How product teams at Zapier turn objectives into insights: Mural Imagine recap

Written by 
Nicole Smith
December 2, 2020
A headshot of Richard Enlow, Senior Product Manager at Zapier, giving a quote about a paperless world.
How product teams at Zapier turn objectives into insights: Mural Imagine recap
Written by 
Nicole Smith
December 2, 2020

Remote product management at Zapier

This season on MURAL Imagine, we're bringing you live sessions and workshops to shine a spotlight on companies that have embraced change in 2020. One of these changemakers is Richard Enlow, senior product manager at Zapier, an online tool that allows users to automate workflows by integrating over 1,500 apps.

Richard joined MURAL’s Mark Tippin for a live MURAL Imagine session to share how Zapier’s remote product team collaborates. When it comes to remote work, Zapier is ahead of the game. It’s been a 100% remote company since its inception in 2011. In the session, Richard shared how his team uses visual collaboration to synthesize research insights and infuse the product management process with a big dose of humanity.

“It’s actionable because we have a high level of fidelity … We can actually ensure that the decisions that we’re making are the right decisions, both for our company and for our users.”

💡 Richard Enlow, Senior Product Manager | Zapier

Watch the recording below, or read on to learn how he and his team executed an insightful user research study while working remotely. Then, borrow Zapier’s template to put his advice into action with your team.

Making business objectives human

One of Zapier’s core values is “taking time to be human,” and that applies to their business objectives, too. There’s an inherent tension between a company’s goals and its customers’ needs, and it’s up to product managers to service both. Richard believes that the key to bridging this gap is to make business objectives human. This is only possible through research, collaboration, analysis, synthesis — and keeping the customer top of mind.

In the MURAL Imagine session, Richard shared the method his team uses to turn a business objective into actionable, research-backed insights that ultimately inform the product strategy.

Resource:  Earlier in this season of MURAL Imagine, Emem Adjah from Spotify walked us through her team’s virtual OKR planning process. Learn more and get her template here.

Learning goals: What do we need to know?

One of Zapier’s objectives is to increase annual recurring revenue (ARR). That's a solid objective, and it's up to each team how they execute on it.

To go from objective to insights, Richard explained that he sets learning goals by asking, “What do we need to know to be successful?” He collaborates with a cross-functional team to generate a list of questions they need to answer — a process he describes as a brain trust of different minds coming together. “We sit down with our UX research team … [and] sometimes with a data scientist,” said Richard. “It’s all of us coming together and asking questions.”

Business objectives and learning goals in MURAL

When it came to the ARR objective, they developed a list of questions to help them uncover areas of opportunity. For example:

  • Why do users upgrade today?
  • What’s preventing free users from upgrading?
  • What is the purchasing process like right now?
  • Why are we seeing a drop-off in conversion?
  • What is the decision moment that causes churn?

Learning the answers to questions like these helps the team understand the objective and its surrounding challenges from both a business and user perspective.

User interviews: Collecting the right data

After Richard and his team define their learning goals, they can start the discovery process. “Discovery is [going] as wide as possible,” he explained. “That could be talking to developers to understand constraints. That could be talking to business leaders internally to understand what’s really motivating [the objective].”

And of course, it also means gathering voice of the customer data via user interviews.

To tackle the ARR objective, they teamed up with UX to create a user research study. They used their learning goals to create a user interview discussion guide, and then they interviewed both current and former customers.

At this point in the process, the team uses MURAL to collaborate visually on three exercises: capturing raw data, affinity mapping, and insight creation.

Exercise 1: Capturing raw data

This is the easy part! The Zapier team transfers their interview notes to MURAL, using a different colored sticky for each user. Color coding the data helps them identify patterns in the next exercise.

Raw data template in MURAL

Tip: Automatically create a sticky note for each piece of data by copying and pasting all of your notes into MURAL at once.

This is where the discovery process comes to an end, and shaping begins. Shaping essentially means turning raw data into actionable insights, and then using those insights to inform priorities and next steps. The next two exercises are both examples of shaping.

Exercise 2: Affinity mapping

“We have a lot of data,” Richard said. “How do we make meaning out of this? For us, the next step is to start finding patterns and frequency among this data."

They do this with affinity mapping, the process of clustering related data to synthesize information and recognize patterns. Here’s what it looks like in action for the Zapier team.

Affinity mapping in MURAL

With this method, they can see, at a glance, which themes are universal and which are more niche. In the mural above, for example, the “need for speed” cluster is a rainbow of different stickies, indicating that it’s high-priority for a lot of users.

Tip: Use the search function in MURAL to instantly find all the stickies that contain a particular keyword.

Exercise 3: Insight creation

Insight creation is where it all comes together. Richard and his team organize the data with more precision and work together to extract insights from what they’ve learned.

Richard explained, “This [exercise] is breaking down those rough categories into even smaller categories, and then sitting in a virtual room with a UX researcher, with myself, with other people on the team, and just [asking] ‘What does this mean? How do we interpret this insight?’ Also, [we’re] checking each other’s biases. We’re not jumping into a solution mode; we’re actually boiling this up to an actual insight that we can work with.” Then, they document each insight in the mural.

When Richard facilitated insight creation for the ARR objective, one of the insights was that the most successful Zapier users learned about Zapier, through a known channel, like a previous job or someone they know. This uncovers the opportunity for them to take advantage of those one-to-one and one-to-few channels.

What makes this exercise so powerful is that not only will the insights you uncover live on in the mural, but people will be able to revisit the data and even see the thought process behind them.

“If we're working on a particular feature … and an executive says, ‘Oh, why is this important?’ we can actually go back and we can read customer quotes. We can point to the mural board and hear it directly from their mouths. And that really resonates with them.”
💡 Richard Enlow, Senior Product Manager | Zapier

Get Zapier’s template

Want to conduct a user research study like this one with your remote team? Use this MURAL template, created by our friends at Zapier, to guide you through the process using the exercises Richard shared.

