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If you’re a Product Manager without a user research team, are you out of luck? Absolutely not. Though dedicated researchers are truly the dream (I’m biased, as I lead a team of them myself), a user-centric PM can create and execute a UX research plan that answers some of the most crucial questions about users during the product development and product design process.

I’ll walk you through exactly what to do and how to do it—let’s dive in.

How do you know when it’s time to start a user research project?

Before we get into user research tools and the specifics of how to create a user research plan, it’s important to reflect a little bit about when it’s most helpful to conduct user research. Particularly if you’re not a full-time researcher, you’ll want to make sure that you’re investing time in research where it’s most worthwhile.

Here’s a handy chart to guide your thought process about whether or not it’s time to roll up your sleeves and do some research.

✅ It may be time to prioritize UXR if…❌ It may NOT be time to prioritize UXR if… 
You’re lacking new ideas for features or other initiatives that answer user needsYou don’t have time to make iterations on whatever section of the product you’d like to research
You had a highly successful or unsuccessful product initiative and you aren’t sure what you can learn from the experience for future iterationsYour current questions about your users are more because you’re curious and less because you need answers in order to make product decisions
There is a disagreement or lack of knowledge on your team about which user pain points or needs are most crucial to solveYou won’t have time to finish up your research before you have to make the relevant product decisions
You are working on a new flow or feature and are questioning what the ideal UX is

Overall, doing user research makes sense when you have a practical reason for doing so and when you have sufficient time to do research and define actionable insights. It also bears noting that skipping user research means running the risk of developing a poorly-designed product.

Now, let’s assume that you’ve put some thought into this and you’re feeling ready to get started. Next is your step-by-step guide for creating a solid user research plan.

Creating a UX Research plan, step-by-step

If you do a quick search, you’ll see that the world is full of many different UX research podcasts, resources, and approaches when it comes to creating a research plan. In my role as a User Research Lead, I’ve found that a short, to-the-point one-pager is the best way to both plan your research in a way that all stakeholders can understand and to leave enough time to, you know, actually do the research. Here are the steps to follow when you go about creating your one-page plan.

Step 1: Align with your team on your research goals 

It’s often tempting to start the conversation about user research with methodology—“we’ll do some interviews” or “we’ll conduct a survey.”  The truth is, though, that you can’t know what methodology to use, or even whether you want to use a quantitative or qualitative methodology, until you work with your team to define your goals. 

Once you’ve defined your goals—in other words, what you want to learn and why—and your whole team is aligned, you’ll be able to start drafting your research plan.

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My Recommendation:

Get together the smallest, most relevant group of colleagues whose work will be directly impacted by your research. Often, this group includes other product managers, the UX or product design team, product marketing managers, and a representative from senior management on the product team.  

Think about what makes sense given your product development workflow and organizational culture and get everyone together.

Consider this meeting a brainstorming meeting where you’ll have the ability to get outside of your own head and hear from other colleagues about what they’d like to learn. Ultimately, since you’re creating the research plan and owning the process, you’ll decide what makes it in and what doesn’t.

Not only does this brainstorming session with your colleagues give you practical information to include in your research plan, but you’ll find that it’s easier to get buy-in for the research process when your colleagues feel that they’re genuinely involved.


When brainstorming with your team, challenge everyone who puts forward a question about users to explain how answering that question will help them make important product decisions. This is a helpful way to whittle down your research goals to the things that will actually have practical, tangible value in the foreseeable future.

Step 2: Write the Story section of your one-page research plan

Now that you’ve brainstormed with your colleagues, and you have all of the information that motivated you to start planning research in the first place, you’re ready to start drafting your plan. 

My Recommendation:

The first section of your research plan should be what is called The Story.

The Story is anywhere from 3 to 6 sentences explaining briefly, in words, what you’re doing and why. The goal of this section is to craft a short narrative such that anyone who reads it knows why you’re doing research and what the expected impact of your knowledge will be.

Let’s look at an example to help you get started.  Imagine that your company has a mindfulness app and is planning to build a community feature where people who are interested in mindfulness can interact with each other in a meaningful way.  A sample Story may look something like this:

Story Example

This quarter, the product team is beginning an ambitious project to create a mindfulness community within the app. Our goal is to provide genuine value to our users, and we’ll be using metrics in the realm of conversion rate and community engagement to measure our success.   

Before we begin creating the product roadmap for the community, the team is going to conduct user research in order to learn more about our target audience and the ways in which our future community can best serve them.  This research will allow us to kick off the project by understanding user needs related to the community more in-depth so that we can begin brainstorming product solutions. 

Notice that in the Story section, you’re being fairly general in order to give context and background—in the next section, you’ll write out your concrete research goals.

Step 3: Define and write the Scope section of your research plan

After the story, you’ll create your Scope section, which is the section of the research plan where you’ll define your specific research questions. Simply put, this is where you write out, usually in a bulleted list, what exactly you want to learn from your research.

Continuing with our mindfulness community example, a Scope may look something like this:

Example Scope

  • Do members of our target audience currently involve others in their mindfulness practice? Why/why not? How?
  • Do members of our target audience currently belong to any communities centered around mindfulness? If yes, what are the primary value propositions of these communities? What are these communities lacking, if anything?
  • Do members of our target audience have goals related to mindfulness? If yes, how do they articulate them? What’s challenging about reaching those goals? What helps them work toward their goals?

