Recently, we had the opportunity to pick the brain of Julie Pechony Jones, Senior product designer turned Product research team lead at Workhuman. What we learned from our conversation with her, is that pure tenacity, a strong desire for advocacy, and a willingness to talk with everyone to make things happen are the key ingredients to discovering product research process success.

Sofia: Hi Julie, can you tell us a bit about what Workhuman is?

Julie: Workhuman is a 600 employee company that specializes in peer to peer recognition, by helping people to express their gratitude at work. It's an incentive program that consists of a number of products: the rewards and recognition part where users give each other awards for various values that changes depending on the org and continues performance management. There is a company wide feed where everybody sees the gratitude moments happening around the company. People can use the points they've collected from their awards to get themselves something nice in the store.

That's it in a nutshell. When you stop and reflect on work your team accomplished, and in turn, express gratitude, whether public or private, you're closing the loop and bringing people closer together.

Sofia: What is your role there and how has it evolved?

Julie: I started as a product designer, moved on to senior product designer, and am now a product research team lead. There wasn't much research going on when I started at Workhuman. But, I believe customer-centered feedback and design is the way to go, so I started driving towards that, which was a gradual process involving more and more research.

A lot of our studies started internally. But as we improved and developed more thirst for insight, we started reaching out to customers and gathering feedback in a more structured way. I evolved from design to research because of my passion for getting the input I needed for my designs. Because of that, we ended up creating a research team about two years ago. And now I have that role.

Sofia: How did you manage to convince your organization to invest more in UX research? This is something many researchers and designers struggle with.

Julie: It was a combination of things. I started initial conversations with senior leadership on the customer experience. They were really behind us. Plus, I had the support of my UX design manager, which was extremely important.

I was working on two scrum teams when I decided that to make things happen, we would need more process. So I started looking at processes: our reporting methodology, how we conduct usability testing, how we do user interviews, and so on. I wanted to level everybody up so that we all have similar output, which was challenging.

I took the research on myself until I got to the point where I couldn't do it anymore. I then convinced the UX manager to bring a researcher intern on, about two and a half years ago.

We started building what we have today. We then brought in another intern to deal with the growing amount of work. This year we're going to be growing from the top by bringing on a senior researcher who is helping with processes and helping me advocate for research with the senior leadership.

It's important to say that while there are a lot of challenges, I choose to focus on the positive aspects of my job. My job is challenging because of the amount of advocacy involved. Sometimes you get through to people. Sometimes you don't. I focus on the people I get through to and work on expanding my network. Then people just follow.

To connect the dots, you need to find the dots first. This was the biggest penny drop for me. There were a lot of people doing research who might not be researchers. There may be people who I felt weren't going to be on board. But, it's so important to talk to everyone, because that's how you find the dots.

Sofia: In terms of your Research ops strategy, what are your key areas of focus for 2020.

Julie: One of the things I did to focus on making research successful going into 2020 was socializing the importance of research upstream with emails, a research repository and newsletters informing others what we're up to.

We're also focusing on research recruitment by using software to streamline usability testing and recruitment panels. We're focusing on two internal channels: customer service, which consists of the call center, and customer success, which consists of enterprise client managers. We're collaborating with customer service on streamlining a way of getting people who call in to opt-in for research. Regarding the customer success channel, we're working together through CSMs to recruit participants on the other side.

For people to be open, they need to understand research on the other side. We have to show them how what we do supports technology, which in turn helps them deliver on their annual goal. And, that in turn, is connected to the bigger circle of customer success. We must show how the relationship is going to benefit the client.

Currently, we're assessing what the best process is. To be successful, you must ensure the process works for the people. You must consider how the people here work now, and what is going to be successful based on the various personalities in the organization.

So we're asking ourselves process questions like — Are we asking the right questions at the right time? Do we know what the problem is? Are we living in the problem area properly? This all plugs into our Human UX framework.

Sofia: What is your advice to any Designer, Product Manager or Researcher that want their companies to invest more in user research but are finding it hard to get buy-in?

Julie: Don't stop till you get it done. It's imperative. If you really care, you have to take ownership of making sure it will happen. My goal was to make research happen in every scrum team. And if it meant doing all the research myself on top of my work, that's what I did. There are no shortcuts.

You have to get buy-in from stakeholders who are going to champion you. To do this, you must always be positive. You can't be negative and say people just don't care, so why bother? Lack of awareness is a lack of caring. But if you raise awareness, people will care. I think it's really important to just believe in what you do. Believe that you can bring change and just go for it.

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