Get started from template

Session transcript

Mark Tippin: [00:00:00] Good morning and people starting to, to join us really excited, to, for this conversation today, Richard Enlow from Zapier is joining us. And it's a topic that's really near and dear to my heart, which is how do you bring humanity into business processes? You know? So, from post-its to pixels, how Zapier makes meaning in a paperless world.

Welcome Richard. So glad you're here. Yeah. 

Richard Enlow: [00:00:44] Thank you, Mark, and thank you to the audience. It's a pleasure being here, and so thankful for MURAL and Imagine for having us today. 

Mark Tippin: [00:00:53] Yeah, absolutely. Well, you know, as we're digging into this topic today, I think that the we've all faced with these challenges of having a business, that's got a business goal, needs to make money. needs to earn revenue. These are things that help the company stay alive, and yet, when you're in a kind of a product manager role, or a design role, or something where you're really trying to empathize with the customer, it can be hard to connect those two dots. I'm excited with what you're going to be sharing with us today.

I'd like to know just a little over Zapier's use of MURAL. 

Richard Enlow: [00:01:40] Yeah, I also want to echo what you're saying, which is, I think this is so important because we do need to add that level of fidelity on top of these business decisions. And I think why it is so important to me and why it particularly hits home for me, is because I'm a Product Manager now, but I spent the first half of my career [00:02:00] actually as a Product Designer, actually doing research, conducting evaluative testing. working with users to actually make products better.

Moving into the Product Manager role, realizing that, "Hey, we still need to add that level of human to what we do when we're thinking about our product process." So, I mean, you can see from the title here, we're saying this is about making meaning in a paperless world, but it is much more than that.

It's specifically about adding fidelity to product decisions, but I think more so than that, it's about bringing the human element into decision-making throughout every stage of the process. So, yeah, I'm excited to be here and talk about that so we can get past the simple kind of dry business schools, like the objectives and the key results.

And we can actually have something that's more meaningful here. 

Mark Tippin: [00:02:55] That's right. And I think so many of us are now winding up what has been an incredible year. What a roller coaster this has been, right? We're finding ourselves, embracing these year-end patterns and thinking about what could we do in the next year.

So I think the timing is really good for a lot of teams that are struggling. Now that we've kind of made sense out of some of the turmoil over the last year, how can we get our footing again and really ground ourselves in an excellent experience and finding ways to connect, you know, business goals that have shifted in all sorts of ways for businesses and trying to draw this connection between the two of them.

Richard Enlow: [00:03:37] Totally. Especially, as many of us are trying to build that kind of remote muscle, how Zapier is using it all, I think is really interesting. Zapier has been an all remote company since our inception. So since 2011, we never had an office. So this kind of work that we're talking about and using digital tools and to be able to collaborate and share between mediums, I think that's [00:04:00] where MURAL kind of really made sense.

Like I come from the consulting world and I was wondering how do we get all of these physical elements of post-its and insights and all of this working activity and sketching. How do we do that when working in a remote company? MURAL was one of the tools that's Zapier was using to do that.

So as soon as I got into Zapier and saw all of the teams actually using this kind of digital whiteboard, digital kind of like sticky,  that that we use from your lab, I realized like, "Oh, there is a way for us to be able to do whiteboard boarding or sticky notes through this digital medium. It's quite surprising."

I recently went into our whole company MURAL board just to take a look across all the teams, what people are using it for there's people in security, trying to plan out processes there. It's used very heavily by our product management group, which I'm part of, it's used very heavily by our UX research, or by our design team.

I don't think there is not a team at Zapier that does not touch the MURAL board in one way or another. We found it to be a really helpful remote tool for doing the kind of things that I was used to in my physical consulting work. 

Mark Tippin: [00:05:19] That's fantastic. Well, I knew in my past, I always felt like I was never quite making the best use out of researchers that I had on my teams or at my disposal.

One of the things that I really appreciated when we started using a virtual tool MURAL, and Autodesk before I joined here, is that the work that they were doing, the synthesis and the artifacts that they were collecting from the users were these digital notes that were isolated from the paper notes, which might have happened at a conference in Vegas or somewhere else.

And those notes are from the synthesis has happened. Well, now those notes actually persist. And it felt like you could get your hands on the voice of the customer, [00:06:00] even though you weren't. The one that wrote that note, those notes and that sentiment is still alive. So, it's there for perpetuity.

Richard Enlow: [00:06:09] What I laugh at myself, thinking back about the days when I was at IDEO before I joined Zapier and we would make a ritual at the end of every project, we would literally have like at least 10 foam boards filled with post-its and our ritual was to just go through and get them all off of the boards.

And I'm like, "Oh my gosh, those are important insights. I wish we had the." So now we have those. MURALl allows us to keep that. So yeah, it's going to be more helpful long after any of this kind of  research study or prioritization happens cause it's there.

Mark Tippin: [00:06:49] Facilitating workshops. We used to have a little inside joke as a facilitator where we'd let everyone know "All of your hard work all over the walls, we send them to a beautiful farm where they go"

As soon as they leave the room, it's all just, "Where's the recycling bin?", you know? 

Richard Enlow: [00:07:09] Yeah. Hopefully, months later, people don't ask like, "Hey, what happened to that, that group of stickies that we had?" 

Mark Tippin: [00:07:14] I have a photo. Those days were so great. Well, I want to get back to this thread of, you know, making business objectives, human.

Yeah, because I think that's something I really enjoyed listening about your approach at Zapier, and what you're doing. So there's a tension, right? Between what the business needs to succeed and voice of the customer. How do you bridge that? 

Richard Enlow: [00:07:41] Yeah, definitely. And yeah, it's all about making business objective human, just like this slide says, because there's what we might want. I'll tell you from my perspective. On my team right now, my team's KR is simply focused on [00:08:00] revenue increase, right? Increase revenue over a time period, and that's measured by annual recurring revenue.

