article, I’ll discuss synchronous kick-offs in detail.
Preparing for Your Kick-off Meeting
Conducting a UX research kick-off meeting for the first time can be challenging—especially if you’re working with unknown stakeholders! It is important to give yourself enough time to prepare. Here’s what you should do:
Research the product/problem space. You most likely already have a high-level overview of the problem space. Search your company’s knowledge base (KB) for more information. Has your organization conducted any prior research in this or any allied product spaces? Are there any customer-service logs that you could look at to get a better understanding of the problem?
Familiarize yourself with the product. If a product, feature, or service is already in use, acquaint yourself with the current experience.
Set your meeting’s agenda. If you are facilitating a 60-minute meeting, timebox each activity that you’ve planned, as shown in Figure 1. Send any premeeting reading material to stakeholders well before the meeting.
Identifying What Questions to Ask
Before jumping into your agenda items, it is important that you make your stakeholders comfortable. An ice- breaker can help build team rapport and takes only two or three minutes. I usually begin by asking, “If you had to describe the project we’re working on in just two or three words, what would they be? Could you also tell us why?” This question is a great temperature check to see how your stakeholders are feeling about the project and can help you identify their main concerns. But you could also ask questions that are unrelated to your research work!
Prior to the meeting, do your homework and prepare a list of questions that can help you to identify the problem that you need to solve. Some questions you might ask include the following:
What is the problem space? You must understand why there is a need for research in the first place.
If this is an existing product, feature, or service, what is the problem it solves and how did your organization discover this need?
If this is a new product, feature, or service, what are the business and user needs for it?
What are the research questions you need to ask?
What are the most important questions the team wants to answer?
What does the team want to learn from your study? Do you have any working hypotheses? How did you arrive at these hypotheses?
Do we have a budget and/or timeline?
What resources are available to execute this project?
How many UX researchers are on this project?
What is the timeline for research, design, product, and other stakeholders?
Who are our target users?
What are their personas?
How can we recruit the users we’re targeting for this study?
What are the roadblocks?
Can your stakeholders foresee any risks or contingencies for this project?
Is there anything else you need to be aware of?
What are our next steps?
How should we proceed after this study?
Is there a desired cadence for communications about the progress of the project? (Knowing this is especially beneficial when you have stakeholders working in multiple time zones.)
During Your UX Research Kick-off Meeting
Using a whiteboard during your kick-off meeting—whether physical or virtual such as Miro or Jamboard—can be helpful because it facilitates the cocreation of ideas and encourages collaboration.
Figure 2 shows an example of a template that I’ve used in facilitating a kick-off workshop. I set this up using Miro and gave access to all stakeholders. This workshop began with a quick icebreaker, then an activity during which we used esticky notes to cocreate the information in the other sections. We time-boxed our work on each of the sections, then followed up with a discussion, which helped us resolve any questions that people had about any of the ideas that others have posted. Follow this same process for each of the sections, leaving the last five to seven minutes of the meeting for a discussion of your next steps.
Working with different stakeholders can give rise to conflicting priorities. Resolving them requires treating your stakeholder groups with empathy. Discuss any inconsistencies in their expectations and ask for clarifications. Give each of your stakeholders the opportunity to express their points-of-view. If people have opposing opinions, weigh all the options, and propose potential solutions until there is agreement. If the time for a given activity runs out, table the discussion and move on to the next relevant item on your agenda. If possible, revisit each of these unresolved issues toward the end of your kick-off meeting.
After Your UX Research Kick-off Meeting
Now that you’ve successfully conducted a UX research kick-off meeting, you have a fair idea of the scope of your UX research project Now what?
Treat this phase of your UX research project as if you were conducting a thematic analysis for a qualitative study. Analyze the important themes within each section of your template. As you revisit each section, combine and group similar ideas, as shown in Figure 3, then derive your conclusions about the main themes for each section. Look for patterns in your data. (They are always there!) Ask yourself these questions:
Do you have enough evidence to draw conclusions about the data in each section?
Is there a recurring theme from the cocreation exercise?
What story is the data from the kick-off meeting telling you?
Does the story seem coherent? Are there any missing pieces?
Once you’ve completed your analysis, these themes should come together to inform you about the scope of your UX research. If you are unsure about anything, ask stakeholders for additional information.
Distilling Your Findings into a UX Research Plan
Your next step is distilling everything you’ve learned during your kick-off meeting into a clear research plan. Summarize your research plan, creating a one-pager slide or document that gives stakeholders a fair idea about your decisions regarding the plan for your UX research project. Send this document to all the stakeholders who participated in the kick-off meeting, and ask them for any final inputs before you begin the project.
Assessing Whether Your Kick-off Meeting Was a Success
Conducting a kick-off meeting can be overwhelming because they generate a lot of new information. As the UX researcher, you are not only driving the meeting but also trying to get everyone on the same page. Fortunately, there are a few questions you can ask yourself to assess whether the kick-off was a success:
Do you have a good idea of the most important research questions for the project?
Was there agreement on most aspects of the project?
Did you walk away with clear next steps in mind for the project?
If the answer to any of these questions is no, don’t hesitate to reach out to stakeholders to schedule follow-up conversations. Remember, the key to a successful UX research project is communication and collaboration. Keep your stakeholders informed throughout your UX research–project lifecycle and adapt your plan based on their feedback!
Ultimately, a kick-off meeting provides a solid foundation for your UX research project. The key to a successful UX research kick-off is doing your up-front research, setting an agenda, getting your stakeholders aligned on key decisions, analyzing the themes from your findings, and communicating!
Preeti is an early-career UX Researcher with a passion for understanding human behavior. She made the jump to User Experience after graduating with a PhD in Social Sciences. She is most excited about trends in design-research methods and specializes in mixed-methods research. As a UX researcher, she is enthusiastic about advocating for the voice of the user throughout the design lifecycle. She also has a deep-seated passion for incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion at all stages of the design process. Read More