Empathy in Business

When a customer research team serves more than just product. On the importance of empathy in business and how to bring together humans, technology, and design thinking to create a customer-centric approach

Talk transcript of Julie Søgaard – recorded on 8 Mar 2023 Product Research

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Building a team Communication Collaboration Leadership Management Remote collaboration Team collaboration. Leadership Autonomy Culture Ways of working Servant leadership Product research Research repository User & customer research

Who is Julie Søgaard

Julie has a passion for data and has worked as a designer and consultant before becoming a research design manager at Planday. Planday is a scheduling tool that aims to solve the problem of shift-based businesses struggling with employee management.

Julie shares her journey at Planday, where she was the first researcher and faced difficulties in being understood and respected. She emphasizes the importance of understanding one’s role and the skills needed to bring about change.

Julie’s background in design thinking and her passion for data has helped her bring a unique perspective to Planday. She believes that empathy is the key to creating a customer-centric approach in business. She encourages everyone to bring their unique skills and perspectives to their work and to always strive for continuous learning and improvement.

Establishing a Mature Research Team

Julie found herself pondering on how to get into the business and remove herself from the rut of simply sitting there, merely failing at usability testing. She wondered how to get some actual research done and actually make an impact on the company. At that moment, she realized that her real goal was about bringing empathy into the business.

Julie believes that researchers should stop doing the designer’s job and stop usability testing. This was a crucial point to focus a researchers job: they were good at research, but they did not know the designs well enough to test them.

Therefore, if they wanted to change something in how the company saw the research team, they had to identify the role they wanted and where they wanted it to be. What could it be, and what was it currently? The answer was nothing; it had no role at that time. Julie realized that research could make a difference, and she began to contemplate what she could bring to the table. She also pondered on the necessary skills and practices needed to establish the importance of research.

That was when the team was just Julie. 3 years llater, Julie heads her Copenhagen-based team of six. The team consisted of quant-researchers, qual-researchers, and ResearchOps. She has defined the purpose of the team to help make smarter decisions faster.

The purpose of the team was to help make smarter decisions faster.

Julie believed that the research team should not decide, but instead, they should facilitate a process that would provide data and input to make better decisions. The research team’s input should represent only one of many data points, which would aid the product manager, head of product, CPO, or any leadership structure present in the organization.

The research team should not decide, but instead, they should facilitate a process that would provide data and input to make better decisions.

Julie believes that research can make a difference in projects on every level, even if the project is simply usability testing a feature. At Planday, the core research disciplines include user researchers and qualitative researchers who were adept at interviews, big research, understanding the mental models of users, going into new markets, and establishing the right processes for other people.

Their role is to empowere other teams and people to do research. If there wasn’t a need for a research team, the team has been successful.

In addition, Planday has a Quant researcher who specializes in data visualization, providing the right visualization and data for everyone and guiding people on how to analyze the data. Planday also has ResearchOps that supports the team and helps them work efficiently by having the right templates and processes in place.

For 2023, the goal of the Research team is to build trust with their product engineering colleagues by encouraging learning through failure and cross-collaboration.

To bring empathy into business, understanding the role of research and identifying the necessary skills and practices needed to succeed, is crucial. By facilitating a process that provides data and input, the research team can help make smarter decisions faster, leading to the company’s growth and success.

Bringing Empathy into Business

One of the key advantages of having a research team is the ability to analyze data efficiently. With the right templates and processes in place, the team can support and guide the company’s product engineering colleagues towards achieving their goals. And that’s exactly what Julie and her team are doing.

What’s unique about Julie’s research team is that they sit directly under the product. In most companies, research falls under design. However, because Julie’s team drives a lot of the product strategy, they decided it was best to sit under the product. This makes perfect sense, as collaboration between research and product is essential. Sometimes, design can get in the way because they are the closest peers. However, by sitting directly under the product, Julie’s team can better impact the product strategy and decision-making process.

Julie has established what she calls an “epic” research community. This community is built around networking and collaboration. Before the community was established, Julie would network with other researchers, product marketing, and growth marketing professionals. They would meet up and discuss data, service, and provide feedback on their work. Today, the community is well established, and the teams are sized according to their marketing and collaboration needs. The team collaborates with product operations, helping to clean up data, set up tracking, and measure the right things. They guide the engineering team in setting up the right things, and define the KPIs to track.

The team also collaborates extensively with product and UX to prioritize their work, figure out what to track and what to work on. They are an enablement, a support system to help drive the product strategy forward, not to drive it themselves. Julie believes that it is essential to have someone who can make decisions, and that’s her role as a research lead. Others are responsible for strategy decisions.

Julie’s team has two primary functions:

  1. They work on strategic research, which involves scaling the company’s data practice, identifying strategic opportunities, and bringing empathy into business. They remind people to focus on solving real user problems and not just assumptions.
  2. They also empower design and product teams to do research themselves, skill them up and support them through interview guides, recruitment, and other areas of research. The team even offers research school, where people can learn how to use the ability test.

Julie’s vision is that everyone can and should do research, and the best outcome is that companies would not need a research team. This is because everyone would be doing it, making it an integral part of the business.

Everyone can and should do research

Research plays a vital role in driving product strategy. It provides valuable insights that can help companies make informed decisions, identify strategic opportunities, and prioritize their work. With the right processes, templates, and collaboration, research can become an integral part of any business.

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