Dollars to Donuts: Vanessa Arango Garcia of Delivery Hero

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In this latest episode of Dollars to Donuts, I talk with Vanessa Arango Garcia, Director UX Research & Research Operations at Delivery Hero. We discuss creating an engaged research community across a global organization, being accountable for impact, and how today’s challenges provide an opportunity for the research progression to grow.

We care a lot about our craft and we need to keep the quality up, but we also need to be pragmatic in how we are able to optimize that process of doing research to focus in the next stages. We dedicate too much in doing the research, delivering that report. And later, sometimes it’s very difficult to dedicate time to following up, connecting with the team, sitting together, ideating, thinking about the roadmap, because we don’t have time. We are jumping from research to research to research because every research takes time. – Vanessa Arango Garcia

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Steve Portigal: Welcome to Dollars to Donuts, the podcast where I talk with the people who lead user research in their organization. I’m Steve Portigal. I recently spoke with Rally’s Lauren Gibson for an Ask Me Anything session about user research maturity. I’ll link to the detailed write-up and the recording of the full conversation, but here’s a short clip.

Lauren Gibson: I wanted to highlight a question that Christopher sent up, which I thought was really great. We were kind of talking about how researchers are doing a lot, and there’s a lot we’re trying to tackle, and we’ve kind of talked about this. Maturity sometimes turns into a project. So what tactical advice would you give for teams that want to scale their maturity but have to do that while also balancing everyday research responsibilities or are a smaller team or don’t have a ton of bandwidth?

Steve: I’m going to get one last cliche in here. I feel very happy about that. How do you eat an elephant one bite at a time? And maturity is the elephant, right? We’re talking about it in this conversation, and the questions I think appropriately reflect it as this bigger scale concept. And again, I’ll just point back to Chris’s framework. It’s not really maturity. It’s these elements of it. And so you can pick one part and work on that. So question back to Christopher and Christopher’s team is like, well, what’s important to you? What’s the current state around that thing? And what would it look like for you to move one cell to the right in that matrix? So there’s so much to do, right? And I think that’s the elephant. And so finding ways to make changes that I think this question is very realistic. We can’t do everything, and we’ve got a lot of other stuff to do. So don’t try to fix everything about everything.

And what’s important to you? What do you care about? What would move the needle? Any of those things I think are great places to start. If you do one thing different, you can say, hey, we just moved this to the right. There is this thing called, I’m sure we’ve seen versions of this like two by two matrix that’s for prioritization. It’s about effort and value. So I think if you just pick the thing you want to work on, and then you can very easily come up with 40 things, just prioritize them based on what’s effort and what’s value. And that matrix kind of says like, hey, low effort, high value do first, greater effort, greater value do next. And then things that provide less value don’t do. So it’s really two activities, right? What do you care about and sort of what does improvement look like? And then prioritize those. And the method to do that is already spelled out, right? And then pick one and do it. And then when you have time, pick the next one.

Check out the whole discussion. And why not buy your gas station attendant and your farmer’s market hummus vendor, their very own copies of the second edition of Interviewing Users. I’d really appreciate it if you would write a very short review of Interviewing Users on Amazon. Please get in touch if you’d like to talk about the user research challenges your team is facing and how I can help you.

Okay, let’s get to today’s episode with Vanessa Arango Garcia. She’s the director of UX research and research operations at Delivery Hero. Vanessa, welcome to Dollars to Donuts. It’s great to have you.

Vanessa Arango Garcia: Thank you, Steve, for the invitation. Such an honor to be here.

Steve: Let’s jump right in. Maybe you can introduce yourself and the work that you do.

Vanessa: Yes, absolutely. Well, my name is Vanessa. I work as a director of UX research in Delivery Hero, here in Berlin, Delivery Hero is a German food and groceries delivery company that currently operates in more than 70 countries.

Steve: Can you explain the multiple brands?

Vanessa: And today I’m taking care of the research for three of our biggest brands across the world. Yes, so Delivery Hero is the mother company of multiple brands that operates across the world, right? So we have presence in South America, in Europe, in Asia, and other regions. And we have different brands operating in these different markets. So Delivery Hero is just the central company and like how we call the mother company. But in reality, users around our consumers around the world see completely different brands that are the ones that operate in their markets.

Steve: And are those brands different products?

Vanessa: Yes, so we definitely try to learn from the different brands and what we are doing. But of course, the particularities of each one of the regions are different. So also the products try to adapt to those realities in each one of the markets.

So this means that our products, we deliver the same service from the consumers around the world. So we usually do the same kind of business. So we find or we have a lot of similarities, but also contextual differences that are important to run the business across.

Steve: Is there an example you can share of the ways that the business or the product or just what food delivery is like in general might vary in different parts of the world?

