User Research, Design Thinking and Research Operations:

MVP Broker Portal Build 

Project Overview
Delta Dental is developing a new SaaS product - a digital customer experience platform for enrollees, dentists, brokers and employers. Per our customer agreement and product roadmap, we were tasked with building a broker portal completely from scratch. In order to build an entirely new portal for brokers, we needed to understand more about broker needs, motivations, goals and pain points. We aimed to learn about broker roles, usage of the existing broker portal, what was missing from the broker portal, barriers and pain points around usage, and attitudes about the broker portal. Our discovery research informed lo-fi and later hi-fi wireframes of new broker portal features. These wireframes were continually presented to our panel of users for direct feedback to ensure we were building the right thing for our users. This project overview details our research process to build a new MVP broker portal. 
  • Digital
    • Craigslist, Facebook, LinkedIn ads 
    • Qualtrics (site intercept) 
    • In-house referral campaign via email
  • Internal sources
    • ​Stakeholder partnerships
    • Collaboration with customer service to route web complaints to join our research panel and provide feedback 
  • In-Person

    • Visits to customer offices 

    • Industry events

  • Etc. 
Research Operations
  • MailChimp (participant tracking, research outreach + comms)
  • (recruitment tactic management) 
  • TypeForm (screening)
  • Calendly (scheduling)
  • (video chat + recording) 
  • Otter (transcription)
  • UserZoom (surveys, validation tests)
  • (incentive fulfillment)
  • Miro (virtual affinity mapping)
  • Atlas.ti, DeDoose (QDA software)
  • Microsoft PowerPoint, Word (reports and presentations)
  • Clipchamp/Camtasia (video clipping)
  • (infographic development)
Research Repository 
  • SharePoint

High-Level Research Process

Research Process Details

First, we reviewed any existing secondary research on brokers to help develop our hypotheses. 


Next, a Broker Discovery Research Study Plan was collaboratively developed based on the stakeholder request for research. The study plan was first sent to stakeholders to fill out with their initial thinking prior to a group meeting. Later, during our group meeting, we talked about constraints and the methodology recommended to achieve the outlined research goals. The final study plan, a collaborative effort with stakeholders, included detail on the following:

  • Background

  • 3-4 Research Goals

  • Research Questions

  • Business Goals

  • Study Hypotheses

  • Constraints

  • Link to Recruitment Plan

  • Recommended Methodology

  • Ideal Deliverables 

  • Participants 

  • Anticipated Timeline

  • Link to Discussion Guides for interviews

  • Links to secondary, supporting research for review 

Throughout this study, I managed the end-to-end research process and data collection/analysis phases. I conducted a total of 27 in-depth interviews with brokers. 

I owned data analysis and used affinity mapping techniques with our other team members to uncover patterns and themes in the data. Additionally, I used Atlas.ti for in-depth interview analysis. Using a QDA (qualitative data analysis) software allowed for a consistent, less manual analysis process and overall organization of the data. Data analysis was ongoing with data collection and consisted of: 

  • Line by line coding 

  • Consolidation of codes into higher level categories as themes and patterns emerge 

  • Reduction of codes as more data is gathered

  • Memoing as new ideas emerge in the data 

  • Iteration of discussion guides as new information is uncovered, the understanding of the problem evolves and new questions are posed 

The MVP broker portal build research strategy also involved a follow-up survey post-interviews, MVP feature validation survey, feature-specific surveys with lo-fi wireframes based off the discovery interviews, and later hi-fi wireframe feedback surveys. All of these studies were developed using UserZoom. 

Overall, our Broker MVP build research strategy followed this structure: 

Findings and results were presented to stakeholders in the form of reports, PowerPoint presentations, personas, journey maps and infographics.


The discovery research conducted throughout this project led to the development of novel features for the MVP broker portal. We conducted ongoing usability testing with users where we presented wireframes at various stages of fidelity to ensure we were on target with user needs, goals and were actively addressing identified pain points. 

Employer Discovery Research


The broker research also led to the development of a discovery study for the employer user group, as we were also tasked with building the employer portal from scratch. We used the broker research to develop initial hypotheses about this group, since employers are brokers' clients. We were confident that there was overlapping functionality for both of these user groups.


Our process for the employer discovery research largely follows this same broker discovery process. I am currently conducting discovery interviews with employers. We're aiming to understand their usage of the portal, pain points and general role with the goal of developing personas and journey maps which will help inform feature development. 

The research process for both broker and employer portal development ongoing and iterative, as outlined in this UX diagram: 

©2018 by Paige Nuzzolillo,