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Breaking Down Communication Barriers: Insights from the UXR Meetup

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Tina Ličková Tina Ličková
•  02.05.2024
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Meet Konstantin Escher, a psychologist and freelance user researcher, discussing his insights at the UXR Meetup by UXtweak with host Tina Ličková. He explores overcoming UX research challenges in companies, breaking down communication barriers, and the vital role of user researchers in aligning departments and achieving business objectives. This conversation offers strategies for dismantling organizational silos and a recap for those who missed the event.

Episode highlights

  • 00:01:09 Guest Introduction: Konstantin’s Journey in UX
  • 00:03:31 Breaking Silos in Companies: Main Discussion
  • 00:16:24 Impact of Silos in Small vs. Large Companies
  • 00:24:14 Preventing Misinterpretation of Research Findings
  • 00:32:49 Conclusion: Embracing the “Dark Side” of Research

About our guest Konstantin Escher

Konstantin Escher is a social and decision-making psychologist and works as UX Research Manager at AVIV in Berlin. Over the last nine years, Konstantin consulted global brands (adidas, trivago, OneFootball, bp) on customer-centricity and User Research principles and he believes that researchers are natural silo-breakers and connectors within large organisations.
In his free time, Konstantin enjoys photography, running, good coffee, gardening and playing with his two cats. His biggest personal goal for 2024 is running a sub-4 marathon.

You need to care first of all, otherwise you wouldn’t do it... Leaving your comfort zone is where we all need to go if we want to have an impact.

Konstantin Escher, Social and Decision-making Psychologist
Konstantin Escher, Social and Decision-making Psychologist

Podcast transcript

[00:00:00] Tina Ličková: 

Welcome to UX Research Geeks, where we geek out with researchers from all around the world on topics they are passionate about. I’m your host Tina Ličková, a researcher and a strategist, and this podcast is brought to you by UXtweak, an all-in-one UX research tool.

This is the final episode of the third season of UXR Geeks. And you are listening to me talking with Konstantin, a social and decision making psychologist and a researcher. In this episode, we’ll delve into Konstantin’s presentation from an event we organized in Berlin a few months ago on UX research challenges within companies.

Konstantin offers practical strategies for breaking down communication barriers and promotes a shared understanding across all departments. Discover with us how a user researcher can play a crucial role in advocating for business objectives and how to overcome organizational silos.

Konstantin, hello. Hey.

[00:01:09] Konstantin Escher: Thanks for having me.

[00:01:10] Tina Ličková: You were a guest speaker at an event from UXtweak. And as it was pretty successful, we want to somehow bring in a broader audience into the world. Before we do that, tell me something about yourself.

[00:01:27] Konstantin Escher: I’ve been working in the field of UX research for the last eight and a half years.

My initial background was psychology and very quickly before I graduated from my master’s, I got the chance to learn about what user research is and what usability means and all of this, it wasn’t really part of my education. Psychology studies in the first place, but it was literally last minute where I realized that this is a field that is just amazing and I fell in love and I’ve been working in very different industries since then I started in the automotive industry, I then got the chance to work in a sports media platform called one football, where I was the first researcher.

And over the years, I got the chance to grow this into a department for the last two and a half years, I’ve been working freelance. So working with different international clients of different sizes from small startups to global public companies. And there in my work, I got the chance to see how. The research is embedded in processes, how they collaborate with product, with design, with other departments outside, outside product.

And so that’s what I’m doing. I’m living in Potsdam, close to Berlin. And yeah, that’s me.

[00:02:38] Tina Ličková: And before we go to the topic, what would you say, what kind of business was your biggest passion?

[00:02:44] Konstantin Escher: Probably my biggest passion has been football, um, because that’s close to my heart. I’m a big football fan and growing a platform that is.

Exactly for these kinds of people to build something that football fans enjoy, where they get the information, where they, where we can feel their passion and where we can think about these emotional fans all the time. I think this has been good fun for, yeah, five and a half years. But then of course. I realized this is not all there is in the world.

