One of the biggest challenges for companies incorporating UX practices into an Agile development process is the logistics of research. As an Agile approach works in short “sprints” spanning weeks, it can be a challenge finding and scheduling participants for research in such a short time. (If you’re not sure what Agile is all about, make sure you read my previous post on what Agile means for UX)
For those of us who come from a traditional usability background, the idea of finding participants, scheduling sessions, performing research, and analyzing data in a single sprint can be daunting to say the least.
In truth, there are many methods for recruiting participants for that can fit nearly any timeframe or budget.
Know who you need to speak to
First things first, remember that you need to begin the participant-finding process by defining what kind of users you need. Think about your target users and the 5 or so most important identifying elements, such as software usage, technical skill set, job responsibilities, and so on.
Even if you don’t have formal personas (although I recommend them!) you must define a general set of criteria so that you’re most accurately validating (or invalidating!) your hypotheses. Who cares if tech-savvy dog lovers can’t use your product if your target is traditional cat fans? You also need to create screening questions that successfully eliminate anyone not in your target audience.
Consider the type of research you’re going to do. If you need to do the research in-person, you’ll have to focus heavily on geography and allot slightly more time for scheduling. However, many ux research methods now have remote options, and you can conduct research with users anywhere in the world.
Reach out to existing users
The next thing you need to consider in finding participants is what stage your product is in, and whether or not you have any existing users. If you’re working on an existing product and you already have users, invest a small amount of upfront time to create a go-to panel of research participants. Building a panel means you’ll always have a list of people who have expressed interest in being part of research. In my experience, I’ve been able to fill research sessions, get survey results, or whatever else I needed within a few hours of sending a panel invite.
Your panel can be as simple as a spreadsheet with a list of names and contact information, and you can add people in various ways: a signup form on your website or in an email, asking your sales and support teams to pass on contacts, promotion via social media channels. Consider asking potential panelists to answer a few targeted screening questions as they sign up so that you can quickly search for the type of user you need. Just be sure not to spam people with requests and give them a way to opt-out if they’re not interested.
The downside? These participants may be biased based on their current experience with your brand, whether they’re more engaged and positive than normal or have had a very bad experience, so keep that in mind.
You can also intercept real customers who are actively using or have just used your product. If you happen to work on a website or app, you can use tools like Ethn.io to capture live users and invite them to an immediate study. If they say yes, you could also invite them to be a part of your ongoing panel.
No users yet? Get creative
If you’re building something new that has no user base, recruiting participants can be a bit harder, but there are some tried and true methods. The first is simple; go where your target users are and get bold. Looking to talk to students? Hang out in a coffee shop at a local campus with a sign offering to buy coffee in exchange for some time.
The next method to recruit participants is a compilation of many different resources and can be helpful in any recruiting effort. Use the power of social media, whether that’s tapping into a Facebook group, searching secondary contacts on LinkedIn, or targeting a hashtag on Twitter.
Post a small intro to your study and a link to a screener survey and watch the respondents trickle in. After that, you can manually monitor the participants to invite them or automatically send those who qualify to an appointment scheduling app such as pow wow.
Finally, some tools already have recruits lined up. As long as you provide screening criteria, you can get access to the sorts of participants you need. For instance, services like YouEye, dscout and usertesting.com have huge lists and you can typically get results from tests in less than a day.
Don’t skip your research!
Regardless of what kind of research you’re doing, who your participants are, and what stage your product is in, there are ways to recruit participants quickly so that you can incorporate UX research into your Agile process. Don’t let speed be an excuse to skip research or skimp on finding the right kind of participants!
If you want to know more about how to recruit participants, I recommend “Validating Product Ideas Through Lean User Research” by Tomer Sharon. Tomer provides a great overview of more techniques to find participants and some detailed descriptions of using social media to recruit.
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