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Building a Research Practice at User Interviews: The First 30 Days

Our VP of User Research reflects on her first 30 days, and shares how the User Interviews research strategy has come together.

In late July, I was fortunate enough to join User Interviews as the very first VP of User Research.

One of the core things that attracted me to this unique role is that I'd be reporting directly to the CEO and Co-founder, Basel Fakhoury—a fact that made it clear to me that this team takes research seriously and believes that it should be used to guide the company vision and direction. 

Plus, as a long time listener of the Awkward Silences podcast and reader of the User Interviews blog, I was genuinely excited by the mission of the team: helping teams discover and embrace user insights.

In my initial conversations with Basel, I explained that I wanted to take the first few weeks to understand the state of the business. Looking back, I feel really grateful that I was granted the trust and time to explore this area, since it allowed me to develop a perspective that would inform the long term vision of the research team.

In this article, I’ll share my reflections on my first 30 days, the methods I used to craft a user research strategy, and offer a glimpse of where the team is headed as we continue to build out a UX research practice within User Interviews.

This is the first in a 3-part series. Read the 60 and 90-day follow-ups below:

Creating a hybrid onboarding-research plan

On my first day, I was pretty taken aback by how much love and respect there is for UXR as a practice. In retrospect, this shouldn’t have been surprising, given our product and mission! Whereas in previous roles I’d spent the early days advocating for why research was important—I quickly realized that wouldn't be needed at User Interviews. Everyone already got it. That meant I could spend more time actually doing the work from day one. What a wild concept!

Straight away, I started putting together a hybrid onboarding/research plan that focused on gaining a deeper understanding of the hopes, dreams, and perception of research at User Interviews. The end goal of this work was enough in-depth insight to confidently craft an initial strategy for the coming months.

4 week onboarding/research plan to ground company understanding and gain deeper knowledge of internal and customer needs.

With this plan in hand, I took the first two weeks to kick off some activities that would help ground my foundational understanding of where things stood within the business.

Gaining a deeper understanding of the business model 

One of the first activities I did during my first week was a lean canvas activity—essentially a one-page business plan template. This activity allowed me to dive deeper into the User Interviews business model and understand things like cost, unique value prop, and marketing channels. Deconstructing these things was a critical step that helped me identify any blindspots in my understanding that I could then clarify during conversations with my new teammates.

lean canvas template from LeanStack
Lean Canvas template from LeanStack

Getting to know the team and internal research needs

Next, I put together a skills survey that would help me understand how my new team members rated their research skills and competencies. My hope was that this would inform future ideas around internal research education. I let the survey stay live for two weeks before analyzing the results. Overall, 80.5% of employees who responded indicated that they are interested in participating in training and education related to UX Research (yay!). 

Out of those who were interested in training, the top 5 requests around training were:

  1. Creating research plans
  2. Conducting & taking notes during interviews
  3. Usability testing
  4. Analyzing & synthesizing data
  5. How to create storytelling artifacts (journey mapping, personas)

This was exciting feedback! To deepen my understanding of internal needs further, I set up 1:1 stakeholder interviews with 40+ members of our team. These interviews really allowed me to build trust and to understand the challenges people at User Interviews encountered within their roles—and to identify how research could help ease some of the pain.

During this time, I started getting invitations to observe sessions led by the product team, as well as discovery calls by our sales and customer success teams. These sessions gave me the chance to hone in on what was actually happening, rather than simply listening to what my teammates described doing within their roles. Together, these three things—the internal survey, team interviews, and sitting in on sessions—gave me robust early insights into the needs and current practices of the team.

Understanding our customers 

Much of my time during these initial two weeks was internally focused, but I wanted to make sure that I didn't lose track of the customer's perspective.

So I decided to do something really meta and conduct a solo heuristic evaluation, or usability inspection, of the current product experience. 

To do this, I picked out some core user flows that our customers use when trying to recruit customers for research studies. This allowed me to identify usability issues in the current experience. I even ended up launching my very first project on User Interviews! I recruited customers for 8 voice of the customer interviews in order to understand more about our customers’ perceptions and pain points in  their experience.

After the heuristic evaluation and interviews, I consolidated my insights into a short presentation, including highlight reels, that I then shared with our product team. Much of what I learned validated the work our teams were already focused on, and gave me ideas about where research could focus more narrowly over the coming weeks and months.

Running a UXR Maturity workshop with leadership

My final step was to facilitate a UXR Maturity workshop with our product leadership team, during which I led the team through an activity where we rated the current state of research practice and looked ahead to where we’d realistically like to be. 

ux research maturiy workshop

This exercise allowed me to open up a candid conversation about some of the challenges we might encounter on the road ahead.

As all of this data came together over my first 30 days, I began to notice some themes around the hopes, dreams, and expectations for research at User Interviews. 

I’d spend the next 30 days creating a vision for a research practice that would help us achieve those goals and build out a truly best-in-class user research practice. I’ll be sharing more about that in my next post—so stay tuned! 

User Interviews is hiring!

Come join me! Our kickass team of curious humans is growing. Read more about the company and browse our open positions.

Roberta Dombrowski
VP, User Research

Roberta Dombrowski is a (former) VP, UXR at User Interviews. In her free time, Roberta is a Career Coach and Mindfulness teacher through Learn Mindfully.

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