Lessons on Developing a Research Effort from the Ground Up

Jennifer Bradley
May 4, 2022
Lessons on Developing a Research Effort from the Ground Up

Build the Stations First: Lessons on Developing a Research Effort from the Ground Up

An interview summary featuring: Ned Dwyer, CEO and co-founder of Great Question, and UXR Leader Brad Orego.

What does it take to build an internal, cohesive and collaborative research team and use it to drive decisions in a powerful way? Brad Orego, head of research at Auth0, sat down with Great Question CEO Ned Dwyer recently to discuss. 

Orego was the first research hire at Auth0 and has coordinated its internal research efforts since 2019, building stronger communications within the Auth0 organization, while helping choose the best research tools and drive research strategy. 

Auth0 provides a comprehensive software solution which makes online login authorization and authentication easier. It is now being used in more than 70 countries worldwide and with more than 42 million logins daily, Auth0 is a leader in its industry and to stay ahead of the curve, developing its own research through the Great Question platform. 

Great Question allows Auth0 to build relationships with its customers as well as a “more robust recruiting process and pipeline so that when people want to do research (internally), they are off to the races,” explains Orego. 

But to do this, he had to build a research program from the ground up, and as the analogy goes, made the wise decision to lay the rails before the train came barreling through. 

A Customer-Centric Team 

Orego tells Dwyer his first task at Auth0 was to build this super-star research team, with an research operations-first approach. He also knows that walking into a situation with an aligned leadership was a game-changer right from the start.

Another point of reflection was that while he could have simply hired researchers, the actual coverage for research and all the back-end work that goes into it still wouldn’t be there. In order to see the results he desired for Auth0’s growth, it needed to be an all-in, all-inclusive customer-centric team effort.

The lesson in all of this, however, was to make sure everyone involved understood his approach and why he wanted to shake the status quo up a bit. Interestingly, the templates for future projects were developed around the work as it progressed, and are useful in many ways today. 

Orego calls this unique (and successful) team the “Customer Intelligence Alliance” – a combination of research, pricing, data science, product marketing, and competitive intelligence masterminds. Their goal: to generate influential insights and do a better job of working together. 

They regularly and collectively review all levels of Auth0 customers from high-level enterprise names to pay-as-you-go clients. The cohesive approach allows them to understand what the trends are in a clearer way, and from all angles. 

Orego notes excitedly: “The collaboration between product marketing, customer, UX, research and data science is really cool. I don’t think we’d be having these conversations if I hadn’t gotten all these folks together.”

The larger benefit he says is the increased throughput of research. “Before I joined, we would get about one study per quarter,” Orego says. “Now we get one per TEAM per quarter, a 10x increase, which is absolutely insane!” 

On the Same Track 

An operations-first process requires the builder to finalize the train stations first (checkpoints within the process) and then the rails to get you there. Orego warns: “You can either build the train stations and rails first, or simply let the train come plowing through and it’s going to derail, and be a disaster.” 

Orego has seen the latter play out in real life and now teaches that setting expectations up front is simply a better way. Once the stations and rails are a solid foundation, any train can fly through and be more productive and efficient, he explains. 

To keep team members on the same track, a monthly research “deep dive” has really worked well. The team picks a specific method and commits to less than two hours of discussion around the topic, discussing what it is, how to use it, where it comes from, and give a few examples. 

One month they discussed survey design and another, product analytics. Anyone at the company can suggest an idea and each session is recorded so that when a new team member joins, a valuable library of content is ready to be consumed. 

Sustainable Success

When it comes to sustaining momentum and conservation, Orego says reviewing notes and making sure people are confident in their findings is key. He believes in letting them offer ideas and solutions, but also providing tools and templates to make their lives easier. 

“Do you need help” he says is the biggest question to ask anyone involved in research. “Let us know because that’s what we’re here for.” 

He says using those process “checkpoints” and also establishing trust as the teams mature has moved the entire research process forward at an amazing pace, but also further than he imagined. 

The Great Question mission to democratize research has been a pillar for Orego’s work at Auth0 and in other professional circles. The questions will be never-ending, and the opportunities as well. “Start doing it now,” Orego suggests. “And when opportunities pop up, you’re going to be at the top of the stack.” 

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