And I think I have to move on and I need to get to know other industries. And they’re also fun. I like working in travel, working for different companies in the travel industry. I got the chance to work in e-commerce. All of this is fun, but probably the most passionate phase I had so far was in the field of football.

[00:03:31] Tina Ličková: Is there, because I, now I got curious because for football, for me, I’m from a hockey nation, so football is for me, like non understandable at all, or of course the principles, but is there anything surprising you could share about football fans?

[00:03:47] Konstantin Escher: So first of all, when you say you don’t understand football, I think many football fans don’t understand football either these days, but something surprising to share about football fans.

I think what’s interesting is how different the sport is consumed in different, different nations. You have, you have certain countries where football is part of the afternoon routine on every Saturday or Sunday, right? You watch the game live, but watching the game live requires you to sign up for us, quite some.

Expensive subscription models, especially here in Germany. If you want to watch every game, you’re. Going to pay up to 50, 60 euros a month. And in other countries, football is way more embedded into the every single day conversation and the identity and how you define yourself as a nation. Like reach much more than it is.

In, in average Germany. And when we traveled to Brazil to do a user interviews there, it was just so fascinating that football just never stops. It is always on. It is always there. You always talk about football 24 seven. And I think this is what is so crazy about the sport that it’s possible to engage an entire nation around what’s happening on the pitch.

[00:04:56] Tina Ličková: Good, now let’s jump into the topic. The talk was called how to push UX research in silo structured companies. But when I went through your presentation, I was really not surprised, but even pleased by the fact that you were looking for ways on how researchers. Could help with silos on de siloing. Let’s start maybe why did you choose this topic to put a spotlight on?

[00:05:22] Konstantin Escher: I think silos in companies can be one of the most frustrating things when you work in companies. I think. When I say communication silos exists, probably most of your listeners would have some kind of relation to that statement or some kind of experience being made that communication wasn’t flowing well, it’s hard to reach people.

It is difficult to align. Everything is so complicated. You have to go three steps up and five steps left in order to reach the person you want to reach in order to make decisions. So silos. It’s something everyone has some kind of opinion on and some kind of experience with and everyone’s suffering from.

But what I tried to talk through in my presentation was that a, they must happen. So silos, they have a positive side to them. They allow for specification. And if everyone cares about everything, it’s just impossible to be efficient and to specify on this is marketing, this is sales, this is my responsibility and this is your responsibility.

So as companies grow, it’s just very natural that disciplines evolve where specification sits. And that by default is already a silo because you care more about what’s happening within your department than what happens in the other departments. Next door. And that is already a silo because you have more information about something than someone else has.

And if this grows and if this continues, I think this is where the frustration then comes because you see certain downsides in, in, in crazy siloed structured companies, the communication gets less, less efficient, right? Everyone has a different understanding of. Of what should be common sense. For example, who are our users and who do we work for and what are our performance metrics?

And, and other things like, for example, you care more about the success about your own department than you care about the success of the entire company. If it’s, if you have no relation to the overall top line anymore, because it’s so siloed, this can also make a company less successful, people feel potentially more frustrated because they get nothing done.

So silos are. Just very painful, but impossible to avoid if you grow as an organization. And I want, what I wanted to show is that user researchers by nature have the. Or should have, if we do our job well, we, we have the skills and we have also the personality and the, just the work we do to break these silos in a way, because we can create common sense.

We can create a shared understanding of who our users are, who we work for, what we should do, what are the best ways to answer certain questions, what are standardized methodologies to start a new project, et cetera, et cetera. This is what I wanted to share with your audience in November is, Hey, we as researchers, we need to care about the business as a whole.

We shouldn’t play along the siloed structure and just care about what we believe is important to us, but rather understand the company as a whole, and then walk from door to door and try to break these silos by connecting people, by creating a common understanding of what we’re all doing here.

[00:08:29] Tina Ličková: I am thinking about my experiences in companies where I came across big silos and sometimes I felt I am, as a researcher, even more siloed.

