Leveraging Business Intelligence Tools for UX Research

Dr. Serena Hillman
UXR @ Microsoft
Published in
5 min readJan 7, 2022

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An invitation to experience BI tools for UXR

Let’s go on a BI Tooling journey

Prior to my move over into the UXR world I primarily worked with ecommerce analytics on the daily. This had me utilizing tools such as Google Analytics (GA for those hip folks), Adobe Analytics (then known as Omniture) and a bunch of similar but now defunct tools (it was the late 2000’s). My world was filled with sanky charts (example below), interactive dashboards, goal and event funnel tracking, A/B testing — and all just by adding a snippet of JavaScript and clicking around a simple UI. It was powerful. Moving into UXR the lack of equivalent ability to visualize data downright surprised me. As such, in my first industry role I was quick to suss-out a Tableau account and start to explore the world of BI tools for UXR, a journey that I have continued to date. I invite you to join me on this journey.

GA Sankey Charts

Meeting your users where they are — a classic

The BI world has evolved substantially over the last 10 years, specifically in terms of ease of adoption via low-code/no-code UI. Platforms such as Power BI, Looker, and Tableau are now well-established practice within the data stack (from data integration to answering business questions). As such, UXR’s need to do what we have always strived to do — include our work within the broader context of business and user insights being established at our company. So, if your company utilizes BI tools to review product health you might want to consider publishing and visualizing datasets related to UX in support of a common platform to data and insights. I have found this makes sharing your insights easier, increases opportunities to triangulate with other data sets already connected to the platform, and provides an easier path to getting access to new big data, ex. behavioral telemetry you request from your data engineering team as the pipeline is already established. Jakob’s law exists for us too — if your users most frequently consume insights in a particular platform, we should acknowledge and leverage this.

Opportunities to leverage

Generally, I have had success by using BI tools fitting into two high-level categories:

  1. BI tools for UX Research
  2. BI tools for ResOps (research operations)

UXR BI for research is the obvious use. Have a survey that your team would benefit from being able to filter and explore the data? Capturing In-product feedback metrics that through a dashboard can help illustrate progress of your OKRs or experience outcomes (XOs)? Need to analyze big data to explore a research question with robust visualization? BI tools can help you do that.

The second category, BI tools for ResOps activities is something I have just recently started to explore over the last couple of years. Questions to consider: Do you need to estimate your research resourcing needs for the next fiscal year and visualize different resourcing scenarios? Does your team need to be able to view research request backlog, slice it, and report it out? Would connecting your Dev Ops research work items to a BI tool allow you to demonstrate impact better? BI tools can help you do that.

Don’t be intimidated— you’re smart, you got this.

Perhaps the elephant in the room is yes, you’re going to have to learn a new tool. Yeah, it’s likely more complex than most research tools you have learnt before but being able to visualize and provide self-service access to your data can make it worth it. Recognize that this is a top-right quadrant activity on the effort vs impact 2x2 (high effort, high return). When I first started working at Microsoft I dove into the below training videos for Power BI, they were more than enough to give me the ability and context to play around with the tool and/or search for a specific issue as I encountered them along the way. So, grab a CSV full of data and start your journey.

There are many BI Tools to explore, however these are the 2 LinkedIn Learning modules I used to get started with Power BI concepts:

In parting…

The world of BI tooling is not for everyone, but I would highly recommend investing in learning these tools for your UXR practice if…

  1. BI tool visualizations are a part of your company’s Data Analytics process, not only does it bring your research into a common insights space to help socialize your work, but it will also be a lot easier to get a license to access a BI platform.
  2. Your team can benefit from having self-serving access to the awesome user data you collect.
  3. Your team can benefit from the visualization of longitudinal data from benchmarks, UX health surveys, or other behavioral telemetry.
  4. Your team can benefit from utilizing robust visualization beyond common charts to explore a research question. Ex. Visualizing where players score the most from in a sports video game to explore realism.
  5. Bonus. Don’t stop with intentions related to research only. Utilizing BI tools to illustrate and provide self-service BI for ResOps outcomes can be extremely impactful, including resourcing projections, backlog tracking and impact tracking.

Want to learn more…

Disclaimer

Full disclosure, I currently manage the amazing UXR Power BI team at Microsoft.

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Dr. Serena Hillman
UXR @ Microsoft

Research, Hockey, Mum. Likes sharks. In emerald city, but from the couver 💗. drinkthecoolaid.com