December 2, 2020

How Product Teams at Zapier Turn Objectives Into Insights: MURAL Imagine Recap

Nicole Smith

Senior Marketing Programs Manager @ MURAL. Previously @ Salesforce. Passionate about strategic integrated marketing programs, advocacy marketing, community building, and rescue dogs.

Remote product management at Zapier

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

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

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

💡 Richard Enlow, Senior Product Manager | Zapier

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

Making business objectives human

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

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

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

Learning goals: What do we need to know?

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

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

Business objectives and learning goals in MURAL

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

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

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

User interviews: Collecting the right data

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

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

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

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

Exercise 1: Capturing raw data

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

Raw data template in MURAL

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

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

Exercise 2: Affinity mapping

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

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

Affinity mapping in MURAL

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

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

Exercise 3: Insight creation

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

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

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

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

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

Get Zapier’s template

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

Get started from template