[00:08:43] Konstantin Escher: Yeah. I think as Silo leads to limited communication, right? The people are misaligned about the goals. They have certain misunderstandings. They lack awareness simply because they focus on what’s closely around them. Not so much what’s happening outside their home department, their home product. If it’s even a bigger company that works on multiple products, also silos can lead to duplication of efforts, right?

You have inefficient use of your resources, of your time and your money It happens that this team is working on a very similar thing than that team. And they don’t even know about it. Then this misalignment also leads to strategic misalignment. So the prioritization of your own goals and your own objectives is of higher priority for you than the larger, broader company strategy priorities.

Because it’s just closer to what you’re observing. I want, I, as a sales unit want to be successful, potentially. That’s what I’m measured by. But maybe this could gets along or is competing against an overall company strategy that you’re currently looking at. Also accountability, right? The more people there are, the more cooks you have, the easier it is to just blame someone.

And other areas for their lack of involvement, or they are the cause of a problem that you’re facing. When it comes to research, I think silos lead to also a lack of a holistic customer understanding and potential data silos. So if all different verticals do their own thing, you have isolated information about customers and everyone understands.

them differently and works against maybe a very different, um, understanding of who our users are. And then I think all of that, if you sit in structures and organizations with large silos for quite long, it can also potentially decrease your employer engagement. So you have a competition culture. You don’t have competition.

A lot of successful cross collaborations, potentially you lack innovation simply because everything takes longer. Communication is so slow and that can frustrate people and they potentially end up leaving the company. And I really believe that towards all of these problems that come with silos, user research, if we do our job very well, we have an answer.

We can tackle all of them in a certain way. By connecting people, by streamlining efforts, by creating a strategic alignment on what our objectives and, and goals are as a company, what we’re working against, who our users are, and also pointing towards accountability. We know what we need to do in order to succeed, right?

We have written this down, we have researched it, and we have a clear understanding of what needs to happen in order to be successful. And then we can measure success. So, ideally. Research can contribute to closing silos if we, if this is how we understand our role.

[00:11:41] Tina Ličková: I can imagine researcher who as advocates for users or customers can point out a North start, which can then be some North start to everybody.

Right. And I think I tried in one company to be really of service to any kind of department exactly for the reason of not building more silos. But it’s also very energy draining, but I’m wondering if there needs to be a team to do it, and what would you be your advice on how to take positions, different roles in that team so the researchers can help to un silo the company?

[00:12:25] Konstantin Escher: So I think there are a couple of things in there. Research, first of all, in a large organization, typically. is sitting under one particular budget. Someone pays for this, right? Someone pays for research. It’s potentially the budget of the CPO or the VP product. Someone who says, I am growing a research team.

And that already limits the freedom for research to move in, uh, And if you as a researcher want to be successful in breaking silos, in moving horizontally across the organization, by connecting people, by understanding how things are connected, how we can de duplicate efforts, how we can streamline efforts, I think you need to have the freedom to move freely through the, through the organization.

It happens quite often is that. The budget owner of research, of course, doesn’t want to pay for research activities that happen outside his radar, outside his own goal or scope. And that by itself is creating a silo. You know, because we then as a researcher are locked within what we are brought in to do, which typically is very close to product and very close to design.

The experience that we’re trying to research doesn’t stop or start there. It can absolutely start with anything that happens in the app store on, in the, my, on the marketing side. What about these people? Do they get research support? Do we work with them as well? Are we allowed to move as further, as far out of the product scope as we need to, in order to actually create a holistic understanding of how users interact with our brands, how they move through every step of the journey, or are we limited to whatever product managers and product designers are working on?

So if you really want to free researchers from their chains, and I’m really speaking about larger organizations here. I’m not speaking about smaller startups because they are typically, this is not so much of an issue, but in larger organizations, the first step needs to be that researchers are off the leash and they can move freely.

They are able to talk with anyone who wants to engage with their service so that the awareness increases. The, there are tests, their use cases for what research can deliver to the table. It’s can you bring your knowledge back into the product team on how marketing is working, how sales is working, how all the other departments are working.

