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Top Career Advice from a UX Research Leader

Lattice's Claire Rowell is passionate about making work more meaningful and human for everyone. Learn how she's navigated her journey from lone researcher to manager of many.

Great research often falls on the shoulders of a lone researcher.

Claire Rowell, UX research manager at Lattice, knows this feeling all too well.

Claire recently sat down with Marvin to share insights about her UX research career journey. She spoke about cultivating a research culture at Lattice, how her past experiences tie into her role today, and her mistakes and learnings along the way. 

The interactive session involved many audience questions — read on for a peek at the most popular ones.

Lessons from the First UX Researcher at a Tech Unicorn

Q. Were you concerned that product and design would cannibalize your processes when you democratized user research?

A. I wouldn’t say that I came in and just invested in democratization. At Lattice, I was (first) trying to do a foundational project, focused on the jobs of customers across the platform. I learned that PMs and PDs move very quickly — they wanted things that were very actionable to them. It didn’t make sense to be doing something foundational and somewhat abstract where people didn’t know what to do with it. It made more sense for me to find a team that really needed my research skill set and could benefit from some deep discovery. Where can I embed myself and understand the rhythms and rituals of that team? I tried to find actionable projects in a team that needed me and tried to figure out what case study would build energy and excitement about what an impactful research project can be. 

We were working on a new compensation tool; it became an incredibly memorable case study that I could share — people were saying “Claire and the UXR team created those slides.” For the first time, we created this concept of maturity that started to make its way across the company.

You’re basically trying to create an audience and a hunger for this. 30% of my time was focused on how I coach my product partners — how do I build that mindset? What are some quick and easy tools that I can develop that can impact the lives of designers and PMs? What are the things that I’m building in this high impact case study that can be leveraged to empower other teams, to democratize the work, because I can’t be everywhere at one time?

Build a case study, see what resonates and what people are energized by, share, find your champions, and figure out where that next big thing could be. Your early days include building that momentum as people don’t necessarily know what it is you can do.

Q. What are some effective ways you’ve recruited participants (especially when internal departments are fragmented and may have disparate channels for managing customer data)?

A. As researchers, we need to act like mini customer support managers (CSMs) and think about our research as an experience to learn from the customer, while customers learn about upcoming product development or what other customers are doing. There’s an opportunity to reframe it as an invitation to participate in an experience. You need to make sure that they feel welcomed; ultimately a business conversation. Help CSMs feel comfortable putting you in front of the customer, and have them think of this as an exciting opportunity. We try to lean into those relationships. If the CSM manages the relationship, they’re going to want to know if you’re talking to the customer. So how do you go through them? Once you build relationships, is there an opportunity to make that recurring?

We have templated emails that help. Calendly is great – we try to find different opportunities to connect. We run a survey through Pendo where we ask, are you interested in participating in future research? We get NPS surveys and email responses from customers, and we often try to see if we can recruit that way. We definitely get creative. You have to get creative with this and just try to leverage what you’re already doing. I think over-instrumenting a recruiting process early on doesn’t make a ton of sense.

Q. Were you aiming for any champions you could find, or were you targeting senior champions?

A. Take a bottom-up and top-down approach — like any change management. You want to build boots on the ground; champions through the work. Marvin has been a great partner for that, being able to quickly pull together what we already know. There’s so much existing knowledge in organizations — being able to leverage that existing research, parallelizing research so that you’re answering real questions from teams quickly and unblocking them. You’re also bubbling up those larger and more strategic learnings up to a mixture of Chief Product Officer, Head of Design and Head of Engineering. 

To bring teams into the work, we have a UX research calendar where we broadcast and live stream our research calls. As much as possible, bring folks into synthesis — an important part of the research journey. That’s how to bring your stakeholders from the bottom up and the top down. It’s about bubbling up slightly more strategic insights that can point the business in the right direction. Make sure you’re not only answering the immediate needs of the team, but also putting yourself in the mindset of leadership – what are they interested in? How are you tying together what you’re learning and pulling that up? You should always be thinking about both needs. 

Think like a marketer — be loud and share interesting learnings that are actionable and relevant to all levels. Broadcast that work and see what sticks. What are people responding to? Where are you getting a lot of follow-ups? Who’s asking for that? Put those stimuli out there and get reactions rather than trying to conduct a bunch of ambiguous conversations and build champions around unknown work. Put one foot in front of the other, do something and see what gets a reaction.