Vanessa: Yes, maybe if you have had experience like ordering food or groceries online, that you know that our full journey happens very quickly, right? Sometimes even in 20 minutes. So the people like a person, a user, a consumer goes to the appears for a dish or a restaurant, right? And find the right things to put in the basket and later does the checkout process. And we later manage all the delivery stage as well, right? So we have like a big investment in all the logistics stage of the solution in which we also have our riders and our vendors as part of the ecosystem of the users or the actors that play an important role in making this happen. So in that way, all the brands and all the products, consumer facing products are similar across.

But for example, a big difference that you can find in markets like Asia is that we have users that are very deal driven. And like the culture in Asia is they have like multiple loyalty and reward programs around like for different kind of like services and products. And they are used to much more colorful way of communicating deals, discounts, and keeping the attention or attract the attention for some users in that specific region requires a completely different design, completely different ways of communicating, but also a different marketing strategy. And this layer needs to be reflected in the product. So for some regions, maybe our strategy could be more aggressive in terms of deals and discounts for some regions could be more aggressive in terms of how we are communicating sustainable options or other kind of like healthy options for eating. And it depends a lot in according to the region.

Steve: How does research vary across different regions?

Vanessa: Yes, I think that well, part of the homework I have been working in in Delivery Hero for some years already, and I worked before in our Latin American brands because I am originally from Colombia. So I work in PedidosYa, that is our Latin American brand. And now I move here and need to work with Europe and Asia mostly. And one of my first challenges was to understand similarities and difference because as I mentioned, right, the service is the same. We are delivering food groceries across. So, well, the first good surprise for me is in reality, some of the jobs to be done, mental models or expectations about the service or maybe pain points that users or like consumers have with the service are very similar across. So in that way, it’s very easy to share knowledge. But at the same time, all these particularities and how this is going to be reflected in the product requires some kind of localization of the research. That also creates some frictions, by the way, challenges for how we operate, right? Because like in some markets, of course, we need to speak the local language. So having researchers all across or maybe multilingual researchers or like researchers that understand different markets is something that makes our team great. But at the same time, it’s very challenging to put or like to have all this together. So, yeah, summarizing, I think that there are much more similarities than difference, to be honest, in terms of like the expectations of the service and the product itself. But at the same time, we need to reflect these cultural particularities and we need to understand which these particularities are, right? And this is where we go broad and we collaborate across delivery here and later we need to deep dive according to what we need to focus on in market, in business or one specific region.

Steve: You’re just reminding me that anytime I hear someone who’s expert in global or international user research talk, one takeaway is always how when you say Asia and then I think of Asia, but anyone that has any expertise in it like you do knows that like, oh, well, that’s all these different countries, all these different languages, all these different constraints in how currency works or payment works and on and on and on. And that I think we tend maybe as humans to want to simplify things by grouping them into larger groups. I guess the same is true with South America. It’s like it’s a huge place with different countries and all these things are kind of very, very, very different. So you’re talking about things are similar and things are different. I don’t know, is there some kind of balancing act to do about, right? If you have a question about the Asian markets, how many countries are you going to need to look at or how many local markets need to look at? What’s the mindset or approach to diversity within these really big regions?

Vanessa: Yes, and diversity is very important, right? Because I’m like a huge advocate of inclusive research practices. So this is one of the key things that we are always thinking about, how to be representative enough that we understand that there are nuances across, but at the same time, how we can be practical and pragmatic on how we approach problems. Because we all know that research still needs to fight the stigma of like being slow or maybe focusing on the right things. So one key approach that we usually take, right? And let me give you an example. We know that like now currently the world or like the people is like a little bit more concerned about healthy consumption, right? We really want to take care of ourselves. So there is a lot of content around about what to eat, what not to eat, how to eat. And of course, if we think about first thing that you think when you think about food delivery, you think pizza, hamburger, right? You never think about maybe a salad or something more healthy, or you don’t see it as a companion of if you are putting yourself healthy eating goals, right? And this is a share, you know, like a little bit more important in some markets or the others, but this could be manifested in the product in so many different ways across all the countries.

So we understand for the biggest markets, right? Because we also need to speak the language of the business, because at a scale, something that is important for research is to really be able to understand how to impact business. So we focus on the biggest markets usually to understand, okay, this is a trend, this is something important, this is something that we need to talk, right? In the biggest market. But later, as you said, how we can validate that this is relevant for all the markets in the same way. And we usually, yes, take a mixed method approach for it, right? We definitely go deeper into the biggest markets in which we can later drive action from the business stakeholders, because you are speaking of the markets that they care most about. But later we validate how this is important and what are the nuances or differences across that can help us to also go deeper when we see big differences in some of these things through surveys or like longitudinal, like biggest scale studies. So this allow us to validate, put numbers behind it, and also support even more this first approach that we do going deeper through qualitative methodologies.

Steve: Can you describe a little bit about how the research, I’m going to say team, but, or teams, like what’s the structure for research in the organization?