Right. And that will then inform also potentially some product decisions. But this is really the default. If you are locked into your silo, then how are you supposed to break them? And then to answer your question, it doesn’t really matter if it’s one researcher or two or three, that really depends on the size of the organization.

If it’s a small startup, I would assume there are no silo problems. I mean, I would be shocked if there were, but if you look beyond 150 people, this is where the magical threshold starts, where people are It’s too many people to have a direct connection with all of them, to really have an empathy for what everyone is doing, who everyone is.

150 people turns out to be that threshold number. Everything beyond is just, there are people that I’ve, I don’t know what they do. I don’t know what they work on. I don’t know potentially their name. And this is where it starts. So 150 is not too much, huh? I think, uh, A scale up company can easily reach that number after a couple of years.

And then a global corporation obviously has teams that are that size. So my, my talk was really for those who work in larger organizations. Um, yeah, eventually some of your listeners observe the same issues in their own companies with way fewer people, then it’s definitely time to act.

[00:16:24] Tina Ličková: I would support this because I experienced the silos in a lot, much smaller companies.

And I think we have also listeners who are working exactly in startups where it’s more person driven that somebody wants to have siloed kind of management and people. What I hear from business in smaller markets, it’s still happening because the company might not grow so much because the market size doesn’t allow it, but it’s still already mature in having stable departments, stable processes, which allow silos.

Yeah, I feel like what you’re saying and the need of acting is for the researchers already. In some cases before. And when we are talking about the acting, I really also loved what you’re pointing out in different parts of the process that are working in, and I do probably understand how do you as a researcher can help the silo in kickoffs when you are inviting people and become a facilitator and trying to summarize what you already know, what are the needs of the stakeholders from different department.

Where I would. like to hear more about it is the execution. I might have some ideas there, but I’m really curious.

[00:17:44] Konstantin Escher: So I was thinking about what are the relevant moments of any typical research project where we can try to de silo and I don’t think it happens during your own preparational phase. And I don’t think it happens during the analysis phase or the synthesis phase, but it can absolutely happen during the kickoff.

It can absolutely happen during the execution and it can absolutely happen during the reporting. So during the execution, that was your question. I think what you can try to do is work as public as possible as a researcher. So there is, there are ways to share your live session. There are ways to invite people to your live interviews, um, whether that’s In house or remote, both possible to just make as many people aware of what you’re doing and how your current interview is actually relevant for them.

So what you can imagine is to sell your current research activities or inform, maybe sell is a too strong word, but inform about your current research activities to the departments. And we had the example with marketing a few minutes ago. So for example, you are currently investigating the onboarding process.

For example. And the onboarding process is potentially not the first step in a journey. It is maybe the third step in a journey. Someone has heard about your product. Someone has decided to go into the app store and look for it. Someone has decided to download it. And then you open the app for the first time and then you’re in the onboarding.

In your product scope, the onboarding is the first thing people can do in their first session. But for other departments, it’s not. For the other departments is the end of their story because they made People go into the product, go into the store, download the product. They already did their job. And what you learn about people’s expectations, what you learn about, what people already know about the product when entering the onboarding for the very first time can be of massive interest for other departments.

So I’m not saying you are adapting your research project for them. Not necessarily, but you are informing that you’re running this and you are explaining why this can be valuable for them to join and watch. So zero added cost, zero added effort, but you need one or two people who fall in love with what you do.

Make them watch, make them observe that what you’re learning can be absolutely valuable also for their own work. And that’s all you need to do. Typically, that’s my experience.

[00:20:25] Tina Ličková: 

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[00:21:09] Konstantin Escher: I, Edmont Football, when I was the only and first researcher, I shared my, my, my interviews as they happened live with the entire company. So everyone got a link. Everyone could just tune in and watch. And I, there was not much I had to do to sell user research because people started having conversations.

All of a sudden the CFO joined a watch, started watching these interviews and they started discussing with some other department heads like, okay, easy for me. Right. There’s not much I have to do here to sell research. They get it already. They already memorize certain quotes from users. They already try to understand why certain people struggle here or there during usage, right?

