Setting Your Discovery Up for Success: Growing Your First Insights Teams


Setting Your Discovery Up for Success: Growing Your First Insights Teams

Continuous Discovery

How do you successfully grow a UX Research or Data Science team in a large organisation that is new to UX or product discovery? While we know that continuous discovery and insights are key to successful product development, providing the right conditions for insights teams to succeed is a key foundation to getting actionable insights.

This talk will share concrete advice on how to grow and scale insights teams, and will guide the audience through the following steps:

  • How to set a vision
  • Creating the right strategy
  • Fine tuning your hiring process to attract the right talent from the start
Vanessa Ko

Vanessa Ko, Principal User Researcher,IKEA

Hi everyone I'm Vanessa Ko. I'm a principal UX researcher at IKEA in digital. And I work with a team of really great researchers who work on research across all of our customer-facing digital platforms and across the customer journey. So if you've been to UXDX before or are likely to attend this conference now you know that you should talk to your customers on a regular basis to make sure that you're building the right thing and creating value for them. And maybe you've gotten to the point in your organisation where you've decided you want it to become more data-driven or insights-driven or learn more about your customers on a regular basis. And maybe you're at a stage where you need to start hiring dedicated researchers or data scientists and see what kind of impact they would bring to your organisation to make it a bit more insight-driven. So today I want to share the journey that we've been on at IKEA as well as sharing some of the insights from other organisations I've been on how to invest in and grow and insights discipline with some of the practices and learnings that we've put in place to set the teams up for success. So a common thing that I've experienced and noticed in a lot of organisations at the beginning of this journey is oftentimes organisations will decide to maybe hire some researchers and investment insights because they bought into insights as a way to really discover what your customers might need. And as a way to drive continued business value in what you're building. And that's great you should absolutely be doing that. So maybe you decide to hire some researchers, maybe some data scientists, and kind of see what happens. Oftentimes I see people deciding to hire a contractor or a couple of consultants, maybe one or two researchers kind of see what value they bring. And a common behaviour in organisations is to bring these people on as a test and see what kind of change they can bring to make the organisation more insight-oriented. However, without having the right foundations and setup in place you are setting these people up to fail. And ultimately without setting up your hires and teams for success they really won't be able to provide the valuable insights and value-driven product development that you are seeking with your investments. So today I'll be focusing on two specific phases or aspects of setting up your insights teams for success. The first part is really about an organisation on the mindset of vision and strategy. So things you need to think about and have in place before you even start hiring. And then the second part gets into more of the nitty gritty. So more of the practical things you need to have in place and operationalize once you have one or two or several insights practitioners in your organisation.
So we'll start with part one. So the background works on what to do before you even start hiring. And the first thing is really about your organisational mindset. Right. So first things first are your organisation ready for insights? Is your organisation ready to think in a way that insights are used successfully? So some of the key questions to ask yourself before you hire your first insights professional? The first is what is your organisation's history with research? Are people inside your organisation sceptical? Or enthusiastic about the idea of working with data or research? Or is there some resistance or fear or scepticism? How do people see themselves working with these people? Do they see themselves working fitting into their workflow? Or is it something that they kind of want to put on the side? And most importantly are teams willing to change how they make decisions if they're given new insights? Many companies struggle because they haven't really thought about how introducing a completely new discipline as research data means really having to work and make decisions in a completely different way. And having set up research teams in multiple organisations now I see that it's really easy to hire someone and say that you want to change the mindset of how you make decisions about how to build and what to build. But doing so in practice is of course much more difficult. And it really requires change management led by leadership at all levels. So to give you an example at IKEA we've had a really clear idea of what we want research to do from the beginning. It really helps that historically market research especially on furniture design and ergonomics has always existed. And now that's kind of extending to our digital work as well. So as you've been building our digital insights functions even though UX research for example in the organisation is relatively new. We've been having a really clear idea of the function researchers can play once it's been in the company from the start. And because there's been this history of working with data and insights and other parts of the company It's really been easy to see. Okay, that way of working works this way in this part of the organisation maybe with physical products and we have to bring that into our digital organisation. But fundamentally the mindset has always been that research and data are really the foundation of how decisions can be made. So no decisions are really made without having some sort of evidence in place. And I think without having had that mindset and that organisational buy-in of how these types of insights work we wouldn't have been able to scale and build up a research and data team to the level we have today. Secondly, let's talk about vision and aspirations. So secondly, have a really clear idea of how exactly you want to be using insights within the first six months to a year and really have these people focus on that. So again a common experience is to hire let's say a researcher and expect them to decide on what to work on first after speaking to people in the organisation or just assigning lots of different random projects and helping them figure it out. But as you can kind of see it's really easy for any of these new hires to get stuck in this massive backlog of requests without having a really clear idea of how to prioritise first because it's not rooted in a clear idea and strategy of how they're going to operate in the organisation. So think back to your aspirations for having a more insights-driven way of working. So ultimately the question to answer is how are you bringing value to your customers in business with what you're building? So ask yourself how you will be answering that question with your new insights people. So some things to think about are what level are people going to be working at? Is it really to influence business strategy or product strategy? Is it day-to-day product building or new product development or is it going to be UX and design? And ideally, you have an idea of what level they'll be focusing their efforts on especially at the beginning. And for organisations that haven't historically had much data insights starting by creating really shared foundational knowledge will provide the greatest benefit from the start. So having a shared understanding of who your customers are and how they experience your products will not only provide insights but also create this common language for how teams interact and engage with each other. So that's really based on real customer value. So it's not just about generating really useful insights from the start but also enabling a better way of working with these types of insights professionals.
