Creating the right research environment

iStock: Brian A Jackson

I’ve written previously about what the research landscape looked like at my last job and why I created the Research Funnel. With a small research team and research being done in different silos across the organisation, it was also important to try to create the right environment for research. The company culture and individual team environment were somewhat out of our control but we were able to join together a community of researchers and people doing research.

Here are some of the ways we created and supported our research community:

  1. Cross company ‘Research Steering Committee’. Not the most sexy name, but my colleague and myself ran a quarterly meeting with senior colleagues responsible for research. A handful were senior researchers and the rest were senior UX and Marketing colleagues (as well as a couple of operations folks). We focused on supporting best practice across the organisation, for example, procuring research tools, discussing ethics or advising on GDPR. We pulled in help from legal, procurement and operations when needed.
  2. Cross company ‘Show and Learn’ monthly meeting. With colleagues across the globe, finding the right slot was tricky but we usually went with 2–3 pm GMT/9–10 am EST/7–8pm IST. We used Zoom for these calls but I also recorded and shared them after the fact for people who couldn’t make it. The agenda for calls would be to share learnings from projects we had been working on, to talk about new processes or tools we were trying out or just to connect with others and hear what they were working on.
  3. Cross company Research Blog. We used the blog to share actual research articles and findings as well as best practice and templates. Anyone doing any kind of research could write a post for the company blog — Market, User, analytics. I would specifically ask someone to do a write up if they did a presentation at Show and Learn. We also used the blog as a place for sharing documents as we didn’t have a research repository.
  4. Slack channels. I first used Slack at Mark Boulton Design when it was a very new product. When we moved to Monotype, we weren’t able to use it anymore because there wasn’t an Enterprise product. It was amazing how weird it was to go back to Skype/IM! Once, the whole company got onto Slack, I was quick to set up channels for research. What was surprising was how slowly most of the company were to embrace Slack. It took a lot of time for it to bed in, perhaps in part because of the ‘meeting’ culture in the company. I found that very focused channels worked the best. Like most people, we shared all kinds of stuff on our UX/Research channels and for the most part it was a good way of people across the globe getting to know each other. A lot of the time, I felt like I was one of the main voices in the channels but like at a dinner party, you have to play the part of the host and ensure you make people feel at home.
  5. Meetings, meetings, meetings. A lot of my time was spent talking to colleagues. I set up a bunch of regular meetings with people, including monthly research roadmap meetings for each product I worked on (our font products). As there wasn’t an embedded user researcher in the UX/product team, I had to work at both the strategic portfolio level and the tactical level (getting my hands dirty on usability testing). Regular meetings were helpful for us to align priorities and goals and ensure that research learnings were shared. These meetings also meant that whilst user research wasn’t fully embedded, there wouldn't be a ‘big reveal’ at the end of projects as the team would for the most part, be involved and vested in the outcomes.
  6. One to ones. Again, I spent a fair bit of time talking individually to colleagues. Most of my day was spent on the phone in fact! I tried to ensure I regularly spoke to key partners in eCommerce, Marketing and UX, even if we weren’t working together on anything. I tried to ensure I had regular contact with researchers who didn’t report to me so that they could use me as a sounding board.
  7. Trello boards. I set up a Cross company Trello board to show the Research pipeline across the company to try to give executives visibility over all the work that was going on. I also had product specific Research roadmap Trello boards which we used for tracking priorities in our roadmap meetings.
  8. Research repository. This was team specific and we hadn’t yet figured this out by the time I left. We tried Evernote for a while like Mailchimp. One of our teams used Nasdaq Mosaiq. Most of us just used Google Drive. We also used the Research blog as mentioned previously. We were forever talking about the holy grail of joining together insights in a searchable database and looking at options, but we didn’t have enough people or a regular cadence of research to enable us to get this into place. I hope that is something my successors will fix.

Every organisation is different but the key components of these methods are communication in various forms. In my view, communication is key to creating the right environment for research.

I read this wonderful quote today from the late Professor Stephen Hawking and it seems quite fitting to end on.

“For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk and we learned to listen. Speech has allowed the communication of ideas, enabling human beings to work together to build the impossible. Mankind’s greatest achievements have come about by talking, and its greatest failures by not talking. It doesn’t have to be like this. Our greatest hopes could become reality in the future. With the technology at our disposal, the possibilities are unbounded. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.”