But that's a pretty dry kind of big, high level topic. Like, what does that actually mean? I mean, that's an example of a dry one. I can give you some really quick examples of some other ones that were interesting. In the past, I worked with Harley Davidson and they had a really fun one that I really want to point out their business objective was to get more butts on bikes, one of my favorite business objectives.

But again, what does that mean? Like how do we do that? Why are there not enough butts on bikes, right? Let me bring you back to our current KR. So we have a KR on our team right now of, revenue increase in 2021,  to end at December 15th. And that's going to be measured by annual recurring revenue.

Very dry, more money as measured by the amount of money people are paying every year over the course of a year while it's a very valid goal. It's also pretty. It is devoid of human elements. What does that actually mean? What are the  opportunities that would drive the success of the goal? It's it's not included in there. We need to figure that out ourselves as a product management team or as a product team, and that often leaves us with more questions and answers. So , we're our first step that we're going out is like," Okay, we have a business objective. What is the full story here?"

We need to get a full story of what this objective actually means. So I might ask questions like,"Why do users upgrade today?" That's a part of the story that we're talking about. 

So what is the conversion moment about? [00:10:00] What keeps users who try Zapier and free users who use Zapier, but don't pay, what keeps them from upgrading?

That's another human element that we need to understand a little bit, like hiring and firing of Zapier. What is the purchasing process even like for these folks? Why do some users ultimately leave Zapier? All of those pieces are just examples that presents a fuller story that has allows us to play into this kind of bigger KR of revenue increase, more ARR.

[00:10:31] So, I think that's where we could probably start jumping shortly, I don't know if this is time now, to kind of talk a little bit about that process. 

Mark Tippin: [00:10:43] I'd love to, and I see from my notes, from our previous discussion and a question that just came up, the question was, "Is it really about making them human or making them actionable?"

And I think it's both. You want them to be actionable in the service of the customer, but understanding, you know, there's lots of activity you could just do, but it's much more important to ask the right framing questions and make sure what actions would actually move the needle on the user behavior. You know, improve the experience.

Richard Enlow: [00:11:14] And I think the important distinction here is that, it's actionable, but it's also actionable because we have a level of fidelity that sits on top of that kind of KR, you know. We have a KR, we want to go get the full story. We're now adding a level of fidelity based on user insights or research or data insights.

And by the time we get actionable, we have that full story in place. We can actually ensure that the decisions that we're making are the right decisions for both our company and for both our users. 

Mark Tippin: [00:11:47] That's right. Well, you have a very specific set of words you use to talk about the template we're going to look at. I want to say it a little bit about the, [00:12:00] you call it discovery and shaping. And so, you know, say a little bit about that. That was new to me, and I loved your explanation. 

Richard Enlow: [00:12:08] Yeah,  and this is really what  the process that we're going to go over today encompasses a lot of what discovery and shaping is.

So discovery and shaping is, discovery is very much trying to go wide as possible, like trying to learn as much as possible talking to experts that could be talking to developers to understand constraints, that could be talking to business leaders internally to understand really what's motivating this decision to drive for this particular key KR, or these particular objectives. 

So that's kind of the front loaded process to really understand what's what's going on, right? What is going on from the business perspective and what's going on from the customer perspective, and then shaping is really where those things start to merge together.

So, yeah. Okay. We found out a lot of things from the business perspective, from the customer's perspective. Now we're going to start honing on the things that are more important. We're going to be going over, a little bit later,  some examples of affinity diagramming. Shaping could mean like, "Hey, we have a high frequency of users who are talking about this particular pain, and that might help us to prioritize." When we're shaping this, meaning like out of the multitude of things we could be doing, shaping means like, "Hey, we should be working on these five things. Here are the high priority things." And then once we have that prioritization in place, like how are we going to do it? Well, that's also part of shaping.

Well, we know customers like to purchase via invoice, you know? So how do we make a better invoice? How can we remove the friction from opening and upgrade model. Those are two examples of shaping [00:14:00] that are driven by some of these pains that we have prioritized previously. 

Mark Tippin: [00:14:05] Wonderful. I love the point you made also, sometimes by the time the action trickles down to us, mere mortals, trying to make a difference in the experience,  the business objectives have sometimes been set months or years in advance.

So there's this temporal disconnect between the steering that's trying to happen at an executive level, and how does that actually trickle down into day-to-day actions week to week, you know, velocity in agile teams and all this stuff. 

Richard Enlow: [00:14:39] Totally. And those are disparate groups, right? We have our business leaders, our business executives, and then we have the team at the ground level.

So, we'll get into next steps, to next actions. But one way I think that closes the loop is that we can then start feeding that's fidelity, that's human element back to those business owners so that they can use that information to color future decisions or future creations. 

Mark Tippin: [00:15:10] Let's take a look at the template. So, I went to back up and just have a smoke in the end. This is a lot of data. I'm guessing that, you know, things typically work from left to right. The same as the case here  for this template. 

Richard Enlow: [00:15:30] Yeah, this is a lot of data, but the structure represents different moments in time, different activities and times. So we would never see this actually on one MURAL board, it would actually evolve. We'll get into it, but this raw data section that you can see over here, it will morph into what we would call an affinity map, which would then morph into what we call our insight [00:16:00] creation process.

We'll walk through all of this, but yeah, this might seem overwhelming cause it's a lot, but it's actually transitioning data over time. Well, let's start at the beginning. I'll be your camera, man. Walk us through this template and then tell us how it's used. 

