When I’ve joined previous companies, research was done in fits and starts by designers and sometimes product managers. I was often brought in to help the team and wider organization take a more strategic approach to the research they were conducting.
If you’re a researcher whose tasked with building the research function from the ground up, your first few weeks are a great opportunity to understand what the research landscape looks like on your new team.
Below are some questions that I have found extremely powerful when getting up to speed in new research roles!
What does the organization currently know about its customers?
The first thing you want to do on your new team is figure out where the bodies are buried. In other words, what existing knowledge does your team have around it’s customer base? This could mean digging through old research reports, product specs, or reviewing survey data. You may stumble across everything from competitive analysis reports, metrics dashboards, sales personas, and more. Remember that previous research may not have been led by designers. Be sure to connect with your cross-functional teammates from product, customer success, marketing and even sales. Information will likely be scattered across many folders and google drives so come with a shovel and alot of patience.
As you come across findings, reflect on the themes that start to emerge. Were the insights gathered as 1-up requests? Are they more tactical vs. strategic? What decisions did the insights help inform? Are the insights still being used?
During one of my most recent consulting projects, I actually created a lean canvas artifact to help visualize what the company already knew about its core customers and product lines. This allowed me to have better conversations with my stakeholders while I was onboarding.
Who are your partners?
Whenever you join a new team, you’ll want to get a sense of how the team is structured and how decisions are made. If you’re lucky, your new team might have an org chart where you can browse titles and names of your teammates. If not, you might have to do some digging. Start by carving out time during your first week to meet with the people you’ll work with most frequently. If you’re working in an embedded team, that would mean starting with the PM, UX Designer, or engineers. If you’re servicing multiple teams, start with your design peers and move out to PMs and any other stakeholders from there.
Talk to as many people from as many different functions as you can to understand what their role is and how research can help make their lives easier. I’ve always been pleasantly surprised with how many cross-functional partnerships, I’ve been able to have flourish within my first few days and weeks on a new team.
Ask questions like:
- What are some of the biggest challenges you face in your role?
- What are some key initiatives you’re currently working on?
- How have you worked with individuals and teams in the past?
- Have you ever worked with a UX Researcher before?
- How would you describe the companies feelings about the state of UX research?
- Based on your personal experiences, what are your feelings around UX research?
- What are the hopes and dreams for research moving forward?
- How do you envision working with UX research?
- Whats your level of comfort and experience with research?
At the end of your conversations, be sure to ask your new teammates if theres anyone else you should connect with. I’ve been given introductions to many team experts through word of mouth over the years.
What value can research drive?
Once you have a better understanding of the makeup of your team and perceptions of research, you can start to dig into the overall value and impact that research can drive. At this stage, I’ll usually take some time to understand what matters most to my new team members, what keeps them up at night, and how research can help to lighten the load.
Considering asking things like:
- What are the biggest opportunities for the business? Gaps?
- What are some of the biggest questions you have about our customers?
- How would having answers to these questions influence the work you’re trying to do?
- What skills are individuals and teams looking to have around research?
- Where can research help to streamline how we connect with customers?
Putting it all together
Building a new research team from the ground up isn’t for the faint of heart. Use all of the information you gathered to help inform a preliminary working model inside of your new team. Remember that cultural shifts and forming new ways of working takes time. With your new found insights, you’ll be well on your way with creating a culture of customer centricity on your team!
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