Customer Research Best practices

How Zapier's Head of UX Research Organizes Projects

October 27, 2021
3 min
How Zapier's Head of UX Research Organizes Projects

When Roy Opata Olende, Head of UX Research at Zapier, joined the company, there was already a culture of keeping every employee close to the customer. He noted that the founders “wanted to make sure anyone working at Zapier was never too far removed from our customers.”

Plus, Roy’s research predecessor worked hard to define the value of research for the organization and create a dedicated UX research team. 

Working from this foundation, Roy established a process to define research categories so he could maximize the tangible impact of UX research while helping his team grow. 

Here’s what we learned from Roy about how to align UX research with every level of the company


The three altitudes of UX research that Zapier relies on

Roy organizes all UX research projects into three categories—high-, mid-, and low-altitude. Each has its own purpose, timeline, and stakeholders. 


High-altitude

“Big picture” research projects fall under the high-altitude category, which affects company-wide or departmental strategy. These research projects could help decision-making for product positioning, new features, or user personas. 


Roy noted that recent research at Zapier helped the company choose between two directions on big decisions. “One of the key inputs to the strategy work was a user research project that lasted six months that sketched out answers that executives had about this direction or that direction,” Roy shared. 


More senior UX researchers manage high-altitude projects that deliver insights to the executive team or company directors. Roy notes that these projects typically take three months or more from start to finish and inform decisions that are years in the making. 


If your company doesn’t currently place value in UX research for these decisions, it could help to share a report. What sentiment insights can you collect from past research projects? Are there any results or wins you can share with leaders?

Mid-altitude

If the outcome of a UX research project affects a few teams, Roy classifies it as mid-altitude. These insights won’t change the direction of the company, but they can help prioritize initiatives across multiple teams. Research that influences annual planning and roadmaps fall into the mid-altitude category, and projects usually last one to three months. 


A great way to incorporate UX research into mid-altitude decisions is to ask team leaders what they want to know. The primary stakeholders in these projects are often department directors, managers, and leads, so it helps to talk to them. Hearing about upcoming decisions or assumptions a team currently holds helps you find places where research could confirm or negate ideas. 


Low-altitude

Low-altitude UX research projects relate to a single team and usually only span a few weeks, with insights that impact decisions few weeks to a few months in advance. Low-altitude projects help you “learn about the problem, create a solution, and understand if the solution is heading in the right direction,” Roy notes. 


If you want to leverage UX research at this level, maintain an easy-to-use research repository. Having a single source of truth that any team can pull from makes research more accessible. The easier research is to use, the more likely it can become a routine part of decision-making. 


The impact of working in altitudes 

Working in altitudes gives researchers a mental framework to organize and plan research projects, but its impact goes beyond that. Roy identifies a few key benefits to splitting projects into categories:


Aligning research at different levels creates a lasting impact

Seeing is believing, and making research available at every level makes it indispensable. Roy shared that “mapping research closely to priorities at different levels lets us show the impact of UX research more deeply and lastingly.” 


Of course, using UX research insights throughout the company benefits decision-making, too. The more decisions align with actual customer needs and preferences, the better. 


Working at different altitudes helps research teams grow their skill set

Variety in UX research tasks makes for well-rounded researchers, which is something Roy wants to foster. “What I'm trying to do is provide our researchers with enough variation in their work to cover multiple altitudes depending on the needs while helping them develop personally.” Working on various projects can also help researchers gain new perspectives that can radiate out to other tasks. 


Rather than micro-managing researchers about which methods they choose for each project, Roy takes a collaborative approach to work. “It's a very open collaboration with weekly meetings as a team. And then we have sort of ad hoc jam sessions, where people present what they are working on and thinking through,” Roy shared. 



Synthesizing research across the organization uncovers new links

Finally, Roy recognizes that his team’s job isn’t just about conducting research—it’s also about helping the company use the insights. He noted that it’s important to “help leaders understand what research means. I think research is good for tying things together and making sense of vastly different projects to find some string of relation.”


Want to hear more about Roy’s UX research philosophy and process? Listen to the entire fireside chat here. 


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