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Collaboration and Transparency: The Keys to Effective Organizations

July 15, 2019

Have you ever spent a lot of time and effort on a project that you thought would be really exciting and impactful, but the big announcement barely registered with your audience—or perhaps you realized it was way off the mark? Or have you ever worked on something only to realize that another team was undertaking a similar project? Having experienced all of these situations, I’ve been focusing on working smarter. Communication, collaboration, and continuous feedback are essential to efficient, effective companies. Great teams are transparent and synergistic, continuously communicating—to avoid creating discrete silos and duplicative efforts—streamlining their work, and combining cross-functional expertise to achieve better outcomes.

Share Your Work While It’s Still in Draft Form

Iteration is a core component of design thinking and user research. Sharing your work early and often is a great way to gather constructive feedback and make sure you’re on the right path.

Here is how I’ve done that as the first user researcher at Factual: I decided to launch a new Net Promoter Score (NPS) survey and establish a baseline customer-sentiment score. So I put together a proposal detailing the survey rationale and process and circulated it to our Product and Marketing teams. Our Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) responded enthusiastically to the idea and asked me to connect with our Head of Product Marketing and Marketing Operations Manager to discuss the content, design, and contact-list segmentation. I was excited about collaborating cross-functionally and set up a meeting with these team members.

We reviewed the design and tone of the survey to ensure that it was consistent with other client communications. Then we brainstormed ways of increasing the survey’s impact. To ensure maximal value, we decided to break out the results by geography, company type, and role. Finally, we discussed which clients to survey. Collectively, we created criteria for the respondents we wanted to survey, then our Marketing Manager pulled a list of relevant contacts. Working cross-functionally brought different perspectives to the table, and we were able to accomplish a lot more than I could have if I were working alone. My colleagues brought up things I hadn’t even considered, and they made several great suggestions on how to improve the survey. Sharing my initial plan more widely and gathering feedback and suggestions on who to consult were invaluable in improving this survey.

In addition to launching NPS, I’ve been working on collecting more product-usage data. At Factual, we use Pendo, which offers rich functionality and Salesforce integration, so we can conveniently surface our product-usage data to other teams who might not regularly log into Pendo. After setting up the technical side of the integration, I reached out to the Product and Marketing teams for feedback. What information is most useful to them? What would be valuable use cases for this integration?

We held a brainstorming session and came up with some really great ideas. The Product team let me know which data fields were most actionable, so I could focus on surfacing those in Salesforce. Plus, Marketing had great ideas about how to use the data. They suggested setting up alerts on particular fields, so if client usage dropped significantly, we would receive notifications and could proactively reach out to re-engage these clients. Marketing also suggested looking at our most active users to guide the focus of our outreach efforts. Finally, they realized that taking users’ respective titles into account when reviewing the product-usage data would help inform and validate our user personas. These were all powerful use cases, and I never would have thought of them on my own. When we all came together, our divergent knowledge and focus areas combined to generate some great ideas.

Marketing also suggested that I present our Pendo-Salesforce integration in our Sales team’s weekly meeting and get their feedback. I was still in the process of selecting which fields to push into Salesforce, so I thought this was a great idea. When I presented to the Sales team, they were very blunt about what would and would not be useful to them. This feedback was immensely helpful, and I saved lot of time and effort by not pushing certain fields to Salesforce that they would never have used.

Invite People to Engage with Your Work and Gather Feedback

In addition to sharing your work in draft form, consider hosting more formal reviews and feedback sessions. At Factual, the UX Designers and I have started running internal research sessions. Getting feedback from a wide range of internal stakeholders is really helpful, and these sessions often illuminate issues or topics we hadn’t initially thought of. Thus, we’re better prepared for subsequent client-feedback sessions.

Recently, we redesigned our product-demo app, which is a sales tool that lets us show our technology to our clients and enables them to experience our product’s capabilities firsthand. It also serves as a troubleshooting tool for internal associates. Before redesigning the app, we invited people from various internal teams to participate in concept-testing research sessions. Product owners, marketers, and developers are the main users of this app, so we spoke with internal product, marketing, and development colleagues to get feedback from their perspectives. We also talked to a few salespeople who regularly demo this app to potential clients. It was helpful to walk through the designs in greater depth during these research sessions and get fresh eyes on them. Collaborating with other teams surfaced different perspectives and considerations from those we had previously identified. This helped us iterate on and improve our designs even before getting client feedback.

Our colleagues enjoyed these sessions and appreciated our transparency. One of our Marketing colleagues said, “This is awesome! I never really get to see the products, so I love doing these sessions.” And one of our Sales colleagues noted, “I love getting sneak peeks of what’s coming down the product pipeline. It keeps me informed and helps me interface with clients better.” Running internal research pilots is a win-win that encourages collaboration and transparency. The UX team gets initial feedback from a range of stakeholders, and those stakeholders get a better sense of forthcoming products and features.

Provide Periodic Updates

Transparent communication helps keep everyone informed and often spurs beneficial partnerships. It improves morale, engagement, and productivity. Transparent communication can take many forms, so you should experiment to find out what works best for your organization. Two formats that have worked well for me are summary email messages and presentations in large, cross-functional meetings.

For one of our newer products, we launched an alpha program with clients, who received a free trial version of our product in exchange for giving us product feedback. This program lasted a few months, during which we conducted several client-feedback sessions.

To update the company on the status and progress of this program, we decided to send out a research-digest email message. We summarized the main findings from the client-feedback sessions—including the main issues we had identified and our proposed solutions for them—outlined how we’ve used this feedback to inform the product roadmap, and noted next steps for the overall product. This digest email was well received. People expressed how much they appreciated our transparency and felt that they had a better understanding of how we were making product-design decisions.

Our company also holds company-wide meetings twice a month to introduce new hires and make general announcements. Recently, someone suggested doing a lightning round, when people from any team could provide brief updates. This format has gone over really well. We hear updates from five or six different teams at each meeting and get a better sense of what everyone is working on. This is a great way to raise awareness, share key wins, spark collaboration and discussions across departments, and maintain overall alignment.

Conclusion

Greater transparency and communication lets organizations break down silos and work cross-functionally together, benefiting everyone involved. Collaboration can inspire a wider range of more innovative ideas. Bringing different viewpoints, backgrounds, and expertise to discussions helps you avoid blind spots and address issues you didn’t initially identify. Sharing your work more broadly and inviting constructive feedback can help you validate your approach or identify a need to pivot early on. After all, nothing would be worse than spending countless time and effort on something that would never ultimately deliver value. 

UX Researcher at Factual

New York, New York, USA

Meghan WenzelMeghan is starting the UX Research team at Factual, a startup focusing on location data. She’s establishing research standards, processes, and metrics; building partnerships across teams, and leading research efforts across all products. Previously, she was a UX Researcher at ADP, where she conducted a wide range of exploratory, concept-testing, and usability research across products and platforms. She was also involved in ADP’s Come See for Yourself contextual-inquiry program, whose goal was to educate colleagues on the value of UX research and get them out into the field to talk to real users.  Read More

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