Vanessa: Well, we have research team allocated in different teams. So definitely we have research teams working for each one of the entities or the brands, right? Because it’s very important to keep that brand relationship so you can also work with the stakeholders in the specific regions or countries. So we have different kind of organizations across Delivery Hero. So we have, for example, teams or researchers that report to UX managers. And these UX managers are working with their counterparts of product, engineer, and data, right? So UX managers is an equal counterpart of, again, product, data, and engineer. And to this UX manager, we have designers, UX designers, UX writers, and UX researchers reporting to, right? What gives you the opportunity to work very embedded in the product. We have other bigger entities in which we have a centralized structure, right? In which we have a research manager, research director, research lead that all the research organizations report to that person.

But these researchers are distributed across the product teams. So even if they work close with the different product organizations that include design, data, and engineer, all these group of researchers report to this research lead that gives them the possibility to continue growing and talk about the craft and the growth and have these conversations more related to the craft itself or having a support for their growth plans. And last, we have also other teams that are more global that provide services for all these entities. So are the ones that create the tools for all these entities to use, right? And in these teams, usually we have a couple of researchers or the smaller teams, and these researchers could be reporting to the manager of design and research or sometimes even to product. So it’s very diverse across. In my case, I have a centralized structure, so my research team reports to me, and they work embedded in the product, but this also gives us the flexibility to move around where the business needs to move, right? More focus in the goals and the OKRs rather than the specific team itself.

Steve: So you’ve got these three different kinds of structures and reporting. And so if someone is a researcher in one of those three, do they have access to researchers or research practices or research information across those other two?

Vanessa: Yes, this is something that I am very proud of because we have a very strong research community across Delivery Hero, so we have our Slack channels in which we participate. Until some time ago, we had a monthly call in which we share insights, methodologies, practices, projects, success stories. So we keep everybody very connected, and even in Slack, right? Sometimes some of these channels that are big channels are like–sometimes it’s like people talking and nobody responding in the other side. I think that we have a very high engagement, and we try to not rework on the things that we know, right? So we really use the resources that are available, and the best way to find those is through connecting with other researchers across the world.

Steve: Is this like asking, is there prior research about a topic or what do we know about something?

Vanessa: Yes, so who has done research about this? I am facing this challenge. Can we do a peer review? I am facing this challenge to put this research together, and I don’t know if I am taking the right approach. Or yes, mostly, what do we know about this topic? Who has done research about this? Can you share something, insights about this specific? We are usually facing the same challenges, so it’s very common that we are all searching for the same things.

Steve: You’re contrasting those big Slack groups where people post and no one responds with what your research community is doing where people do engage. How do you think you’ve created that environment where people do support each other and do respond to those kinds of requests?

Vanessa: Yes, I think that giving example, I take it, the lead is very important, right? So sometimes as leaders, we ask our teams to do something, but we don’t do the same. So I am very active in the conversations, right? I’m pointing, and pointing some person, “I know that you are working on this, or maybe, “What do we know about this? “and tag somebody in my specific team, and try to keep the conversation going on. And later, it flows a little bit along, right? Because again, we know that part of doing research is understand what we know already, and this is a starting point for everything. So today, I’m asking your help, but tomorrow, you will need mine for maybe other things, right? So that sensation that we are all working in the same things is very important. But I would say, right, that is something that is very unique to the research community. I can also–my hypothesis is that we have so many different structures of teams working across that some of these researchers or some people working in a specific project, a specific team, so embedded with the product team could feel a little bit lonely in terms of, “Well, I need to speak with other researchers,” right? Like, ping-pong ideas about how to approach this. So I think that that sensation that we need, the community and that support also make things flow.

Steve: So you have the Slack group, you’ve done these monthly calls. What else creates community among researchers?

Vanessa: Yes, well, working together around some specific topics, right? So now everybody is like, you know, AI is our new buzzword. Everybody wants to know how we can improve the processes or like effectiveness or speed of how we do research and we can leverage even the tools that we have around, how we can test the new tools that are coming on, also to help us to navigate all this uncertainty and noise about how powerful this is that actually our research even needed, researchers even needed anymore, right, in a couple of years. So maybe connecting a couple of researchers, right? And this happens a lot in delivery here in different teams. We have like guilds that are, you know, like some people proactively take the lead to create those like working groups. So for example, now we are investigating new ways of like leveraging AI for whatever we need, right? And in that case, we usually have like a couple of people from that team and that team and that team and they come together and also working in these topics together that can affect them positively or negatively, right? Just like has an influence in how we workhand also creates this sensation of community and collaborating.

Very recently, we were tackling one challenge about related to our after order experience. And as I mentioned, this is a completely different service that, you know, that affects other actors in the process of delivering food. It’s not only the consumer app, but also the apps that our riders use, the apps that our vendors use to receive their orders and like the pains that they are also, like and the struggles that they are facing. So also taking, let’s say, design thinking or maybe service design approach and putting people together, right? Mostly researchers because we are the ones that hold the user knowledge and understand very well how things connect across with, of course, like bringing together products, data, engineer, right? And relevant stakeholders and even doing like a collaborative session across different teams that take care of like different tools, different actors and different problems and how we can solve all these stage that requires so much collaboration together. And we really want to keep the researchers like being curious about how to solve these bigger problems across the organization, give a lot of autonomy for them to really take the lead and try to drive the things forward, but also coming together and solve problems together. This also, this always helps the team to connect.