Q. How did you measure the impact of your research? What metrics did you use?

A. Measure what matters. I definitely got creative here. Think about all potential metrics or where you want to provide value and get creative about how you want to measure that. We ran a quarterly survey to understand the impact we were having – what was going well, and what could be improved. Really simple. It’s not like we needed to over engineer. In the early days there was an instinct of “I need to have this advanced way of proving my value. Are people finding this valuable?” Have a simple survey you can send out. That became an easy way for us to ask – are we getting the voice of the customer into the product development process? It’s simple, but it was helpful. 

Also, we tracked how many interviews we were having week over week, month over month. We also looked at page views of research reports, who responded to emails that we sent out to companies, and how often are we presenting things and getting ourselves in front of larger audiences? 

It’s about the impact that you want to have. What’s the simplest way that you can measure that value, and not over-engineer or get lost in advanced metrics that don’t actually tell you anything or end up being useful?

Q. Did you try to find mentors outside or inside the company when you first became a sole researcher?

A. You’re looking to different people for different things. One learning is your manager might be great at some things, but isn’t going to be your everything. Be open to having others in the company — I think obviously culture is a big thing. How the organization learns and what success looks like here. How do people like to consume information? What are the best ways to win over hearts and minds? That can be very helpful to have someone who deeply understands the culture. 

There are so many external resources out there, but I think it’s just having those pointed questions, the things you really need help with. People love to help. Don’t be afraid to ask whether it’s UX research or a coffee chat, there’s endless resources out there and I think it’s just about being open to asking for help. Do you have awesome researchers who work with other companies, and can you reach out to them? I was totally shameless. I think it’s about finding people you respect in the industry, peers that you can jam with and have paths with. And then of course those internal people who can help you in your day-to-day work.

Q. Do you keep and socialize a research repository?

A. Marvin’s been great. We basically have a list of our projects and playlists that are part of that. Each research team or researcher has a home base for their research, where they have their top research projects and links to the Marvin clips. What happens then is the researcher shares that with people who are recently onboarded or the teams can access that whenever they want. 

We give pretty much everyone access to Marvin so that they can literally go in and search and find what they need. That self serve is great, and I find that engineering is especially energized by cool tools. So is product management. I think it’s about having that entry point of relevant projects to you. There’s a Marvin link, so they get in there and they see that they can search and find what they need. And so that’s how we’ve approached it so far and it’s worked well. I wouldn’t say you necessarily need more than that. I’ve been very satisfied.

Q. What was one of the mistakes you made? That you’d approach differently if you had a do-over?

A. I think a lot of what I’m sharing today is turning the mistake into an action. Definitely coming in and having a project where you’re initially embedded with the team, and having that observer mindset, making something actionable that becomes a case study is extremely important. I spent too much time initially trying to do foundational work that the organization just wasn’t quite ready for. In fact, now we’re at a place where that kind of cross-platform research is more valuable. I think finding a strategic project, with a PM and PD who’s hungry and in it with you. That’s extremely important. 

Another lesson is not necessarily feeling as if you need to go build all the things. There’s this pressure of, “I need to have office hours and a learning cadence and a deck to share around.” Figure out one or two things that people really, really need. Work on a project with high impact and don’t over engineer everything because the organization is going to continue to change. 

Be intentional and thoughtful about where you put your time and focus, and again, don’t try to do everything, but do two things very well. Those are probably two immediate learnings that come to mind.

Q] What is your advice for new researchers at a company?

A. Learn, learn. Have a learning mindset, have a feedback mindset. Anything you put out there, get feedback on it. Ask people, “what did you think of that? What would you like more or less of?” You’re a team of one. You have to be your own prioritizer, scoper and tools person. You have to be your own marketer — you’re doing the work, sharing it, broadcasting it up and down. There’s so much, and you have to be energized by that. We are standing on the shoulders of giants — so many people have done this before and made mistakes, so have that rolodex of people that you reach out to when you have a question. You’re not the first one to have encountered this problem in the pioneering phase. It’s important to have that curiosity and not be afraid to ask for help. 

Check out the full interview with Claire.

This conversation was recorded and transcribed using Marvin.

Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash

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