Mark Tippin: [00:16:20] Yeah, well, let's zoom in on business objective a little bit here. So the business objective, I think that we've talked about a little bit at the jump. You can see  here that increased annual recurring revenue is very much one of our business objectives that we currently have. This is a pretty good example of objective we might have. If it were more specific, we would have a number associated with this. Increase annual revenue by recurring revenue, by what number? By what date? But typically that's going to be like a business objective that that is going to be common within the community that probably on this call. But again, like I said, that is just one point in one piece of data, very high level. And by the time it hits our team, we can go down to the second section below, we're essentially just wanting to find out the full story. So part of the full story is really just to be able to create some learning goals. So, okay. If our business objective is around KR, if our business KR is around more annual recurring revenue, what does that mean? When it comes to customers, that's understanding our current purchasing process.

That would be a good  piece of information that would color that objective that we have. Understanding what drives users to upgrade today. Another very important goal, but everybody's going to have a [00:18:00] different set of learning goals, a different set of objectives.

Going back to the Harley Davidson situation. We can ask ourselves, it's like, how do people ride bikes today? Why do people purchase their bikes? You know, some of those kind of like, what is the motivation for purchasing a bike? What are their dreams around purchasing a bike? There's this vision of what a Harley can enable them to do.

So, it's going to be different for every single person, but important to start with a KR outlining some learning goals, and then using that as a template for the full story. Where, where are these learning goals in particular? Like who's driving the generation of these? It's actually done in MURAL as well.

We sit down with our UX research team. We sit with our team itself. We will sometimes sit down with a data scientist, and it's really this kind of like brain thrust of all of  us coming together and, asking questions really. That's what it is. Like a lot of these questions that you see in front of you are from a brain thrust of people.

Just curious about like, "Hey, what is keeping people from upgrading, downgrading, leaving." There's a multitude of different learning goals we might have. And then, within that same team, we might even focus more strictly on some learning goals. Like we might have a data scientist saying, "Hey, conversion's really important. Right now we're seeing a drop-off in conversion."

Can we learn a little bit more about that? Can that be one way forward? That's wonderful. So there are even visual discussions happening in other MURALs that are kind of sub discussions that trickle up into this discussion. 

Totally, totally. 

Richard Enlow: [00:19:49] It is a patchwork, a framework of using digital tools, like MURAL, to make decisions and then driving things like the ones that we're talking today around affinity mapping.

So on my team, this set of learning goals is the first step to a research plan, with the help of UX research to collect data that will soon add meaning to our decision-making.

So oftentimes we'll, so I'll fast forward just a little bit. Fast forward, we started with our learning goals made from our key objectives.

We've created a research plan. We've created this discussion guide. So what are the questions we want to ask customers that get to the heart of some of these learning goals? And then here we get into, we actually talked to a variety of users and that's where the raw data is actually in front of you. We have a lot of data.

Mark Tippin: [00:20:47] How much time might lapse between "We're clear on our learning goals" and the time the rod comes in?

Richard Enlow: [00:20:54] I really depends on the kind of user study that you're conducting. We have projects that we can start defining learning goals on Monday and start recruiting by the end of the week, and talking to users  either that week or the next. I can tell you another example of another recent study where we spoke with users who had left Zapier.

They left Zapier and they used another tool, or they just stopped using an automation tool. In general, those folks were a little bit harder to find. Finding somebody who left and saying, "Hey, we want to talk to you." It was a bit of a challenge. That study actually took two months to track down all those users.

That was rough, but yeah, it just changes depending on the team. 

Mark Tippin: [00:21:50] Cool. So let's say you're using colors really intentionally here. 

Richard Enlow: [00:21:56] Yeah, colors are really important to us in any of  these [00:22:00] tools, and that's why MURAL is also pretty awesome because post-its only come in so many colors, then you have to start getting into the world editions and stuff like that. So, ccolors are very intentional. Each one of these colors represent a particular user that we spoke with. So you can see here the name, role in the company, and then pretty much everything below. So is all of the rough data about that user. So, there's a lot of data here. In this particular  study, this accounts for eight different users, and now we have to ask ourselves, like, "What do we do here?"

We have a lot of data. How do we make meaning out of this? So for us, the next step is to start finding patterns and frequency among this data. So we're trying to find patterns by finding post-its across the colors that represent similar ideas. Let's see, you can start to see that a little bit here.

And the other thing is you're looking for frequency, right? So if you go to a mark, if you go to how they use Zapier, just that this one here. Yep. You can see frequency is a visual thing, right? So if we know that every single color represents for a specific user. So if we see a rainbow of colors, as we see in this particular category, we know like, "Hey, this is pretty hot."

This is a category that a lot of folks are talking about. This is a very high level category. This is specific use cases. As we start breaking those down into smaller categories like lead management, sales, advertising, then we can start breaking that down into subcategories. Frequency via colors and then, patterns via the grouping.

But if I can show you [00:24:00] one really cool trick that we use is we can actually use search in MURAL. So if we go to raw data, right, the left one all the way over there. Yeah, this one right here. This could be, quite cumbersome, but let's say that I'm curious about how Zapier works on a team. I would actually type in that string. So now I have a much smaller set of particular post-its to actually work with. Right. So I'll go through here and don't like, okay, this one's talking about how somebody is using it on a team.

Okay. Team. Great. I have a category here. I might pull up the next particular, insight. So, how about company? How is it being used within a company? So if we tried company, let's see if that pulls up anything. I

Mark Tippin: [00:24:56] I'm sorry. 

My digital arm extension. See? Look at me type "company." 

Richard Enlow: [00:25:07] So as you can see, it's not something that you can do in post-its. You can say,  you know, this was actually quite a pain having to go through the 10 foam core boards that I was talking about earlier. This makes it a lot easier. So let's move on to the actual start so we can clear out that search.

So now if we go over to the right, we have this raw data, we're massaging it, we're now putting it into different categories. So that's what you see here on the right. Now it's a lot easier to kind of dig into specific information. This is important. People struggle to find the right plan.

So we have some insights here from folks who are struggling to find the right plan. It looks like less than half of the users that we [00:26:00] spoke with talked about that. So the lower frequency, but still important, but this might be an actual pain. Another trick that we often use is we use stickering within a MURAL.