Steve: It’s so interesting that you have these different structures because it creates different kinds of relationships and different kinds of collaboration. And I’m assuming different ways that the research that’s being done and the researchers can influence decision makers and bring that information to stakeholders. So within the centralized structure that you lead, what’s been successful in not just doing the research, but making that research take hold with the people that need that information?

Vanessa: Yes, I think that especially for research in these kind of organizations and working like, you know, talking of research at the scale, one of the most important skills that we need to develop beyond the craft, right? And like doing your like your research is how would you create and these relationships and relationship management in general, right? Because we are also busy. Of course, like sometimes it’s easier to focus on like research that can help us to clarify some of the decisions that we are taking. And of course, we have different level of maturity of counterparts across the organization. We cannot speak in the same way to everybody. Some of them need a little bit more of understanding why qualitative research is important in this case, right? And why we are not maybe doing a survey, right?

Also for some already want to understand how we can help them to prioritize the biggest like problem spaces and how this could transfer into different opportunities. And that requires all that management across because we move around the organization. So how you are capable of creating those relationships from scratch, building those bridges, and also use your colleagues, your research colleagues to connect and understand all these group of people that you are going to be working with is very important. So I think, and this is something that we dedicate a lot of time to, right? Is creating those connections and those, and strengthening those relationships. At the end, I think that the work of the researcher is helping others to trust in what you are saying, to really trust in your work, in your data, which is even more difficult when some counterparts or stakeholders has already an idea of what they want to achieve. And maybe this idea is not so great and you need to bring some data and some evidence that maybe is course incorrect or like changing the way how we are approaching a specific problem. And that is difficult, that requires, you know, again, trust and relationship management. It’s not only about a storytelling, it’s not only about communication that are absolutely important, but it’s how you are capable of reading the room and helping them to navigate all these doubts that could change, right?

And always changing because you would say, okay, I have been in this company for some time, I already did a lot of onboarding, I have sit with all these stakeholders for two years, we have been working two years for so long and et cetera, but later a new person comes in, new leaders comes in, new ways or new challenges for the business comes in, right? So this also create new challenges or how you even communicate those insights and these data to others, even if it’s the same person that is in the other side, right? Because the challenge has changed. So the way that we want to consume or we want to understand what to work on or like how to use the insights or how to enable decision-making is completely different. Every time and navigating that requires a lot of flexibility and it’s a muscle that sometimes is very difficult to develop.

Steve: What are some things that researchers on your teams do to, well, on an individual basis, build those relationships, but then on kind of a practice basis to build those muscles to keep being flexible? Like, how did, how do we go about that?

Vanessa: Yes, I think that we, because like I work with other research managers, right? So with the research managers in my team, I think that we give a lot of autonomy to the team members to drive those relationships, right? But we also make them accountable of the impact of their work. And that give them like a lot of power in terms of like they feel empowered to drive things, to really connect, to make things happen by themselves, but at the same time as they are accountable for the outcome of their work, that in our case is not only delivering research, but actually driving action across the organization. This help the team to be in the same mindset, right? So in terms of like training, I think that is completely different across. This is also something that is like, I feel very lucky to have in the team. So we are from all around the world, right? I don’t think that in my team, there is like one person that share, you know, nationality with other person. And that is crazy because we approach things differently, right?

And we have people that is more excited and like this kind of person that always fits well in every conversation. You see these kinds of people that is always nice and everybody loves and everybody likes. And we have people that is a little bit more in the backseat, but is very rational and explain things very well. And I think that that diversity also adds a lot of value. We learn from each other all the time. We share a lot of our success stories, but also our failures, you know, like things that could have been done better or like things that maybe if we took a different approach of work in a different way, how we can maybe think of improving this into the future and later how we connect this to the processes and tools that we give researchers, right?

One of the key things that for me was very important when I just joined was hiding research operations manager or like research operations team that can help us because of course we recruiting is a lot, like of the capacity that the team needs to dedicate or like the task for this team. But at the same time, I do feel that research operations enable us to be successful. So all these knowledge needs to be later transfer in documentation, ways of working, tools, templates, you know, different tools, artifacts, and resources that help us to do the things better at the next time, right? So recognizing success, but at the same time, failure and learning from it is very important.

Steve: You said that researchers are accountable for the impact the work has. How is that determined?

Vanessa: Yes, that is always the difficult question, right? I would say that in three main things. The first one is, and this is also related to how we communicate the impact, because I think that it’s not so much about having impact, but how we prove that impact back to whoever is looking into challenging that impact that we could have. The first thing is, of course, if we are very connected to what the products are working on, is very like all the research that we do to enable that decision-making or to the risk, those decisions that we are taking for the things that are going to happen in two quarters, three quarters in the future, even this one, because we need to help designers to work in multiple solutions at the same time and collecting feedback about those. That is very straightforward, right?