So people want their stuff to work. People want to be successful. And I believe that it can simply be thinking a little outside the box. By inviting people that you already work for, not directly, but indirectly, make them watch what you do. And if you cannot do that, then share the recording, share the reports, debrief to them, right?

Even though they were never your client in this very moment. That can be super powerful. And then eventually they come back to you and they say, Hey, this is actually something we want to understand. How do they work on the onboarding in product? We want to learn more about it because this is who we hand our users to.

Right. From our side of the game, which is outside marketing, promotions, app store optimization, we hand them into the product. And so we need to hold hands. We need to speak together. And then if you do that, you broke a silo.

[00:22:53] Tina Ličková: Maybe, do you have some more ideas on how to do it? Because I am struggling with the idea, not only because GDPR, but because some kind of ethical aspects when sharing videos live, you know, Or streams is not possible.

So what are you doing in that cases?

[00:23:14] Konstantin Escher: What you can do is create highlight reels, snippets, quotes, make it make stuff more visual. Make the users speak in their own names. Don’t be the one who’s pushing. The user’s voice into the company, let the user speak for themselves. And that is absolutely possible also with GDPR.

Yes, you have to be careful on how long you keep the live recordings, what kind of personal information do you collect, but quite often that’s not even required. Right. So there are methods of telling a story that goes beyond. We did this, we did that, but rather the user has a pain. The user comes into the product with certain expectations that you make in the app store.

And you should be aware of that because that influenced the onboarding process. For at the end of the day, everything is storytelling and if you’re not able to pull people into the room while it happens, try to replicate the emotional state that people were in while watching the live interview afterwards.

[00:24:14] Tina Ličková: So what I am a little bit afraid of is that I had the experience of people rationalizing the outcomes of research. In a very biased way. So they puzzled it into how they understand and it didn’t bring them new stuff, it was just very, somehow they managed to verify with it. How do you make sure that this doesn’t happen?

[00:24:39] Konstantin Escher: So, first of all, in the defense of those who might overgeneralize research, or they might misread research due to the lack of experience with research, it’s fair enough, we all, we all start walking someday. And if you have no experience with research, then of course you need a little more guidance on how to read the data or how to interpret the results.

Generally speaking. And I think this is where we are entering the game of reporting and documenting and archiving. I think the quality that I’m observing, unfortunately, is rather low because it’s, I’ve talked to, I’ve been talking to many researchers who don’t even see the point of writing stuff down because what they’re working on is so tactical and so small that Just a single change in Figma is all it requires.

So they don’t bother or they don’t understand why should I even write a report about the research I’ve been doing, but I think what they’re overlooking is clustering over time about a particular topic that you have. You kept investigating. So the reports, if you don’t believe in the value of them, They tend to be quite sloppy.

They are written in a way that only those who were very close to the project would ever understand them. They don’t connect to any KPI. They don’t connect to any EPIC theme initiative. What are we even doing here? Why have we initiated this research in the first place? Why was now the right time to investigate this particular question?

Introducing your research to an audience that wasn’t sitting with you while you were planning it. And when I, as a freelancer in particular, I’m entering and joining companies and I’m reading through the state of research, very often I struggle understanding what has been done and why it has been done.

Um, because it wasn’t written for me. It was written for the closest stakeholders. It was written for the PM. It was for the PD. It was written for the. closest people who needed to understand what has happened. But I think if we zoom out a little bit, if we try to write reports in a way that they connect to the higher goals, like in spring 2023, the company’s highest priority has been this and that.

That’s why we as a product team initiated this investigation in order to understand this and that. And. This is the link to the JIRA. This is the link to the Confluence. This is where you can read more about these OKRs and this overall top line goals that we had that time. And this is why we did this research right now.

And this is how we did it. This is the link to Figma. This is the link to Miro. This is the link to Google Docs, whatever you need, right? So if you care so much about what we have done, go here. But quite often, all of that is missing, unfortunately. Instead, we tested this prototype. This is what we found. But if this is the way you report, how are you supposed to excite and engage people?

