Framework for research planning

One of the tricks to making sure that I’ve designed the right study to learn what I need to learn is to tie everything together so I can be clear from the planning all the way through to the results report why I’m doing the study and what it is actually about. User research needs to be intentionally designed in exactly the same way that products and services must be intentionally designed.


What’s the customer problem?

It starts with identifying a problem that needs to be solved, and the contexts in which the problem is happening. This is a kind of meta research, I guess. From there, I can work with my team to understand deeply why we are doing the research at all, what the objective of the particular study is, and what we want to be different because we have done the research.


Why are you doing the study?

When the team shares understanding about why you’re doing the study and what you want to get out of it — along with envisioning what will be different because you will have done the study — forming solid research questions is a snap. You need research questions to set the boundaries of the study, determine what behaviors you want to learn about from participants, and what data you can reasonably collect in the constraints you have to answer your research questions.


What can you do with what you learn in the study?

At that point, you can define the expected outcomes. That is, what can you and your team reasonably do in your product or service with what you find out? Will users be happier? Why? How will you make that happen?


How will you find out what you need to know?

Now you know enough to decide exactly what method (or combination of methods) you’re going to use to answer your research questions. Sounds easy — and this is often where teams start — but it’s actually the meat of the plan. What are you going to do to collect data to answer the research questions?


Logistics and practice

The rest is logistics. Logistics need attention because if you don’t think through those and plan them carefully, you can end up not getting data or not getting the data you need. Having the logistics planned carefully, and practiced through dry runs and rehearsals, frees up the brains of the moderator and the observers to pay attention to the participant’s actions and words. Which is why you are doing the study.

So. Tie the objective to the outcomes you want to the data you’re going to collect. To summarize:

  • Plan research in the service of solving a customer problem.
  • Understand why you’re doing this particular study.
  • Define what questions you can reasonably collect data on
  • Be clear about how the data you can collect will answer your research questions.
  • Pre-visualize what will be different because your questions are answered.
  • Be open about the assumptions you’re starting with.

Start with this framework

To help you get started, here’s an outline for a plan — think of it as a framework for intentionally designing your research.



  • Why you’re doing this work
  • A problem statement of some kind

Objective of the study 


Research questions

Expected outcomes


Be specific about:

  • Who the participants should be
  • What you’re going to do to collect data and what questions you’re going to ask
  • How you’re going to conduct the research




Data collection





  • Participants
  • Equipment
  • Travel
  • Other resources
  • Labor



My last pointer: Be curious and have fun. But maybe that is 2 things.


One thought on “Framework for research planning”

  1. Thanks for sharing this, Dana. I’ve been working through setting up some sort of framework with my team, so this is quite helpful as we work through that process.

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