I think that the challenge there is maybe something that the researchers sometimes struggle with is like the recognition of their contribution in that work that later is going to be manifested in features or product or the service itself. But I think that in that case, this more connected to the product itself, projects are simpler. Of course, when we talk about the strategic projects, this is when it starts getting trickier or more difficult because sometimes this is very long-term, right? But I think that it’s very important that the researchers, after they deliver research, they put together the different rituals or ceremonies to connect with the teams to facilitate insights adoption and understand how this later could be impacted in the roadmap. It doesn’t matter if that is today, tomorrow, in three days, right? And they also have a lot of freedom on how they document this because sometimes even the changes that research informs is like our changes that manifest that, you know, the structure of the organization, for example. We understand that today in order to grow our business, we need to focus on this. And this means that we are going to put a team working on this. This is very powerful, but it’s difficult to communicate.

So it’s also important that we keep in mind that closing the loop is something that we need to keep doing, right? And following up. This is through those relationships. The third thing is about — and this is, for me, the most uncomfortable one — that is sometimes what we inform is things that are never going to happen. When we, you know, decide like we go and research some topic that looks like an opportunity and later it’s, you know what, it’s not such a great opportunity. So it never happened. So communicating that. So we put together a couple of resources, right, for us in terms of like that we are like, for example, like now we are experimenting with a document that we are putting together like OKRs and the different projects that could be related to that and maybe what was the impact on that decision or that project that is manifested in the OKRs, for example. But again, this is more documents, more information for other people to read. But what I think that could be very successful for us to keep that communication going is how we integrate the insights into different resources that other teams are putting together.

So we have design reviews, right, in organizations where like the designers sit with their stakeholders and present the different solutions, explorations that they are doing, right, how research is manifested in this document that is being put in front of like most of the stakeholders. Strategy or like roadmap presentation for the next quarter. How research is integrated in that story. JIRA, oh no, Confluence pages for the project description where we have like the product managers that is the owner, the designer, where is the researcher that is working there? Where is the name of the person that is there? So it’s how we leave this trace around different resources that today the organization is consuming rather than focusing on creating more and more things that maybe nobody is going to read because we are very concerned of these communicating these that actually others are more like looking into how this later, you know, is like, how this look like, right? What is the solution that we created? And later, like, we can tell the story of how research helped to take those solutions. For that also, I think that operations is so important because this is the thing that is helping us to connect all the dots across.

Steve: How do you plan for what research your team is going to do?

Vanessa: Well, mostly OKRs. I think that OKRs give us some mid short-term priorities that are more like related to what I was saying. Product, enabling decision-making, the risky, right? For more strategic topics and like exploration and discovery, I think that we have a lot of input from OKRs. I think that we have a lot of input from leadership as well. So I report currently to the VP of UX and this, like my manager reports to the CPO directly. So we are very close to leadership as well. And in that way, finding or like discussing about the topics that are already being discussed at leadership that sometimes don’t reach like yet, the OKRs are important to keep in mind.

But also I think that we have a big responsibility in self-initiating topics in the right times. It’s not always the right time. And it’s also important to understand that. Some quarters are more for focusing on this, some quarters we have like a little bit more capacity. And we know, right? We have like multiple studies. We are talking with users every day. We definitely can understand some things that the teams are not looking into currently very in-depth and how we can bring much more evidence in these topics that we think that are important from all the conversations that we are having. So these three things, but what I think that is important is definitely keeping a balance and definitely understanding the moment of the company, right?

Steve: I think in hearing you talking, there’s what you’re building and the shifting challenges and how organizations are working and the changes you’re making, but also looking towards. I’m reminded as you’re talking about a presentation that you did recently at the UX 360 conference. And I think I have the title of this, it’s “The new researcher: navigating the evolving landscape of UX research.” I think we’re talking, if not directly, then indirectly about the evolving landscape of UX research. Maybe that’s a segue to talk about your talk and the thinking that you’re doing about the field and our craft. What are you seeing or what are you considering in terms of this evolution?

Vanessa: Yes, well, in this talk I first try to share my thoughts about where, as researchers, we need to really be critical with ourselves on how good have we been understanding the context in which we operate, right? So, the first thing that I wanted to highlight before like going into what I do think that we need to be looking into is, you know, these three main challenges that I see how the UX research organizations were, or the researchers in general, were operating. The first is lack of collaboration, I think, and interdisciplinarity. looks like even if we have, like, we are connected with the product teams and we are working with people, I feel that there is still some lack of knowledge about how, for example, in my case, right, we work in a technology company that works in an agile, yes, methodology, right? So, we work with the sprints, we have, like, different ways of organizing the times of, like, what we are going to be launching to the users, like, and how we collaborate, for example, with the engineer.