Stickers can be found. We currently make our own custom stickers. I believe they're on the board here. 

Mark Tippin: [00:26:20] Oh yeah. Yeah. We've got a key, right? 

Richard Enlow: [00:26:22] Yeah. We might start using stickers around pains, you know, things that really want to call our attention. Like, "Hey, this is particularly painful."

Highlighting loves things that we should keep the same or that we can work off of and build off of. Work arounds are always important whenever we're having these kind of customer conversation to find out is actually like, this pain was so apparent that they started to create a work around for it.

So highlighting those post-its are important because there might be an opportunity there. And last are the frequencies of requests that we get about a particular problematic part of this process. So I was going to just going to say, that's another wonderful aspect of working visually and teams. Divining and settling on their own visual vernacular.

Right? And so these icons now for your teams almost have a visceral reaction to, to, you know, pains and loves and things. I get happy when they see lots of hearts. And so you build that visual vocabulary that allows you to continually parse and re parse and see patterns in that overwhelming amount of data.

Mark Tippin: [00:27:36] And keep track of kind of the team sentiment. You know, the trends and things that they're seeing, as opposed to a passive. I had so many passive readouts from research that was done. I didn't hear any of the original data. I didn't see any loads. I just see a PowerPoint of findings and there's something very different from [00:28:00] that.

And being guided through the raw material and the synthesis. And being able to almost partake in the sense-making journey with the researchers, they have the context, it all comes back into their mind like, "Oh right. We had this big discussion around these two things and here's why we settled on them being like this." And then, you know. I just, I love 

Richard Enlow: [00:28:25] That I mean, what you're describing is actually really interesting Mark, because you take this raw data, these customer conversations, and what you end up doing is you're like Neo staring into this matrix. Like all of those post-its now start to have meaning, right?

So if you shift over, we'll use stickers to do the highlights, but then you start seeing all of these connections being made. I think an important one is toward the bottom. This one, ground here. This need for speed. Yeah. Yeah. So, I mean, once you start categorizing some of these insights that are starting to emerge, these categories that are starting to emerge. You can see here building takes valuable engineering time and resources that aren't always available. And we're like, okay, well, that's actually dry, being driven by this neutral speed. You know, this connects to this very directly. So we can know what is the outcome they user wants to have.

What are the, what are the constraints or what are some of the roadblocks that our user has in place? Right there, there's an opportunity where we might be able to add value. So something that's very problematic. That is part of a goal. Like where can we, what can we do there? 

Mark Tippin: [00:29:49] Wonderful. I want to make sure we touch all the surface area before we come back up to a high level, but you have some [00:30:00] insights, right?

So, it's not just enough to go "Oh, here's some patterns. Look at these interesting patterns."

Richard Enlow: [00:30:07] Yeah. I mean, that's totally right. So we had this learning goal. We had a bunch of data. We started to group that data to find frequency, right? So now we have some good idea of frequency and pattern, but the last part is the most important part.

And this is, this is the boiling up of the insights. So I've actually gave some examples here. Let me see. So this is essentially an evolution of what we just saw earlier, but in this particular case, what we're doing is we're adding these longer posts-its that summarize the information that we just learned. In this particular case, how did you hear about Zapier? The people with the most success know about Zapier, through a known channel, previous jobs, people in their life, courses they are taking. That's a pretty important channel for us to take advantage of that. So how can we activate more users to kind of have a helping hand might be one way might be one thing that we might want to explore.

What does that mean? Solutioning here, but that could be like an affiliate program, that could be partnering up with content creators, that could be friends and family discount. Like I'm just jumping off in solution territory here. But when you see it as a frequency like this, with all of these colors or we're understanding like, okay, the people who are successful who have had to help, like how do we provide more help? We can even do it in app. 

Mark Tippin: [00:31:44] Yeah. Yeah, it's wonderful. I'm just curious, how many iterations would you say are behind the current state of the way you're using this flow? Did you have [00:32:00] most of this nailed after the first time, or did it take a couple passes to get to this level of intention with the colors icons pattern, finding.

Richard Enlow: [00:32:09] it's become pretty common. I wouldn't be surprised if other people are already doing this right now with MURAL, but we take typically three passes. We turn raw notes into post-its. So that's that first raw data check step. Again, MURAL is cool because I can just copy and paste all my notes in and it makes a post-it for each insight. That's awesome. cause you're not having to copy and paste. So that's first pass. Second pass is a rough categorization, right? That's going to be where you have the categories around like, use cases or considerations to buy.That's our first kind of gut check pass. And that's where we're using the search function to kind of just do that really rough kind of sorting.

And then the last pass, this one, is breaking down those rough categories into even smaller categories. And then actually sitting in a virtual room with a UX researcher, with myself, with other people on the team and just examining what does this mean. How do we interpret this insight? And just also checking each other's bias. Like we're not jumping into a solution mode, that we're actually boiling this up to an actual insight that we can work with. After three passes, it's a simple three-step process that takes a long time.

But so much more. I mean, this is where I know people want a shortcut through this and yet it was foundational to all of the other machine you're going to put into motion to make stuff happen within your company to try and hit those revenue goals. [00:34:00] This is, this is framing it. This is really understanding it.

This is making sure it's impactful. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, if we go to next steps, I can give you just a couple of examples. Some of the things that could emerge out of this type of work and these are just variables, but things to do, like, you know, next steps, things that we could be doing, that's really important, but also also things that we should not be doing.

Right. This is a good way for us to say like, Hey, if we want to increase revenue, we shouldn't be throwing up an ad in front of people or sending them multiple emails about sales and whatnot. That is an anti-pattern that we have. And we learned that from some of this research request to consider. So for hearing a lot of requests, that's, that's a good point right now to say like, Hey, we're hearing about this in the course of this study around AR should we be doing something about here about this here?

Or we can actually share it with another team. I mean, we learned about this thing in the purchasing process and we think that it would benefit your team. One really interesting fact was when we talked with some of our highest values and we realized we need to communicate more effectively to them.

