How To Create A Rapid Research Program To Support Insights At Scale — Smashing Magazine

How To Create A Rapid Research Program To Support Insights At Scale — Smashing Magazine

Accelerate your organization’s growth and innovation with the power of Rapid Research. From inception to implementation, here is the step-by-step roadmap on how to build the program from scratch and uncover the untapped ROI opportunities waiting to propel your initiatives to new heights.

While the User Experience practice has been expanding and will continue to balloon in the coming years, so have its sub-disciplines such as content strategy, operations, and user research. As the practice of UX Research matures, scalability will continue to be important in order to meet the rapid needs of iterative product development.

While there are several effective ways to scale user research, such as increasing researcher-to-designer ratios, leveraging big data and real-time analytics, or research democratization, one of the most effective methods is developing a Rapid Research program. In a Rapid Research program, teams are provided quick insight into key problems at an unprecedented operational speed.

Rapid Research-type support has been around for a while and has taken different shapes across different organizations. What remains true, however, is the goal to provide actionable insights from end-users at a quick pace that fits within product sprints and maintains pace with agile development practices.

In this article, I’m going to unpack what a Rapid Research program is, how to build one in your organization, and underscore the unique benefits that a program like this can provide to your team. Given that there is no singular ‘right way’ to scale insights or mature a user research practice, this outline is intended to provide building blocks and considerations that you may take in the context of the culture, opportunities, and challenges of your organization.

What Is Rapid Research?

Rapid research is a relatively recent program where typical user research practices and operations are standardized and templatized to provide a consistent, repeatable cadence of insights. As the name suggests, a core requirement of a rapid research program is that it delivers quicker-than-average insights. In many teams, this means delivering research on a weekly cadence where a confluence of guardrails, templates, and requirements work to ensure a smooth and consistent process.

Programs like Rapid Research may be created out of a necessity to keep up with the pace of development while freeing the bandwidth of expert researchers’ time for more complex discovery work that often takes longer. A rapid research program can be a crucial component of any team’s insight ecosystem, balanced against solving different business problems with flexible levels of support.

A visualization of what makes a rapid research, which is Scope, Timing, Compartmentalization, and Consistency
Rapid Research programs are carefully crafted by focusing on scope, timing, compartmentalization, and consistency. (Large preview)


Research Methods

In order to make research more rapid, teams may consider some research methodologies out of the question in their Rapid Research program. Methods such as longitudinal diary studies, surveys, or long-form interviews might suffer from lower quality if done too quickly. When determining the scope of your rapid research program, ask yourself what methods you can easily templatize and, most importantly, which best support the needs of your experience teams.

For example, if your experience teams work on 2-week sprints and need insights in that time, then you will need to consider which research methods can reliably be conducted in 1–2 week increments.

Sample Size And Research Duration

Methods alone won’t ensure a successful implementation of a rapid research program. You will also need to consider sample size and session duration. Even if you decide usability tests are a reasonable methodology for your rapid research framework, you may be introducing too much complexity to run them with 15+ users within 60-min sessions and analyze all that data efficiently. This may require you to narrow your focus to fewer sessions with shorter duration.

Participant Recruitment

While there may be fewer and shorter sessions for each study, you also need to consider your participant pool. Recruitment is one of the most difficult aspects of conducting any user research, and this effort must be considered when determining the scope of the program. Recruitment can jeopardize the pace of your program if you source highly specific participants or if they are harder to reach due to internal bureaucracy or compliance constraints.

In order to simplify recruitment, consider what types of participants are both the easiest to reach and who account for the most use cases or products you expect to be researching. Be careful with this, though, as you don’t want to broaden your customer profiles too much for fear of not getting the helpful feedback you need, as UserZoom says:

“Why is sourcing participants such a challenge? Well, you could probably find as many users as you like by spreading the net as wide as possible and offering generous incentives, but you won’t necessarily find the ‘right’ participants.”

— UserZoom, “Four top challenges UX teams face in 2020 and how to solve them”


Why Timing Matters

Coupled tightly with scope, the timing of your rapid research end-to-end process will be paramount to the program’s success. Even if you have narrowed the scope to only a handful of research methods with limited sessions at shorter durations and with specific participant profiles, it won’t be ‘rapid’ if your end-to-end project timeline is as long as your average traditional study. Care must be taken to ensure that the project timelines of your rapid research studies are notably quicker than your average studies so that this program feels differentiating and adds value on top of the work your team is already doing.

Reconsidering scope

If your timelines are about the same, or your rapid cadence is less than 50% more efficient than your average study, consider whether or not you’re being judicious enough in your scope above. Always monitor your timelines and identify where you can speed things up or limit the scope in order to reach a quick turnaround, which is acceptable. One way to support shorter project timelines is through compartmentalization.


About Compartmentalization

One way to balance scope, timing, and consistency is by breaking up pieces of your average study process into smaller, separate efforts. Consider what your program would look like if you separated project intake from the study kick-off or if discussion guides were not dependent on recruitment or participant types. Splitting out your workflow into separate parts and templating them may eliminate typical dependencies and streamline your processes.

Ways To Compartmentalize

Once you’ve determined the set of research methods and ideal participants to include in your program, you may:

  • Templatize the discussion guides to provide a quick starting point for researchers and cut down on upfront preparation time.
  • Create a consistent recruitment schedule independent of the study method to start before study intake or kick-off to save upfront time.
  • Pre-schedule recurring kick-off and readout sessions to set expectations for all studies while limiting timeline risk when at the mercy of others’ calendars.

There is a myriad of opportunities to do things differently than your typical research study when you reconsider the relationships and interdependencies in the process.



While a quality rapid research program takes into consideration scope, timing, and compartmentalization, it also needs to consider consistency. It would be difficult to discern whether or not the program was ‘rapid’ if, on one week, a study takes one week, and on another week, a study takes 2.5 weeks. Both may be below your current study average. However, project stakeholders may blur the lines between the differences in your rapid studies and your typical studies due to the variability in approach. In addition, it may be difficult to operationalize compartmentalization or rapid recruitment without some form of expected cadence.

More Agility

As you and your team get used to operating within your rapid cadence, you may identify additional opportunities to templatize, compartmentalize or focus scope. If the program is inconsistent from study to study, it may be more difficult to notice these opportunities for increased agility, hindering your program from becoming even more rapid over time.

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