And I think that sometimes we forget it is very important to understand these realities of your company. And let me tell you why. Because sometimes when we share research, especially for the most, like, generative, like, strategic research, I feel that sometimes we lack that reality check and down to earth recommendations that we are giving to the teams, not understanding that we cannot start from zero and reach 100 in just one try, but we need to reach 10 and 20 and 30 and 40, right? And of course, we want everybody to keep an eye on the 100, but it is also our responsibility to understand that it needs to be break down into something that is more realistic.

One of the criticisms that we receive from research is, like, yes, but I don’t know how to use this. Oh, but this is not actionable enough. And I think that this, like, could be related to the fact that we need to understand better how our organizations operate and how we can collaborate in something that could be a scale from zero to something and not believing that the only way to succeed is reaching 100 in just one shot. You know what I mean? But also sometimes, like, we work very in silos. We go and connect with the stakeholders, right? This is the research we want to do this, silent, you know, for whatever time, and later I deliver the insights. I feel that in that siloing, and even we are all busy, we are all working on the stuff. I am not expecting that, for example, one product manager is every time in every user session, but I do believe that is part of our responsibility, bringing people together and make this a collaborative effort. Not that they are going to be doing the in-depth analysis for us, but actually how we can create that dynamism while things happen.

The second thing is alignment with the needs, and especially the business. I think that sometimes we are disconnected about the business goals. Most of us, right, at least in my case, I work in a business, right, that also has some business goals and needs to generate money to survive, right? And in that way, we need to understand and we need to learn what are the KPIs, what is the business, how we make money, right? What is this company about? And I think that sometimes we are so in the weeds or in the details that we forget that also most of the things that we do need to have an impact in something, right? KPIs, growth, strategy, and other things, right? And the last thing is how we are solving problems and how targeted we are. Sometimes we are very broad and we forget that focusing on the right research questions is also important. I see this happening also in small companies, which like the researcher is trying to survive. So sometimes you don’t have the tools to push back for requests or you do everything, right, that is being asked, even things that are not important, even things that you already understand that are not important. You’re always rushing. You don’t take the time to really understand what are the hypotheses that we are trying to prove or disprove, or maybe crafting very good research questions, not moderation questions, research questions. What is what we want to know? What do we expect to happen next amount of time in the future, right? What are the decisions that are going to be informed with this research?

And I think that this has generated a little bit the challenges today in the discipline. And I think that we need to start from there, right? How we can really tackle these challenges and see this as an opportunity for us to grow and also acquire different skills. In terms of like the future, right, and how I see this also manifesting later in some specifics, right, I think that the first value that I think that is important is learning and adopting. With all the AI and the tools and all the noise and the changes of strategy of certain organizations that were investing a lot in research and maybe now they are investing in research. I think that is a great opportunity to leverage the different tools that are available in order to make our process more effective.

And let’s be honest, I think that we care a lot about our craft and I think that we need to keep the quality up, but we also need to be pragmatic in how we are able to optimize that process of doing research to focus in the posterior stages, in the next stages. We dedicate too much in doing the research, delivering that report. And later, sometimes it’s very difficult to dedicate time to following up, follow through, connecting with the team, sitting together, ideating, thinking about the roadmap because we don’t have time. We are jumping from research to research to research because every research takes time, right? So how we can really use these tools to make some of things more simple and move faster and focusing on other stages of the process of the research, right? That is adoption. That is very important. The second is the artifacts. I think that this is also not super difficult to feel related to, but I think that we also learn so much. We talk with just five people and we learn so much about so many things that we want everybody to learn everything as well, right? So we sit in presentations of one hour, speaking alone one hour, right? And having a report of 125 slides, a lot of texts, a lot of text in general. And yeah, sometimes even it’s difficult to be connected or to feel engaged with a presentation for one hour. Even like later, if I want to consume this because I was not able to join the meeting and I need to open this report and I see these 102 slides and I say, man, like I don’t know how to use this, you know? And this is where I don’t know how to use your insights. And I think that it’s very related to how we create artifacts for people to be able to consume this and take decisions with our reports. So how we can also learn how to do it better.

And the third, education and advocating is a constant job, especially in my team. I struggle a lot with, because we have some stakeholders that we have been working for a lot of time. So we said like, oh, okay, we are ready and like took our time to explain qualitative and quantitative, why we do this, why we do that, right? Times, why five users, you know, all these things, but context changes, right? And sometimes we need to start from scratch and it’s like, oh, for some people it’s discouraging, but actually for me, it’s an opportunity. From scratch, you are taking the ownership of the, of how others are seeing your team, how others are perceiving and envisioning how you can help them or how you can work together and make things happen. So you put the conversation in your own terms. Let’s sit together. Let me explain what I do, how I do it and how do I expect to collaborate with you. For some stakeholders that we have been working for years already with, sometimes that fight is already lost, right? But every time that we need to start from is like a new opportunity. So for me, it’s like embracing that educational goal that we keep having in research, right? Helping people navigate how to use insights, why this matters, why this and not this, and like how to connect these or triangulate these with quantitative data and help them use it is something that we need to embrace. That is part of our role. Is sometimes it’s going to change? Maybe, right? But today I think that we still need to show people what we do, how we do it and show the value of our work and should be part of the our job.