The problems that they're having on the ground and the way that they work are different from our typical, small and medium-sized business users who we are focused on messaging. I'll let some of these insights actually went into a five part series about this new customer type that is being used by marketing and our support to really understand these customers and help support them better and talk to them better.

Mark Tippin: [00:35:41] That's wonderful. I know I've had that experience as well, where some research will land on my lap and it's so serendipitous. I had this question and suddenly someone else has actually done the hard work of finding these rare unicorn customers that you're trying to do. And I've talked with them and have some insights and [00:36:00] how often these insights just get lost or there they end up being something that only influences part of the, you know, the experience as opposed to being something generally shared or a new level of understanding and empathy with, with, like you said, a new emergent customer type. Yeah. And, and, and it's amazing because it's like, after, after you've done this work, the next step is, is the things that I'm talking about.

Richard Enlow: [00:36:26] Like, but how do you share that work? I think this is where it's interesting because. Through this whole process. We now boiled out these insights, which are easily sharable. Right. But then we can link off to this MURAL board that has all the fidelity around, like, okay, what did that actually mean? Okay. So, and, and I do want to say, like, if you haven't done this type of work in the past, or if you haven't done it in a while, it is so much fun because when you, when you find that Eureka moment and you find that little jam of insight that you haven't heard before or something that like, Oh, that's the answer and it just hits you over the head.

There's a bit of a rush. So highly recommended. That's right. And it's, you know, it's in the service of removing a pain point from another human. Exactly. Like, yeah, it doesn't feel bad. And working toward that business objectives that we have been focusing on since the very beginning here. Right. But now we have a validated human way that we can get this done.

Mark Tippin: [00:37:27] That's right. That's right. Well, wonderful. Thank you for jumping through that. I wanna kind of sum this up at a high level, but I want to reach out to the audience. If you have questions, please use the Q&A panel in zoom and register them there so we can keep track of them, and we'll have some time at the end to go through those questions.

All right. So, you know, at a really high level there [00:38:00] are some interesting ways in which kind of summed up when we were talking, you were like, what are, when you really back up, what are the, the, the amazing impacts or outcomes, or how do you think about this at a high level and you kind of level, you landed on these three things, you know, unpack them a little bit for us.

Richard Enlow: [00:38:22] Yeah, definitely. These are some of the takeaways from this whole process that we've been talking about. So the full story is representative of just realizing that  there is more that we can learn here, right? If you have an objective, a KR, ask yourselves, "What else should I know?" Like, what are my learning goals? How can I get this full story?

Full story is very important because it drives decisions that it makes a problem much more relatable and then you can also share that full story at the end, so that other people can also feel, the things that you have learned about through this journey.

And quite literally, like stories are just such an efficient way to transfer more than just data. Right? You can get that emotional. You can convey so much more and enlist people in helping solve the problem within the company. You can literally tell stories from the point of view of the customer, as opposed to it being an abstract.

Mark Tippin: [00:39:27] You know, human cognitive science would dictate that you should not put too many variables in front of people and whatever. You're like, "Yeah, but this is this person trying to do this thing in this moment. And they did it because this was available in the product, you know?" 

Richard Enlow: [00:39:42] Totally totally. And it makes it way more digestible if you're, if you're pulling out this, you know, 20 plus pages of notes and just saying here's  what's  digestible, here's what's important.

These are things that are actionable and helpful. The [00:40:00] fidelity to the decision. Now, when we decide to do something in relation to this KR, we now have the data to back up that decision. And this is really important that oftentimes we will go back directly to the customer quote, right. 

If we're working on a particular feature that we think is important, that plays into KR , and executive asks why is this important, we can actually go back and we can read customer quotes. We can point to the MURAL board, and hear it directly from their mouth. And that really resonates with them. They hear it from customers.

Mark Tippin: [00:40:36] Okay. So confidence of your decisions is so important and it's possible because you can trace it right back to the voice of the customer. 

Richard Enlow: [00:40:45] Definitely. Definitely. And also we were talking about this before, and now lives forever. Right? So, if I had questions about research or some work that they did a few years back, I can go into MURAL and I can see that board and I could get that fidelity for myself as well.

Fidelity, not only for our stakeholders, but for our team, and for the shaping that we do to actually build the thing. And then last is clear, next steps. I think in summary, this is what this is all about. Like we, we want to have clear next steps on things that we should be doing that make a difference, that actually solve a problem that help play into the business  objective. And we can do this altogether. Once we have got this full story, we added this fidelity. Now we're very confident to do, to know what to do next. That's wonderful. 

Mark Tippin: [00:41:49] I was learning about your process and what you're doing, the thing that I really love, is the fact that part of your culture. It's not just about [00:42:00] trying to fit the human aspect into the business goals and everything. You actually  taking time to be human is a core value for your team. 

Richard Enlow: [00:42:09] Oh, yeah. Yeah. This is super important, especially when working at a remote company where you don't have those kind of water cooler moments to kind of have that human time.

So one of our working agreements as a team is to take time to be human. I thought this would be fun. I was talking to the MURAL folks, is we actually use a MURAL for that too. We have a couple of different things that we do, but one of the things that we love doing whenever we're working with a new person or starting a new project, is this activity called a "sticky bio."

It is the simplest thing you guys will ever do. I mean, seriously, you take 10 stickies. Give everyone a color, give 10 stickies, and give them some time. And essentially what people do is they write, they use the constraint of 10 stickies to write a chronology of their life.

You know, the moments in their life that they want to talk about. Right. Whatever moment that could be. I met my partner. I got married,I bought a home, had my first child, went to the school. It's a super kind of speed dating way to really understand a person's background. And like a really low fidelity way.

So here's some examples here, and, and it's just fun. And oftentimes we will do this at a retreat, as a bigger product team. Everyone's sitting criss-cross applesauce on the ground and around a whiteboard as we do this. But then when we're back at home, we do the same thing in MURAL. Yeah.

