2024 Annual Planning | How to Plan like a Leader

Leaders, it’s that time of the year.  No we’re not talking about the holidays, we’re talking about Annual Planning!  

It’s that time of year once again where businesses engage in the pivotal process of annual planning. This critical path determines the roadmap for the coming year, underpinning every major decision and forming the backbone of strategic initiatives.

Our Community Board Member, Sarah Bowlin, who is a seasoned UX researcher and a guiding star in the realm of research operations, shares her deep-rooted wisdom for planning from a research-centered viewpoint in this blog post. In every company, it’s pivotal that research should be a responsive and integral arm of the business, adjusting to its ever-changing dynamics.

sarah bowlin headshot

Sarah Bowlin on Annual Planning:

When I approach annual planning for research, I really do start from a discipline-first perspective. Research is one of those departments at a company that needs to be responsive to the changing dynamics of the business.

We haven’t always had a seat at the table and it’s important to remember that ultimately you have to meet leadership where they’re at to maintain a seat, and that, for me, has always been about tying my team’s goals and work to the bottom line. What are we trying to achieve this year and how is research going to uniquely help us get there?

Starting from a research discipline POV helps me think about the careers of my team and also the type of work we want to be doing over the next year. Then I develop initiatives that support those goals, and I ensure that they support what product is supporting: core KPIs and initiatives that product leadership has already committed to, or is talking about committing to.

I think research always needs to maintain a balance of supporting active, ongoing work, while also sprinting ahead of the rest of the team a bit to set us up for success later with the insights we need to start a new initiative from a place of knowledge rather than guesses.

After I’ve identified my initiatives, I organize them so that my product leadership knows what value they bring the business. The framework I’ve been successful using is:

Foundational, Maintenance, and Expansion

  • Foundational initiatives are things that serve research and the product team, but are net new and/or essential to being able to mature our research practice and/or how research supports product and design
  • Maintenance initiatives keep research working in lock step with design and development where necessary. I never want product leadership to feel like research is too heavily weighted and not able to provide adequate coverage and insights as new features or tools are being designed and developed. This is also the bucket where I would acknowledge any work on ongoing customer feedback programs or touchpoints we maintain with the company to educate them about our learnings
  • Expansion initiatives are where we get ahead of product and seek insights that help us with our foundational understanding of our customer types (both current and prospective), as well as concept test and evaluate future options so that product leadership has some data to make confident decisions on about where to focus the teams next

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