So for example a big focus at IKEA and other organisations I've been at has been to really focus the attention of the researchers and data scientists at first on creating a shared understanding of how our customers by having been in the E-commerce space myself understand and creating this really foundational knowledge of how do customers purchase products along the buying journey? And what are the moments that really matter? And focusing on creating this really clear and deep view of this holistic overall experience across the customer journey really created a common language for all teams to rally around and serve as the foundation for further exploration. It is an idea. So everyone has a really clear idea of who our customers are and how they buy. What is the customer journey? And what are the points that we really need to focus on the pain points are the parts of the journey that are really working. And looking into the future? Setting teams up for success also means that there's a really clear vision for how they should be working well into the future. So not just at the beginning. But let's say in a year or two or five or 10 years' time what is the ultimate purpose for insights in the organisation aside from the day-to-day tactical work and what value will they be bringing? And again at IKEA, we have this very clear idea of how we want research to operate within our organisation and where we wanted to get to. And for us at the moment ethical and inclusive research is really the ultimate vision of how research should work and influence decisions that are not there today. It's not perfect. It's a work in progress. But having that vision really serves as the foundation for all of the decisions in our design and product work. So again this is all work in progress and it's going to be a journey over the next few weeks. next few years actually so stay tuned. But having this clear vision of where we want to go really helps us focus on how we want to set up the team. I want to pause here and talk about some common misconceptions and pitfalls that I've experienced in many organisations as they start hiring and implementing insights functions. And fundamentally these kinds of common pitfalls all stem from a lack of shared understanding of what insights will do once they exist in your organisation. So what is the purpose of research or data? These challenges are going to exist regardless of whether insights are new to your organisation or whether they've been around for a while of course these are bigger challenges in product discovery. But addressing these misconceptions and perceptions early on will be really key to making sure you can transform your organisation into one that's more data or insights-driven. So, for example, some typical things that I've experienced people think about for example research are just talking to customers or that data is completely objective and doesn't need any type of interpretation. Oftentimes in early maturity organisations' research and data are seen as just validating existing projects that have already been assigned or decided on. Or you kind of got the other extreme insights are just for innovation projects or for new products only. And that insights functions are really separate from other customer-facing roles marketing and customer service to name a few. And that they will operate in silos. And really addressing these kinds of common misconceptions is really going to help you understand okay where are the areas where these insight professionals might run into some resistance and might need some support from leadership or from whoever is making decisions on setting up these teams. And really help you create the rat foundation for these people to succeed. That's really it for part one. So really about the mindset before we start hiring. Secondly, let's talk about operationalizing. So the practicalities of setting up your team. So you have people within your organisation who're kind of started to work. You have a plan for how they're going to work. But of course, there are still the nuts and bolts of how you set up teams for success.
So now that you have more of a clear idea of how your organisation is going to react to new insight disciplines you have an idea of how you want them to work and affect change in your organisation. How do you put this into practice? I think operations are often considered an afterthought. It is much less exciting to set in place a vision or strategy. However, without having the right tools and setup for your insights professionals to work is one of the really biggest hurdles and reasons why Insights Team fails are really slow to provide value. And having the right conditions for people to do their work means having the right processes and tools right from the start. This doesn't really mean having all of the most expensive tools and ways of working in place. But there does need to be at least just enough processes to do their work. So some examples of operational tools or processes you should have at the start are for example participant recruitment. This is a really big hurdle in lots of organisations. So starting with some lightweight ways to start doesn't have to be this whole agency and VIG tool in place. But having a way for you to access customers as a startup having an NDA form or consent form is really important. You're doing things properly. And in addition to data access storage, GDPR rules if you're in Europe have some kind of legal requirements in place. Otherwise, that can also be a really long process. And then in terms of visibility having some sort of repository where people can access the insights that have been generated or the data that's been created. Having some way to access that within your organisation is really important. And some other things to think about are access to secondary research or software and tools for work on data or statistical analysis. So thinking about these things are kind of just enough processes. You don't have to again invest in the most expensive thing out there in the market. But make sure you have something that's in place that really fits your organisation and where they're at. And finally and perhaps most importantly having a plan for your organisation and how they will share the action on Insights is really the most critical thing to have in place to set your team up for success. So I have a lot of stuff here. These are just some examples. But really some of the key things I want to drive home is really having access to insights or knowledge right? Give everyone in your organisation visibility over customer pain points and challenges. So data research customer insights really co-create this central knowledge hub repository and have somewhere for people to access and track how these customer problems are being solved that are being generated. So that everyone can really see these on a regular basis make sure everyone has access to these insights and how they might relate to your existing products or services. Secondly, have a really clear cadence for how your search and data are going to be used and make it really actionable and goal-oriented. Right. And I think having the right metrics in place for success is really key here right? So things you can look at are how much time your team has been with customers? Or how much time do they spend looking at research or data? How many of these insights are being turned into new concepts or new products? Right? And has there been any way that data research has changed the outcome of a decision? Are you tracking that? And of course how many validated ideas are put in a product backlog? So really measure and make these metrics really goal oriented? So that research and data are being used continually, are you making that a success metric for your teams? Otherwise, it's really easy to put these things on a shelf and say okay cool. That's nice to know we know what the pain points are but we're gonna just keep going the way we've always been going. And lastly, how do these insights really feed up to strategic decisions right? And really get your leadership team to care about customer outcomes as well as business ones and make sure they're really tangible right? You can do that by measuring things a customer says right? Like how much money or time are people saving as a result of some of the work that you're doing? What are the things that customers are able to do today or they can't do today that you would like them to do in the future? And the timing of how you kind of share these with your leadership team also really matters. So for example anchoring around quarterly or annual planning can also really help so that bigger insights get shared with leaders or decision makers or forehand to really inform that strategy.
With that said I hope this has been very helpful. Thank you for listening to this talk. And I hope these principles and examples really help you in your journey of growing and setting up your insights teams for success and impact. Thank you