Six unique benefits of rolling research  

February 28, 2022
Our team has seen an increase in requests for rolling research to support product design across multiple industries, from consumer goods to healthcare. We’ve seen firsthand the benefits of executing this model of research and why it can revolutionize the way product teams approach incorporating user feedback.

Rolling research provides a systematic, fast-paced method to answer research questions and inform product development. Rolling research, sometimes called rapid research, consists of regularly scheduled, consecutive research studies. Each study follows a predefined cadence, such as monthly or bi-monthly, and is typically lightweight in nature. The study design stays consistent between studies allowing teams to move quickly.

The combination of efficiency and continuity is the common denominator in the distinct benefits of rolling research:

Reduce project overhead

Let’s say you have six research studies in queue. Instead of securing resources, aligning schedules, and justifying budget for each project individually you can dramatically reduce overhead by combining the projects into a program of rolling research. Now, the set-up and approval process only happens once instead of six times.

Rolling research also expedites the research process by eliminating gaps between studies and enabling reuse of key study design and project management elements, such as vendors, sample size, recruitment criteria, and templates. These efficiencies save time and resources which clears the way for bigger research endeavors or projects that are not well suited for rolling research.

Support multiple teams and agile product development

Fulfilling research requests from numerous teams, balancing timelines, and planning for iterative testing can pose challenges, such as avoiding down time and unsustainable schedules.

With rolling research, you can rotate between teams with each study to efficiently address design dependencies and allow time for adjustments between rounds. The outputs of one study can inform the inputs of another without a hiatus in research. For example, running Study 1 with Team A and Study 2 with Team B gives Team A time to iterate and prepare for Study 3 without pausing research efforts.

By rapidly alternating between teams, you can cover more ground in the same number of calendar days than you could working with a single team. You can also combine and cover different and even unrelated research questions within the same study to further service multiple teams.

Develop deep collaborative context with an embedded researcher

Ensuring team members have appropriate context, open collaboration, and clear communication are key components to the success of any project. When conducting rolling research, a researcher is embedded in a team or product area for much longer than a standard study. In my experience, this context and continuity from previous studies allows researchers to have a deeper understanding of the product nuances, challenges facing both the user and product team, and further insight into the marriage of user and business needs. This deep collaborative context also facilitates stronger communication with the team and stakeholders.

With this continuity comes the ability to identify meta, cross-study findings. Working with multiple teams, researchers can begin to identify where there are disconnects in the user experience that span across separate projects, teams, or product areas. This empowers teams to unpack underlying issues and offer holistic recommendations.

Build buy-in from stakeholders

Communication with stakeholders is important to enabling execution of a project. Earning their trust and buy-in, however, crescendos the findings and impact of a study and can prompt further research.

With each user interview or usability test, you are not only learning about people’s reactions to a specific design idea, but about them as a person–their circumstances, use cases, and attitudes. All these research touch points add up to a grounding, first-hand sensibility about your users as a population for your teams and stakeholders. Continuous exposure to this paired with actionable reports builds trust in the value of research with stakeholders. I have observed that the steady, cyclical value generation that happens in rolling research can play a unique role in increasing ideation, perspectives, and actionable next steps.

Through rolling research, stakeholders become engaged and even excited about the research process. Steeped in insights and with diverse perspectives, this also surfaces new questions and innovations that may not have come to light previously.

Increased insight absorption

We’ve all had the experience of sending a detailed email to someone only to receive a response that addresses just one or two of the important questions we raised. Large research projects with heavy reports can sometimes have a similar effect on stakeholders. The high cognitive load of a lengthy report can cause a lack of action or findings to get overlooked.

Rolling research counterbalances this affect by delivering a steady flow of digestible insights to stakeholders. Pacing your insight delivery in more absorbable amounts can increase comprehension of the findings and adoption of recommendations. However, there is a time and place for each type of report, so it is important to consider which best meets your project and team’s needs.

Keep research top of mind within your organization

It can be easy for some stakeholders to view research as optional or extra work. The regular cadence of rolling research helps establish research as part of the product development process, reinforces the value and impact of understanding user needs, and keeps research fresh in the mind of stakeholders. Over time, their invested engagement can even cultivate advocacy for research and a more user-centered culture. This can heighten awareness of UX practices and get the team thinking about user experience earlier.

If you need to support fast-moving product development, multiple teams, or are looking to build buy-in from stakeholders and establish research as a regular practice, your organization may be ready to evaluate if rolling research is a good fit. Keep in mind you can start small and customize the pace and volume to optimize for your team’s capacity, needs, and deadlines while building a sustainable cadence.