My Recommendation:

The scope can be longer or shorter than this example, and you can use the syntax that makes the most sense for your team—but the overall idea is that anyone who reads the Scope section of your UX research plan will know exactly what your research questions are and what type of information you’re looking to learn.

Next up, you’ll use your Story and your Scope to decide which research methodology you’ll be using…

Step 4: Define your research methods and write the Methodology section of your research plan

Once you’ve defined your Scope, you can decide which research methods will best help you to answer the research objectives that you’ve defined. There are a lot of decisions to make here, and you’ll likely be asking yourself questions like:

  • Should I be doing qualitative research or quantitative research?
  • I’ve done usability testing before, but I’m not sure if that’s relevant to the goals of the research – how do I know?
  • How many methods should I use? How many research participants do I need?

These are all great and relevant questions—and it’s certainly true that a hugely important part of the research process is choosing the appropriate methodology. Even the most commonly used methods—interviews, surveys, usability testing, and so on—give very different types of information.  

The good news is that—even if you’re not yet knowledgeable about which UX research methods to use and when—there are a ton of good user experience research resources out there that can give you some guidance.  This guide is a great place to start when it comes to understanding which research techniques will help you with your specific research project. 

To understand more about the number of participants to recruit, or how many research sessions to do,  for each stage of your UX research project, this article does a great job at defining what to take into account.

Once you’ve defined your methodology, write it out in your research plan. Title the section Methodology and include one bullet point for each method – and yes, it’s definitely possible that you’ll use more than one research method in your research project.

My Recommendation:

Make sure to define the target research participants for each method.

Here is an example of what bullet points under the Methodology section may look like:

  • 10 User Interviews {Current power users who have at least 2 sessions per week for the past month}
  • 10 User Interviews {Users who use XYZ competitor app at least twice per week}


You can include other relevant details in this section if you think they’re important to state. For example, will each method be conducted in-person or virtual? Do you want to link to your list of interview questions for transparency about what you’ll ask users if you are doing interviews? As long as the core information is here, you can add details that you think your team needs to align on and/or be aware of.

Step 5: Define and write your Timeline and Budget

Ask any user researcher and they’ll tell you that anyone who gets wind of a user research project will immediately want to know how long it’s going to take. At the end of your one-page research plan, give a target date for when your research deliverables will be ready. Simply, this means: when will you have your research insights and product recommendations ready to present to other stakeholders?  

My Recommendation:

You may want to specifically define your timeline as approximate in your research plan since actually executing research can be somewhat unpredictable. For example, your project timeline may need to be altered depending on how long it takes you to recruit participants, which you can’t always anticipate precisely in advance.

In addition to your Timeline, think about whether it makes sense within your organizational culture to make explicit your Budget for the project in your research plan. If your manager will need to approve your plan and expenses such as paying research participants for their time, it’s a good idea to include it in your plan.

Step 6: Share your research plan for feedback and final alignment

Congratulations! You’re finished with the first draft of your UX research plan. It’s one page, it gives all of the necessary context, and it lays out exactly what you’re going to do and when. Just to recap, your very basic UX research plan template is something like this:

Story: Give the general context for this research

Scope: Give a bulleted list of what you’d like to learn from this study

Methodology: List which research methods you’ll use and with whom

Timeline: Give an approximate timeline for your research and tell everyone when you plan to deliver your results

Budget: If needed, define your budget here for approval

The next and final step is to share the main stakeholders with the draft of your plan. Allow comments, and use your judgment as to which user feedback to incorporate (or not). Once you feel that you and your colleagues are reasonably aligned, you’re done! You have your research plan and you’re ready to start doing your user research project. 

Executing your research and beyond

Whether this is your first time implementing a user research plan or you have some experience, it’s worth taking a little bit of time to reflect on some best practices right before you get started. 

Here are some tips and tricks to keep in mind as you move forward:

  1. Never Stop Learning: Remember that if you’re unfamiliar with a specific method, there are a ton of online resources. Carve out some time in your calendar to fill in knowledge gaps as needed throughout the research process.
  2. Over-Communicate: Update your team from time to time as your timeline evolves. It’s inevitable that something won’t go precisely as planned, and that’s usually fine as long as you communicate any timeline changes to the relevant stakeholders.
  3. Don't Fear Change: Don’t forget that your research plan can be altered.  If you start doing research and realize that you aren’t achieving saturation with your current sample size, or that you need to add an additional research method in order to get the insights that you need—that’s totally fine! Most user researchers experience this from time to time. Do what you need to get the job done.
  4. Focus on Value: The format of your deliverables depends on your organizational culture but ultimately, everyone wants actionable insights to come from every user research project. Good research is research with practical value, whether it’s delivered as a research report or a presentation. 

User experience research is transformative—lean into it!

It can feel overwhelming to initiate and execute user research projects among all of your other tasks, but hopefully, now that you’ve drafted your one-page plan, you feel that it’s more manageable. Most product and UXR professionals who have leaned into user research and integrated it into the product development process describe it as transformative for themselves, the product, and their team members. It’s invigorating to learn from your users and to use your research findings as a starting point for key product initiatives.

As your user research journey continues, be sure to subscribe to The Product Manager newsletter, which is one of my favorite sources for new and timely advice when it comes to user experience research.

Happy researching!

By Cori Widen

Cori Widen currently leads the UX Research team at Lightricks. She worked in the tech industry for 10 years in various product marketing roles before honing in on her passion for understanding the user and transitioning to research.