Efficient interview scheduling for user research
Master the art of interview scheduling for successful user research. Discover expert tips to streamline the process and maximize participant engagement.
Best practices for participants and stakeholders
Scheduling moderated interviews with participants and stakeholders is a critical aspect of conducting effective and efficient user research. And the success of these sessions often hinges on careful planning and efficient organization.
After conducting thousands of sessions, I’ve compiled the following best practices and pro tips to ensure smooth and productive research sessions for everyone involved.
Timing is everything when it comes to scheduling, and it’s essential to consider how far in advance to schedule both participants and stakeholders. Why am I mentioning stakeholders? Well, if they’re observing live, the session times will impact them too (more on this below).
Offering early morning, daytime, and evening options allows flexibility for participants in different time zones and with varying schedules. I suggest providing a range of availability, including weekdays and weekends, and discussing the tradeoffs with your stakeholders. For example, some sessions may fall outside normal business hours, however you’ll likely have a better chance of recruiting the right participants from your screener.
Pro tip: To accommodate for potential no-shows and individuals who may not be qualified but seep through the screener, schedule 30% more sessions than you plan to conduct. For example, if you’re looking to speak with 10 people, schedule 13 people.
Inviting stakeholders to observe interviews requires careful planning too. I like to prepare an interview schedule for the entire study phase, using a separate Google Sheet to centralize information such as session times, dates, participant details, and relevant links. I also send my team/stakeholders separate calendar invitations to mitigate participant PII and potential bias.
Pro tip: Update the team and stakeholder calendar invites with all necessary information, such as rooms, video conference links, recruiting grid, interview guide, and note-taking directions if applicable. Providing a seamless user experience for stakeholders enhances collaboration and builds trust and buy-in.
Streamlining the interview process
To streamline the interview process, schedule a pilot session a couple of days before the actual study begins to test every single aspect of the discussion guide, prototype, technology, etc. This allows for revisions in the interview guide and stimuli, and ensures optimal efficiency during the real sessions.
Pro tip: Try to schedule your sample segments together. For example, schedule all participants in segment A first, followed by segment B. This practice mitigates context switching for you as the researcher and for your stakeholders. It also helps expedite the debriefing process.
Managing energy and exhaustion
As a practitioner, it's crucial to consider your own well-being during the interview process too. For moderated studies, don’t schedule more than three sessions in a single day. Four or more is exhausting, will likely compromise your performance, and lead to rework. Say no to rework!
Pro tip: If you're a newer practitioner, limit ethnographies to no more than two sessions in a day. Trust me, you'll need the time to get from physical location A to physical location B, eat, take bathroom breaks, set up, break down, find parking, and get lost (!). Plus, in-person ethnographies tend to be longer than one hour.
To ensure clear communication and confirm participation, invite selected participants to schedule their own session times from a range of available options. Include the session duration and any special requirements, such as joining from a desktop or mobile device, and needing a quiet location and high-speed internet access.
Pro tip: Emphasize that accepting the calendar invitation serves as the final confirmation to participate in the study.
Communicating clearly and effectively with participants
After they choose their session time, promptly send a calendar invitation to your participants. Within the invitation, reiterate the date, time, duration, and any special requirements. If the session is remote, include the necessary link details. If in-person, provide the actual address, directions, parking, and public transit details too. Make it easy for them!
Pro tip: Include a way for participants to contact you, or someone else on your team, if they’re running late, are no longer available, or need to reschedule. Clear communication is key.
To avoid any confusion or last-minute issues, you’ll need to send participants reminders (some specific platforms, like UsabilityHub, automate this for you). One day before the session, send a reminder email reiterating the session details, including the date, time, duration, and any special requirements. Schedule another reminder 30 minutes before the session begins to ensure participants are prepared and ready to join.
Again, include a way for your participants to contact you or someone else on the team if they’re running late, are no longer available, or need to reschedule. Think of the UX of working with you!
Handling unexpected changes
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we over-schedule and no longer need the extra participants. In all scheduling and research initiatives, it's important to handle the situation professionally. Communicate with the participants who won't be required for the study as soon as possible, express gratitude for their interest, and explain the circumstances. I like to ask them if we can reach out to them in the future, too.
Remember, clear and respectful communication can help maintain a positive rapport and minimize any potential negative impact.
Pro tip: As a researcher, or someone who schedules research, you are a representative of your organization’s brand. This is a brand experience for your participants, so try your very best to make it a positive one. In some instances, you may want to offer a stipend regardless of whether they participated in the full session or not.
NOTE: This tip does not pertain to ‘floaters,’ who should be compensated per the original agreement. Floaters are recruited to ‘stand by’ in case the intended recruit is a no-show. They are always paid X fee to show up, and Y fee if they end up participating. These amounts are negotiated beforehand.
Watching out for common pitfalls
Other potential pitfalls can also disrupt the interview scheduling process. Here are a few things to watch out for:
- Not allocating buffer time: Plan for at least 30 minutes of buffer time between sessions to accommodate for late starts, technical issues, debriefing, bathroom breaks, and personal time to regroup.
- Choosing the first available time: Participants will likely choose the first available session times you offer. Once these session times are booked, remove these options for participants who haven’t scheduled yet.
- Time zones: Participants will likely assume the session times are displayed in their local time. To avoid confusion, use a time zone converter and clearly communicate the session times in participants' local time zones.
- Daylight savings and international considerations: Keep in mind that daylight savings occurs on different dates in different countries, and it may not occur in all states or regions. Additionally, be aware of local holidays and cultural differences that may impact participants' availability and engagement during the sessions.
Interview scheduling is crucial for efficient and successful user research. By implementing the tips and best practices outlined here, you can streamline the scheduling process, ensure optimal participation, and create a positive experience for both participants and stakeholders.
Remember to plan ahead, communicate clearly, and prioritize the well-being of all involved. With careful and strategic scheduling, you can maximize the value of your research sessions and gather valuable input to inform your product development or decision-making processes.
This article was authored by Michele Ronsen, Founder and CEO of Curiosity Tank. Michele is a user research executive, coach and educator. She teaches design and user research to people around the world. Her corporate trainings and workshops are inspired by working with Fortune 500s and start-ups for more than twenty years. Fuel Your Curiosity is her award winning, free, user-research newsletter. In 2020, LinkedIn honored Michele with a TopVoices award in the Technology category. She is the first and only researcher to receive this award.
UsabilityHub is excited to announce the launch of our new Interviews feature, now in beta, which allows you to organize and schedule your research in one place. Save time, streamline your workflow, and easily organize your moderated studies so you can spend your time conducting research – not organizing it! Sign up for a free plan to try it out for yourself.