Steve: Earlier on, talking about your team, and you used this phrase “relationship management” and I had two reactions when you said that. One was a negative reaction that relationship management sounds sort of like marketing, right? Or it sounds dehumanized and decontextualized. It was my fear reaction. But as you continued to describe what you meant by relationship management, I started to feel excited because I’m going back to relationships because as you talked about some of the issues and some of the opportunities, there’s a relationship component that cuts through many of them. So when you say relationship management, it reminds me that relationships don’t emerge naturally from the ether. They are deliberate and we as collaborators can make many, many choices in what form we communicate and how we educate and all those things are things that we make deliberate choices about. And so the management word is very empowering to say, “Oh, there’s a million things that you can do.” They’re not all going to be right or going to work. But you have a lot of, to your other point, agency and control over the work dynamics with other people. Because I think you’re describing a lot of issues where I think lots of people feel stuck in. I can’t have engagements because they’re too busy or they won’t show up or whatever. There’s kind of an outward pointing to what other people won’t do. If you think about the relationships and if you think about management and empowerment and all the choices you can make. And I think you’re also saying there’s no one size fits all approach to this. Every stakeholder is different. Every researcher is different. Context changes. That’s exciting as well.

Vanessa: And thank you for summarizing it. Like first when you started sharing, I said like, maybe I need a different way to call what I am trying to say. But now that you summarize it, it also makes me excited. Because, and this was one of the hot topics in the UX 360 conference that I was. Recently, there was a lot of research in managers, leads, heads, sharing their experiences or their challenges to a scale, to work and to demonstrate and to prove. And they were all saying that you need to treat or you need to deal with your stakeholders as your users. And that is so true, because something that we are and we learn how to develop or is like we know how to listen. We are empathetic people, right? We develop and part of being like doing our job is to fine tune these skills and like keep practicing and keep working on that.

And I think that we can use all that we already have in our researcher belt to also navigate the complexities in the organization. Sometimes we forget that it’s not about delivering, delivering, delivering, but actually, like helping the teams to understand how to work with you. And as you said, it’s not a solution that fits for everything. We have the luxury, right? In my team that we are exposed to executive level, right? We work with our CPR, right? And we see it and we present. And of course, the first challenge is like you have like researchers that are very young that are maybe starting their career and they need to be put in front of that. That stakeholder and it’s like, don’t forget that we are like humans to humans, right? Humans to humans. Like how would you like to consume these? Like think of a person that has like 20 minutes to discuss. What is the best thing? Like if I ask you, what is the thing that you want them to take out of the conversation with you? They cannot take out everything, right? What is the key thing that you want to communicate? Focus on that and tell a story about that. And the details are to be consumed later, right? But you want to create that sensation that, wow, I want to know more, right? In a meeting like that. But if you are sitting with a designer, of course, I expect another level of detail. So use that, you know, like that, like that you navigate that complexity, like talking with people in different markets, in different contexts, for different brands, even for competitor brands, to your favor.

Steve: Let’s switch topics here and maybe talk about your path, professional, educational. Like how did you find your way to user research and the role that you’re in now?

Vanessa: Well, being honest, it was a coincidence. My degree is in like political science and I did a master, like I have a master’s degree in like international relationships that of course, like looking back, that helped me a lot of navigating the politics in the role that I am today. But I started my career in communication, especially because like a lot of like political science and professionals end up in the private industry, more in the communication, PR and that area. So I started in the communication, but digital. So imagine like how long ago and I was like managing social media and communication. Later, I jump into advertising and I ended up being a CRM manager, right? A retention marketing manager. That was my first, my first experience, you know, working very, very close with users, because what we do, even from the marketing perspective, in order to understand retention is a lot of market research, but also a lot of like data analysis to understand how to increase that retention. But without the why’s and without understanding those motivations and like being able to connect from an emotional perspective with the users, that is not possible, right? At least in my experience.

So like working as a CRM manager, I had the opportunity. In that moment, I was in Medellin working in Uruguay. And in that moment, my manager that was the CPO asked me to take the ownership of the new customer experience project. So in that moment, we were like redoing all the NPS survey and was the big bet from like delivery here or the organization to approach the customer experience. Yes, challenges. So I took the ownership and I did my homework. I studied by myself. I learned from others. I connected a lot. I learned from the people that was guiding or like defining how we were going to approach this topic from central. I am very curious and I really like to recognize the talent of other of the rest of the people that I work with. So I am always in constant learning. But what was important for my manager is like my management skills, right? I was trusted to like bring this topic from zero to one. That’s all, right? I need somebody that delivers. And in that way, I was able to be exposed to this project. Of course, it was great. It generated a lot of interest. We did a lot of interviews. We travel around all South America. We later did validation surveys. We mapped the journeys. We came together with like all the areas in the organization and define a shared roadmap and like change the conversation to customer problem, right? And a lot of these things started to happen. That way, I ended up like leading the research team.

