In 2019, when Saurabh Gupta and Richard Enlow gave up conference rooms with whiteboards covered in sticky notes to work at Zapier, they never expected that the world would look to them and the Zapier team to learn how to productively work from home.
Zapier is a pioneer in remote work. With more than 250 employees across the globe, Zapier has developed a brilliant solution that allows anyone to automate workflows across various software applications, even if a formal integration isn’t available.
The company, which has developed a platform used by millions, has been 100% distributed since its inception in 2012. Building a high-growth SaaS business without having everyone in the same office is an impressive feat. Now that much of the business world is working remotely, there is a lot we can learn from Zapier.
I recently spoke with Zapier’s Saurabh Gupta, senior director of product management, and Richard Enlow, senior product manager, to learn more about how their product and design teams are so successful even though — or perhaps because — they’re distributed.
“I was worried about being at a remote company,” Saurabh told me, “and about how we’d share and build off each others’ ideas. Those worries were put to rest quickly.”
Zapier has turned remote collaboration into a competitive advantage. The culture is intentionally not meeting-heavy. They ensure meetings are productive with simple but powerful practices such as sharing documents ahead of time and leveraging anonymous voting to minimize bias in decision-making. And Zapier has invested in a tech stack that supports this asynchronous, remote productivity.
Zapier’s product and design teams have been using MURAL for over three years to collaborate on strategic planning, product investments, aligning stakeholders on a project, and much more.
“Using it is our equivalent of jumping into a room with a whiteboard,” said Saurabh. “Without MURAL, I wouldn’t know how to do group brainstorming at a remote company.”
More than an online whiteboard, MURAL enables visual collaboration and guided teamwork on everything from product strategy and planning to immersive workshops using design thinking or agile methodologies and more. With MURAL, teams collaborate visually through a shared, digital space -- called a mural -- where visual tools such as sticky notes, drawings, images, and diagrams can be used to understand problems and explore opportunities. Every team member can now have a voice, which makes planning, retrospectives, design sprints, brainstorming sessions, client collaboration, and even weekly meetings and one-on-ones richer experiences with a better output for everyone involved.
Saurabh has developed a process for getting the most out of meeting times with MURAL. He embeds instructions and guiding questions inside each mural and shares it with collaborators ahead of time so work can begin asynchronously. “How often do you present a slide deck and then never reference it again?” he observed. “Your murals, done right, can do so much more and are relevant for much longer.”
“Without MURAL, I wouldn’t know how to do group brainstorming at a remote company.”
💡 Saurabh Gupta, Senior Director of Product Management | Zapier
Saurabh believes effective writing and communication skills are fundamental to making remote work effective. Once a MURAL collaboration session is complete, he synthesizes the decisions that were made and action items into a concise “TL;DR,” then shares the mural to a broader audience to drive alignment and transparency across teams.
Saurabh finds that MURAL is key to helping teams identify novel solutions to hard problems and streamline decision-making among large groups. When asked to lead a large team to determine Zapier’s 2021 product priorities, he was able to conduct more inclusive brainstorming by gathering input across teams, converging on the top priorities with ease, and gathering feedback from a variety of stakeholders.
“The voting feature made decision-making so much easier,” he added. As a result, the team was able to create a robust plan for 2021 that had buy-in across the organization.
MURAL is not only well suited for helping large groups collaborate better, but also to help small teams understand problems and gain valuable insights through visualization.
As a former product designer, Richard Enlow is used to swimming in qualitative data from customers and prospects. He’s found that MURAL helps him make meaning of disparate ideas and data points, ultimately using that information to guide product decisions.
🔖 Resource: Richard recently shared how his team used MURAL to execute an insightful user research study.
👉 Watch his talk and read the recap here.
When his teams conduct user research, they bring raw user feedback from a variety of sources into a mural, making it easier to identify patterns, form groupings, and share reactions. It’s this work in MURAL that transforms the raw data into critical insights — and with the insights alongside the original research quotes, everything is ready to share with the downstream stakeholders on the marketing and product teams.
Richard also leverages user journey mapping and service blueprint templates in MURAL to determine opportunities for improving customer experience and planning new features. By visualizing data in these frameworks, he and his design and product colleagues are able to determine gaps in the product or experience that need to be tackled.
Product teams at Zapier like to use the Opportunity Solution Tree framework to help them plan product investments. The basic idea is to take a desired outcome and identify opportunities to achieve it. From there, you define solutions for the opportunity and experiments to test the solutions.
Using this framework ensures that a variety of opportunities and solutions are explored without the team becoming myopically focused on one particular solution.
Zapier has adapted the framework for their own use and can reuse it as a template across the company. Without MURAL, this work would be incredibly challenging to do remotely. And now, there is a living document of their plan and decisions.
Richard called out the value in having a digital reference of all the research and insight work living in MURAL, versus sticky notes and foam boards he’s used at previous companies. This living record helps him “to define next steps and drive the project forward, which is at the core of what product managers do.”
MURAL integrates with Zapier so that you can connect visual collaboration with solutions such as project management, surveys, and more. MURAL members have automated workflows between MURAL and thousands of other applications such as: