The UX of UserZoom – Part One: using our product to improve our own UX
Welcome to The UX of UserZoom – a new regular series where we’ll take a deep dive into how we’re using our very own research product and service to improve the UX of UserZoom itself.
And as we grow our UX research practice within the UserZoom product development lifecycle (PDLC), hopefully this will inspire your research practice within your own organization.
In this ongoing series we’ll cover three themes –
- UX strategy and growing UX in the organization
- Tactical and strategic UX engagements with UserZoom
- UX practice decisions and how UserZoom can help
You and I will be mere passengers on this journey – our guide is none other than the highly esteemed Andrea Peer, VP Product Strategy and Research at UserZoom. Andrea has taken it upon herself to use the full power of UserZoom to research, test and improve the usability of our platform.
The purposes of this is as follows:
- To put our money where our mouth is and prove that UserZoom really can deliver valuable UX insights at scale and speed at any stage of the PDLC.
- Improve the UserZoom experience for customers and show our developments in a transparent way so you can also benefit from what we’ve learnt.
- Demonstrate how you can show the value of UX research in general
- Give honest, helpful advice when confronted with any blockers in your own research practice.
- Reveal any limits in our own capabilities and show how we’re going to fix them
Before we embark on this journey, I thought it would be useful to ask Andrea how researchers should begin user testing in their own organizations, why ‘dogfooding’ UserZoom is such a great idea and how to get that all important stakeholder buy-in.
Getting buy-in for UX research
Andrea is in a unique position where she obviously doesn’t have to get buy-in from anyone at UserZoom to do user research on the product, which must be very refreshing. But what advice to Andrea have for people struggling to get buy-in for user research in their own organizations?
Andrea: I would advise anybody who is working in an organization that doesn’t necessarily support UX research, to do what you can but give yourself one year max. If that needle doesn’t change, move someplace else. The one thing I will say is that, at UserZoom, I don’t have that problem – it’s our lifeblood. But we are exactly the same as our clients in terms of how we’re on a product development lifecycle process, and come hell or high water, that process is gonna flow. And right now, there’s little thought as to how research systematically gets into that process.
The metaphor that I use for our current situation is skitching. There’s this thing when I was growing up in Colorado, where parking lots were frozen all the time, so for fun, my friends would drive a car and I would try to hold on to the bumper to get around. And so right now, I feel like I’m skitching.
I’m just desperately trying to get ahold of our product life-cycle and identify when and how I just get a hold of one ticket in the JIRA system before it goes into the dev beast? Something that has solid research behind it that our designers can actually do something with.
Eating our own dogfood (or drinking our own Champagne, if you prefer)
Why does Andrea think it’s important for us to use our own product to test UserZoom?
Andrea: Mainly because it will make our product better. But I also think there are two other things:
- It’s very meta in terms of, “Hey, this is how you can use UserZoom for anything and everything associated with research.” I think we have so much work to do to demonstrate that to the world.
- Just because the company loves user research, it does not make getting user research into the product development lifecycle any easier.
It goes back to all of our classic fundamentals – it’s about process, it’s about influence, it’s about trying to organically define how to do user research within a given product development lifecycle that works for your company.
Similar to the original Agile Manifesto, there’s no company in the world that actually follows that Agile Manifesto. User research is the exact same. We have ISO standards. These standards perfectly define how this process should work, but there’s no company in the world that follows it to a T.
This is because it has to be interwoven into the fabric of the current product development life-cycle, which is in and of itself, a messy little organism that’s trying to come into being. So it’s like two little organisms, trying to form and merge together harmoniously, but they’re very different organisms.
Christopher: Although we have used UserZoom to UX test our own product in the past, do you think people will be surprised that it isn’t an ongoing part of our product development?
Andrea: No. Although I think it’s natural for people to be like, “What? They haven’t?” But hopefully people will see that we’re just like every other software company, and our struggles are similar. UserZoom was built by really smart engineer brains who are champions of UX. And the fact that we’re doing something about it, and we’ll be taking people along the journey is really valuable.
Christopher: Where on the UserZoom platform are you targeting first for testing and what are you basing that on?
Andrea: I’m still trying to figure out what my strategic lever is in the UserZoom world but the immediate need from a product standpoint is they just weren’t doing any tactical research at all that was systematically going into the process.