Especially if you keep investigating the same kind of topic. For example, we stick to this example now, but let’s say the onboarding process. I’ve done one study, two study, three studies, four studies. After a quarter, I could summarize everything we learned about how people onboard into our product. Into our service, this goes now beyond a single study.

This is everything we so far has learned about the first session people do. And this is so valuable and this is inviting because it’s allowing people to connect the dots. It shows what research has contributed. To an overall understanding, and it is easy to read for those who don’t sit right next to you.

And that’s why whenever I try, whenever I write reports, I try to write them in a way that anyone who joins the company in six months would still be able to make sense of what I’m writing.

[00:28:26] Tina Ličková: I am, and I really don’t mean it in an arrogant way, but I’m kind of surprised that if you are telling me that some researchers are not leaning towards reporting on every single way because exactly you need to somehow bring it together after a certain time.

And I think the idea or the suggestion for kind of me to analyze this on what you have been doing through the time gives you even more and can also give you you as a researcher, the kind of role, like, Oh, let’s back to go back to the basic and to the bigger picture on how we are really doing. So thank you for emphasizing it.

Is there anything what comes to your mind? What would you say how researchers can help these silo companies? Is maybe one of the last advices.

[00:29:19] Konstantin Escher: I think we spoke a little bit about breaking chains and being empowered to To think horizontally across an organization. So blaming others, but ourselves as well.

So what can researchers do? What can researchers change in the way they think is also quite relevant in this question. So a silo is a comfort zone. And we as researchers quite often sit in our cozy product design space. This is where we feel very comfortable. We speak the language, we understand what we’re doing.

We can observe what’s happening over time. But if you leave this comfort zone. And move into more, maybe tougher and number driven areas of the business. When it comes to conversion rate, when it comes to retention rate, when it comes to customer acquisition costs, when it comes to churn, most of these KPIs are still in the world of product, but still they can potentially make people feel uncomfortable already.

And I’m not even speaking about the hard business numbers. Leaving your comfort zone so that you are able to anticipate what other people’s problems are and what they’re working against and how you can support them requires you to care. You need to care first of all, otherwise you wouldn’t do it. If you care about everything that happens outside your radar and outside your horizon, you will have to enter uncomfortable territory.

You will need to learn the language of business. You will need to learn the language of quant. You will need to try to understand how marketing works. What is the difference between performance marketing and brand marketing? For example, why do you do one? Why do you do the other? And when? You need to understand that because otherwise you wouldn’t be able to help People who address you with their concerns, with their questions, with their uncertainties, which means you have this circle of concern that you need to increase and extend.

And well, I’m willing to look beyond my comfortable product and design horizon and say, in order to really break silos, I need to fully understand what the other departments are doing, how they work and how this is all connected to a bigger picture. But this needs to come from you. As an individual researcher and everything, I think this is one of the challenges is that the world outside is very quant and that’s why I think it’s absolutely worth investing for those who come from a qualitative background more than a quant research background.

I think sooner or later, it’s very important to be able to analyze. Data or start building good surveys, but then also in the second step, analyze data, not be scared of numbers so that you are able to read your quarterly reports of your company. For example, if you’re in a public, working in a public company, they’re public.

They’re accessible. You can read them, you know, where your company stands and you know, if your company struggles and this will certainly shape the way you think about your own work and what you can contribute to the organization, but it is cold territory. It is dark and weird and scary, but this is where we all need to go if we want to have an impact.

[00:32:49] Tina Ličková: So we will end with come to the dark side, quote,

[00:32:53] Konstantin Escher: the dark side of the moon. Yeah, let’s go there. Let’s all go there.

[00:32:58] Tina Ličková: Thank you very much. Very beautifully structured talk and thank you for sharing your wisdom. It was great pleasure.

[00:33:06] Konstantin Escher: My great pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.

[00:33:13] Tina Ličková: 

Thank you for listening to UX Research Geeks. If you liked this episode, don’t forget to share it with your friends, leave a review on your favorite podcast platform, and subscribe to stay updated when a new episode comes out. 

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