Mark Tippin: [00:43:51] That's wonderful. Well, I think yours is on here, right? So, or not, but no, this [00:44:00] is, this is actually, this is actually right. 

Richard Enlow: [00:44:02] Yeah. So, this is my posted bio. I grew up in a town of 2,500 people, so that's a very, very small town.  I was endorsed a lot with bulletin board systems and basics.

I was kind of a nerd, and liked to work on computers when I was a little kid. And then, I felt like I was an outsider looking for a place in the world, you know, when you're in a small town and you're like, "Were do I go? What do I do?" So I went to a design school and studied Multimedia Design, which is digital design and graphic design. I got my first job in design, that became an empire. I wrote this a long time ago. It just meant that I became like, the first design hire at a place that turned into like a penn design higher kind of place. So did that for about four years and then it still was in a small town. So I felt stuck. So I decided to get unstuck and I moved to the city of Beijing with 21.5 million people sharp contrast. I lived there for a long time, and moved back into the US. Long layover in San Francisco, and never left. Became a UX designer in San Francisco, met my partner. We've been together for eight years.

Half of my career, I spent in some consultancies. And then recently, almost two years ago, Zapier moved me down to Palm Springs, and I got to work all remote in a beautiful place where people go on vacation.

Mark Tippin: [00:45:41] Absolutely. And some of the most amazing mid century modern homes are out there in Palm Springs.

Richard Enlow: [00:45:47] Yeah, definitely. So, as you can see, just in that little small moment, you can get to know me a little bit, right. 

Mark Tippin: [00:45:55] And that psychological safety, and that team [00:46:00] building is so important to all the work, right? It just manifests in the safety you feel to a challenge, in the affinity clustering, and all the other methods that you neededed. If you have this foundation of mutual appreciation and respect and trust, then there's actually more dynamic, more honest discussion, absolutely, directly to the experience the customers have. 

Richard Enlow: [00:46:28] Yeah, Mark, it's really made a difference in our product work and also at the team level, just the way that we work with each other. So yeah, I highly recommend. Look for ways, add a level of human in everything you do at the team level and at the product level.

And here's just one example using affinity mapping. 

Mark Tippin: [00:46:48] Absolutely. Allright. I want to just briefly touch on what's, when you look ahead, what are some of the things that you see coming next could be about the use of MURAL could be about synthesis and the role of research in product experience.

What are some of the things that you're thinking in 2021 are going to be your focus?

Richard Enlow: [00:47:13] Yeah. We are going to continue operating as a team and using tools like MURAL among other ones that are starting to pop up. It is really a great time to be a cloud-based software company. I'm enjoying to join these ways that we're starting to collaborate differently, and in better ways.

To give you an example from MURAL, which I think is fun, is that, just recently I found that MURAL, there is a private mode and that has been so helpful. So one of the things that I found, and the team has found, is that there's a sense of bias when you [00:48:00] can see how people are voting on things, right, or what people are writing. So the private mode has been a really good way for us to have this kind of like solitaire in front of us where we can kind of like empty our minds or we can vote and not be biased by any other team member on the team. And then as soon as we turn it off, there's a bit of a surprise.

Like, now I said the same exact thing, and in which case it becomes really interesting and it's like there's some frequency of these ideas that are coming out too. That's interesting. How can we pay attention to that? 

Mark Tippin: [00:48:33] So, yeah, it adds contrast in like a crispness to the authenticity of individual contribution, but yeah.

Richard Enlow: [00:48:42] Yeah, totally. And this is why I kind of disliked voting in person using dot votes because you are a King maker at that point, you know, like I don't want to vote on the thing that has too many dots I'll vote on this one. It doesn't have any dots. So I think the private mode is going to be a bit of a game changer too, for our team to just.

Like not add bias and to, yeah. Hopefully elicit some really deep down, ideas or insights. I'm excited about that.

Mark Tippin: [00:49:13] Well, we'll look forward to checking back with you in the future at some point and say like, what are the things that you've learned about some of the new features in private mode.

I think we have some questions, so I think we'll move over to some of these. I'll go from upper left and work our way down. So from our friend, Shane Smart, "What's the guiding question that you ask for defining and learning goals. So is there some kind of rubric or mantra that you have when you're setting your learning goals?"

Richard Enlow: [00:49:56] Yeah. Shane, I usually  [00:50:00] start with a MURAL, or if you're in person and start  in person with either post-its or stickies, whatever that may be. And essentially, I ask the following question, "What do we need to know to be successful here? What are the things that we should know about this particular topic that we need to be successful here?"

In the case of the Harley Davidson's butts on bikes situation, it was essentially like, "Are people riding with each other?" Like, is there a community aspect here? How many rides do people even have? I mean, you are often coming with any topic that you don't know anything about.

So the learning goal is essentially like, what is the baseline that I need to start understanding?

And that might prompt new questions. Right? So how often are they riding their bike might be one question, but what is keeping them from riding the bike might be another question. What would help people ride their bikes more?

That's another question. So essentially, it's a chain of different topics that you want to learn about, to help you really define this whole area. Remember the full story part, right? If you want to get the full story of what are the things that you have to cover. So I would say start there.

Mark Tippin: [00:51:27] Got it. So basically be curious, generate a ton of questions. And then from that you almost do another distillation, you know? 

Richard Enlow: [00:51:36] Totally, totally. What's the area that we need to really press on, because remember the learning goal is what drives the discussion guide. So, if you can be clear about the areas that you want to cover via the learning goals, then you'll have a much more directed discussion guide and much better insights.

Mark Tippin: [00:51:56] Wonderful. We have a question from Tom [00:52:00] about, "Do you ever form hypotheses at the beginning of research? Do you allow any kind of emerging conversation discovered along the way?"