My first order of business was just trying to figure out how research fits into the process. And then there were some low-lying fruit and immediate wins to help win business decisions, which I jumped into. Specifically for the fall and winter releases I was trying to decide where our strategy was, what we should focus on. I did some initial work with the business stakeholders and with our clients to assess the direction that we should focus, and that was my first set of research.
Now getting into the flow of things, I am trying to get a little bit more tactical and go into a typical backlog. So looking at things that are coming in the next two releases and defining those tactical research engagements.
The biggest focus right now, is on redoing our entire builder experience. So I’m running moderated sessions, and soon unmoderated sessions, then bring that data to the product team.
How to begin running UX research in an organization
For those who are just starting research practice with an organization, this is where Andrea recommends you begin – practically and strategically.
Andrea: I once worked with this guy at John Deere, his name is Julian Sanchez and he offered me the best advice I’ve ever received when coming into a new organization, “You have to learn the organism.” Learn the organism before you can actually really adjust and fix the organism or change the organism.
Along those same lines, I’m still learning the organism of UserZoom and I’ll encourage anybody else to do the same in their organisation.
The first thing to identify is, who are the people that are in positions that heavily influence the product direction and/or the decision makers of that product?
The second thing would be, who are the UX champions? And I don’t just mean those people who are believers in UX. I mean those people who can actually get you money, power, influence, headcount and bring your research findings into the product.
The third thing is there’s a critical decision you have to make right away on whether you are going to try to focus towards the top of the organization or if you’re going to focus on product owners. You have to decide whether to go upstream or downstream.
Now how can users help you do that? If you’re going to focus up, then you need to be a data powerhouse. And that’s where the experience stack that I talked about comes into play. So how can you paint the story of the data that you’re bringing to the table and how does that fit into the rest of “the experienced data” that’s coming from CEOs and leaders? If you’re going to focus on product owners, then you have to get research into the agile process.
And then finally, the last option would be just start doing research. So whether that’s strategic research or tactical research, data is our currency as researchers. Start to build up that data powerhouse with those key target audiences based on this strategy.
Christopher: Are there any other blockers that you can think of that perhaps UserZoom can help with?
Andrea: Sourcing. Having a sourcing strategy and getting access to representative users is really hard. It’s a hard problem because there’s lots of people that want to be the voice of the customer and they are always clamoring for that dataset. So if you have access to customers or data about customers or you have a systematic way to get access to customers, then that puts you in a position to be able to wield more influence and power in your organisation.
Christopher: Is there anything that you recommend when running parallel research within an organization?
Andrea: I always recommend at least trying to have two tracks, a strategic track and a tactical track. That’s not something that’s unique to me. That’s something that is recommended if you look at UX Matters and other researchers who are talking about this topic. I think the other thing could be if you’re working in a team that has a lot of researchers, being able to have a shared task bank for efficiency purposes as well as bigger, strategic efforts and insights is also really important.
Christopher: What are the mistakes that see people doing when either they’re running user research in general or when using UserZoom?
Andrea: I think the number one problem I see people doing is they want the business to care about UX research and how to practice UX research too much. We used to have this turn of phrase that said “we have to evangelize UX research within the organization” and to a degree, I understand that statement, but don’t expect your product owners to care about good user experience as much as you do. They have a different set of priorities and that’s fine.
You have to think about the currency you bring. If that currency is a mismatch to the organization you’re in, then you have a problem. There are several different types of currencies that UX researchers bring – data, process, insight, awareness, synthesis, explanation of the phenomena of experience – all things that people in the organization could see of value but finding the right currency for the fit of the company is critical.
Join us next time as we begin to lift the lid on UserZoom, revealing what we’re testing and the results achieved.
Christopher is the Content Marketing Manager for EMEA, which basically means the skipper of the good ship ‘UserZoom blog’. So far his requests for changing its name to the ‘USS-erzoom Blog’ have been rightfully denied. In his spare time, Christopher is a filmmaker and the editor of wayward pop culture site Methods Unsound. He used to be the deputy editor of Econsultancy, editor of Search Engine Watch, staff writer for ClickZ and features editor of CMO.com.
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