And I have like very talented researchers at that time, people with a lot of experience. So it was challenging for me because of course, I had the management skills and like that trust, of being able to drive topics forward. But at the same time, I was definitely not a lot of experience in research. But what I did at that point was learning and letting people do their thing, right? And me focusing maybe on challenging the impact and the outcome and like, you know, other things. And in that process, I learned and learned. And like I took a couple of like trainings and courses to keep learning and to keep, you know, like understanding how to move my career. And even if I am a research manager, I think that I am definitely a manager, you know, is like I think that my strengths are like leading teams and helping them succeed. But also being able to create very good relationships with my peers and with the management and being reliable and accountable. So yes, it was by coincidence, but now I am very passionate about research in general.

Steve: You’ve lived and worked in a number of different places as well. What is that like to sort of move from different parts of the world? And sometimes within the same organization, sometimes not, but yeah, what’s that experience been for you?

Vanessa: Great, and I think that again, like you see when somebody tells you, I don’t worry that everything is going to connect in some point of your life. It doesn’t matter if you study this or this or that. Everything will make sense. I feel that I am professional in that moment in my life in which everything makes sense. Being able to move from country to country to city to city, even in Colombia, because I live in four or five different cities inside Colombia. And Colombia is a very big, diverse country. So that, you know, like challenge you in terms of like your own bias of like how you interact with people, how you learn, how you create relationships from scratch. Sometimes how you learn and adapt to different realities, different ways of speaking, different languages, different ways of connecting with people, right? Like making friends, dating, everything.

So that really like, you know, developed my flexibility, but also adaptability muscle, but also helped me to become a very good listener and observer because I needed to adapt to different contexts in multiple moments in my life. So that required for me like the sensation of starting from scratch so many times. But I love it. I enjoy it. It’s like what make me so what I am, of course, but also have gave me the opportunity to meet such like many diverse, super interesting people around. Even now, what I love about working in Delivery Hero is this diversity context in which I work. It’s like even sitting today, we were talking about now with the EuroCopa that is happening. We were talking about the match and the game yesterday and talking about like why something’s happening in some ways with the different people from different countries and all these diversity so rich that I think that at the end, it helped me to become what I am today.

Steve: Some of the episodes of this podcast that I’ve been doing this year have been going back to people who had been guests on the podcast, I think sometimes nine years earlier, five years earlier. So just to flip it the other way, if you and I were to do a catch-up episode five years from now, let’s say, do you have any speculation as to what would be top of mind for you then? What might we talk about in five years?

Vanessa: Interesting, you know, I’m in a moment of my life that I am taking one day at a time because some personal reasons, but I have been asking myself the same question because sometimes I even feel that, you know, like maybe in five years I want to be in a house next to the beach with a very big library at my disposal, maybe working a couple of things out, but having a cafe and a place for people to stay next to a very remote beach. And maybe this is where I see myself. I don’t know if in five years, but sometimes I think that, yes, maybe I will be in a completely different place and not working more in research, but today I’m very happy. I’m thinking about maybe my development in this area. I am very curious how, and I think that researchers are, we are more prepared to expand our role across UX. And I think that with the time blending all these roles is going to be something that is important for us to operate in all the complexities that the world is going to bring us or the problems that we will need to solve in some moment. It’s not about being a good designer, a good content creator, a good researcher, but it’s actually how we really can connect all these things that we are great at and work even closer together. So my curiosity is more how I can expand my knowledge and maybe expand in terms of like how this looks like more from the UX perspective and not only research.

Steve: Anything that I didn’t ask you about that you want to make sure we cover?

Vanessa: Just one small message, if it is okay. I keep hearing people like a little bit concerned, especially about the state, like where UX has been suffering with all these changes in the organizations and the focus. But for some of us that has been like in the industry for longer, this is not the first time. So I think that it’s important that we keep the positivism going on. I think that we are in a completely different place that we were like 10 years, 15 years, even five years ago, right? As a craft, as a community, we feel more connected. We are learning more. We are like even now have, you know, like events even dedicated only to research that was not even happening five years ago. I think that things are changing for good. My invitation is for everybody to keep up with the positive vibe. I think that, you know, it’s like a light at the end of the tunnel. I’m like we are stronger than ever and relying on the community for, yes, for these difficult times, if any.

Steve: That’s a great message to take us out, so thank you so much Vanessa for a really great conversation. It was great to chat with you.

Vanessa: No, thank you for the invitation and honor and like yes, thank you.

Steve: There ya go, whaddya know, that’s the show! Find Dollars to Donuts wherever you get podcasts, and at Portigal dot com slash podcast for all of the episodes with show notes and transcripts. I would love love love for you to rate and review Dollars to Donuts on Apple Podcasts. Our theme music is by Bruce Todd.


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