Richard Enlow: [00:52:09] Yeah. We do form hypothesis at the beginning of the research, but then oftentimes it's the reverse, which is their insight is driving the hypothesis,  right. So I'll give you an example of when it often happens at the beginning of research, and that's usually on a quantitative. We'll get a quantitative insight from one of our data scientists who says like, "Hey, we're seeing some really strange behavior around people who are having an account after 21 days."

Right. So that's an insight that we could probably hypothesize and then go out and learn from. But oftentimes it's the it's exploratory research, is about us finding insights to form a hypothesis around it. 

Mark Tippin: [00:53:05] Got it. Okay. There's a question from Yusef about how do you actually present these results?

Are you presenting directly from MURAL? Is there further distillation, a roll-up for executive, or how do you present for people that weren't part of the process? 

Richard Enlow: [00:53:20] Yeah. It really depends on how you guys communicate internally only within your own companies. At our company that's out here, we have an internal blogging tool called Async, and the way that we are presenting our research is we're writing a blog post. That breaks down all the insights, it adds customer quotes, and then we link off to the MURAL board.

So think internally about like, how does your company communicate with one another, and use that channel, and if you don't have that channel, it might be useful to think about like, okay how do people want to be communicated to. Do they want a PowerPoint [00:54:00] presentation? It's really, it's really dependent on your organization.

Mark Tippin: [00:54:04] Cool. I'm gonna bundle up three other questions that are really about the process. So one is "How are you actually conducting interviews? Can you allow text-based input or do they have to be verbal and recorded, and transcription and, logistically, how are you setting this all up?"

Are the interview, are people actually interview, touching the MURAL, or is the MURAL really your team only capturing and distilling their, what are like, describe that process. How has, how are the interviews conducted and how's that information captured into the MURAL?

Richard Enlow: [00:54:43] Yeah. So, we use the interview, what's happened over the course of a few weeks. So one to two weeks, and we will use a capture device that is either Excel, or we recently used Air Table.

And essentially, we'll take raw notes during the  session. I or another person might play the interviewer.And then we'll have someone taking notes actually in Excel or in Air Table. Of course we record the interviews, just to kind of go back to the tape to clarify anything, or to pull it out, but raw notes and Excel, or raw notes and Air Table, and that's where you can just copy and paste and throw it into MURAL.

And it makes a new post-it for each one. So, whatever way you do it and make it easy, I would make it easy to be processed by MURAL, if you're deciding to use MURALs for infinity mapping., 

Mark Tippin: [00:55:39] Do you ever conduct nonverbal interviews, like text-based or, you know, form-based, long form response to specific questions asynchronously? Is that ever something to do? 

Richard Enlow: [00:55:53] No, we don't. We don't do any kind of interviews in that way, but we [00:56:00] do do things like, we'll periodically have like a product survey, something like that, that we collect a lot of data in maths. Yeah. Typically, it's one-on-one we like to probe a little bit deeper when users are answering questions and that's a lot help, more, that's helped by being on the same call.

Mark Tippin: [00:56:24] We have a couple of questions that are also touching on the use of MURAL by your team.

Something that is broadly embraced. Is there any kind of, what, like what type of onboarding do you do if someone were to join your team next week, how would you orient them to the way your team is leveraging MURAL? 

Richard Enlow: [00:56:46] Yeah, we actually, so we use a lot of cloud based tools. We have a single repository, Coda, which is talks all about our onboarding process.

And part of that onboarding process talks about our MURAL board or MURAL room. So, a new person can walk in and they can read a lot of these like affinity mapping exercises, or the prioritization exercises that you've seen before, or read our sticky bios, but it's really easy to introduce a new team member to MURAL because everyone has access to MURAL, essentially. I am the person with the login, but Anonymous Crocodile or Anonymous Squirrel will come in, and that's that new person. And it just makes it really easy to use. Typically when a new person jumps into our organization, we'll start with a preflight. So we'll actually use MURAL as a way to say, like, "what is your goals? What are you, what do you hope to accomplish on this team? What are you worried about?"

You know, that's another way we add human into this conversation. It also teaches them to get comfortable with, you know.

Mark Tippin: [00:57:57] Wonderful. Well, [00:58:00] Richard, it's been a pure delight meeting with you in advance preparing for this session and then walking through all this and sharing it.

We, we really, we grow ourselves and learn so much by, and, you know, having folks on like you who are so willing to share their experiences and learnings, as we're all trying to figure out new ways of, of leveraging these new ways of working. So thank you very much for joining us today. Yeah. And thank you guys.

Richard Enlow: [00:58:27] I really appreciate it. We love MURAL, like I said, everyone uses it. So, I jumped at the chance to be able to talk about how we use it here.

Mark Tippin: [00:58:35] Wonderful. Thank you. Well, before everyone hops off, I wanted to say a little bit about what's coming up next. So we have the team from Emerson is going to be doing a talk on making shift happen with collaborative design and development.

So Christina  Kowski, Human Centered Design Engineer and part of Emerson's Human Centered Design Institute, they're going to share how she and the Human Centered Design Institute's team have adapted to the challenges this last year that we all know, 2020 has been quite a roller coaster year. In others, scaling in person work. We're familiar with Emerson. they also are a heavy user of Luma as well, so a lots of design thinking culture as well. Interesting. So make sure you register for the entire season at MURAL/Emerson, and in the next couple of days, I'm pleased to say that we'll be sending out a recap of this session, including a link to Zapier's discovery and shaping insights template.

And maybe we can persuade Richard to give us a version of the template he has for the Sticky Bio, which is an awesome fun event. That's great. Thank you everyone for joining. 

Richard Enlow: [00:59:49] Thank you all.

About the authors

About the authors

Nicole Smith

Nicole Smith

Team Lead — Customer Marketing
Team Lead — Customer Marketing @ MURAL. Previously @ Salesforce. Passionate about integrated programs, customer lifecycle, advocacy marketing, community building, and rescue dogs.