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People Who Do Research 2023

Share the Power: Democratization Done Right

With Amanda Gelb, Research Manager & Area Lead at Asana

By
Jack Wolstenholm
February 23, 2023
Share the Power: Democratization Done Right

Researchers wear many hats and draw from a robust range of approaches – from quantitative and qualitative research to marketing and customer experience to product design and development. Their roles contain multitudes. They do a lot.

“The beauty of what we do is that it expands disciplines and approaches. Some days I’m an anthropologist like Jane Goodall observing people in their natural environments, and other days I’m inhabiting the persona of Sherlock Holmes looking beyond what the pieces say to the heart of the data,” said Amanda Gelb, Research Manager and Area Lead at Asana.

Previously, Gelb was the first UX researcher at Lyft’s New York City office, where she focused on the busy intersection between passengers and drivers – the pickup stage of the rideshare experience.

In this session from People Who Do Research 2023, Gelb shares an inside look at how she built a Rapid Research program from the ground up at Lyft, and how you can start one, too.

Listen to Gelb’s talk here or read our recap below.

Crickets vs. Celebrities: A new researcher’s continuum

Most companies fall into one of two camps when it comes to research. There’s the “cricket” camp, as Gelb describes it, where the topic of research draws confused looks and awkward silence. Then there’s the “celebrity” camp, where there’s so much demand for research, people are elbowing their way to your time and attention.

When Gelb arrived at Lyft, she was greeted with crickets. She quickly got to work drumming up interest in her job by hosting Lunch & Learns and Coffee Chats and speaking at All Hands meetings and Engineering huddles. Along the way, she constantly reminded people about how she could help them test their ideas. She also built out a rider journey for the rideshare experience – a mutually interesting project across various teams at Lyft. 

Soon, she started getting research requests from designers, data scientists, product managers, and engineers. They were asking her to test new features, like Pickup Notes, and questions about rider behavior and the top pain points of airport pickups. All were deemed time-sensitive. 

As a research team of one, Gelb was thrilled with the demand she created, but quickly became overwhelmed with how to supply it all. So, she turned to Rapid Research – a self-serve program with research training at key moments, a representative panel of customers, and synthesis support.

The program would be team-led, but researcher-coached with templates and training being provided for key moments, such as planning, moderation, and synthesis. She set up office hours where her teammates could address research pain points, such as turning patterns and themes into insights, and get her feedback. This also meant building a representative panel of at least six general population customer her research partners could talk to.

“It’s important that as we’re enabling our partners to step into the research world themselves, we’re enabling them with the tools they need to be successful.”

How Rapid Research works at Lyft

Before joining Asana in January 2023, Gelb spent four years growing the Rapid Research program she founded at Lyft. Here’s how she did it – and you can, too.

Get the word out

To build excitement around a new research program, it helps to brand it. The more creative, the better. For Gelb, this meant kicking off every research-related initiative with an alert that echoed throughout the office.

“This became the sound of Rapid Research at Lyft.”

Select the right projects

When she first started, she met with everyone to discuss their research project ideas and requests. And while it certainly opened doors, it wasn’t sustainable. So, she switched to an asynchronous intake form. 

“This was a perfect forcing function for teams to think through what they wanted to learn and elaborate on their own goals first before reaching out to me.”

Similarly, she also made the early mistake of saying “yes” to every incoming request. But some projects simply weren’t suited for Rapid Research. To become more selective, she developed criteria for what makes for an effective rapid research project.

  1. Urgency – How soon does a team need to make a product decision?
  2. Impact – How will insights be used and what impact will they have?
  3. Research fit – Are 20 minute interviews the right ways to answer these research questions?

“Rapid Research works best for approaches like design comparison, usability testing, concept testing – straightforward approaches that can answer a specific question in a short amount of time.”

Empower teams & set clear roles

With so many ideas and requests to evaluate, and so much work to be done, Gelb knew she had to clearly define roles and responsibilities for herself and her team. This set a standard for transparency and accountability for Lyft’s Rapid Research program.

Still, she knew it wasn’t realistic to push her partners out on their own. “How is an engineer that’s new to research supposed to write her own discussion guide?” 

Templatize

Next came templates. Lots of them.

“Everything that can be a template, should be a template. Remember, you’re the expert. This program lets you share that expertise, so it’s on you to set everyone else up for success."

She organized everything in one central doc, where her partners could easily swipe templates for intake forms, mock research plans, discussion guides, note taking guides, and insights one-pagers. You name it, they templatized it.

Not sure where to start? Browse 40+ research templates and create a new study even faster with Great Question.

Train your people

Because not everything can be templatized, Gelb created a training course, “Moderate Like a Boss,” to teach her teammates how to moderate light user feedback gathering. It was a required course for all new research facilitators at Lyft, complete with a branded badge of certification.

“If you were going to be speaking to our customers using this program, you had to take this training with me.”

The course was designed to help instill confidence with best practices for the Rapid Research process.

Gameday

Up to this point, the focus has been dedicated to getting your research partners trained, prepared, and excited. Now, it’s time for the actual research.

In a typical Rapid Research scenario, Gelb and her team would work with the six general population research customers they had recruited, and rotate them through six different research team projects. Each research team would get 20 minutes with each participant and five minutes breaks between each rotation.

In the early days, Gelb and her team did this in-person. Nowadays, it’s breakout sessions over Zoom. No matter the setting, Gelb always looked forward to experiencing the excitement of her research partners, many of whom were speaking face-to-face with customers for the first time, and the collaborative learning all happening in one place.

Share the learnings

While “gameday” is exciting, Gelb’s favorite moments come later, when she overhears research insights getting shared in the wild.

“An engineer who didn’t know what research was three weeks ago is now sharing an insight about the number of usability bugs in a build she was going to launch the next day. Sharing the learnings puts my team in the research hot-seat in the best possible way because they own their insights.”

Thanks to the Rapid Research program, it’s now much easier for designers, engineers, and product managers to learn from one another.

Take a bow

The Rapid Research program Gelb built at Lyft took her from “crickets” to “celebrity”, in what she describes as a “virtuous cycle.”

“The people that I invested in with training and synthesis support got better and better at collecting light feedback the more they participated in the Rapid Research program.”

It fostered a learning culture inside the walls of Lyft’s New York City office, giving her teammates ownership over research insights and trust in the process she was setting up. It created a thriving, engaged research community around her. In fact, it’s been so successful, Lyft even created and hired for permanent roles to run Rapid Research full-time.

Key takeaways

To successfully democratize research, researchers have to empower the non-researchers on their team. It's not a free-for-all.

Gelb draws on firsthand experience to share:

  • Practical advice for navigating the new researcher’s continuum, from “crickets” to “celebrity”
  • How she developed a team-led, researcher-coached Rapid Research function at Lyft
  • Ways to set non-researchers up for success with the right tools and training

That’s how Gelb built a healthy, powerful research culture from scratch at Lyft – and you can, too.

Jack is the Content Marketing Lead at Great Question, the end-to-end UX research platform for customer-centric teams. Previously, he led content marketing and strategy as the first hire at two insurtech startups, Breeze and LeverageRx. He lives in Omaha, Nebraska.

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