61 minutes | Mar 24, 2019

17. Tomer Sharon of Goldman Sachs

In this episode of Dollars to Donuts, I talk with Tomer Sharon, the Head of User Research and Metrics at Goldman Sachs. We talk about how to assess potential hires for user research positions, infrastructure for capturing and searching a body of data, and developing a practice inside a willing, yet large, organization. Some parts of kind of pure research are creative. Probably the biggest one is translating a set of questions that a team has into okay, what are we going to do to get answers? If it was that easy to come up with an answer to that, then anybody could do that well. That’s not the case. A lot of people are having a lot of trouble with that part. So, I think that’s a creative part. You’re not going to see a beautiful painting coming out of that, but it is creative. – Tomer Sharon Show Links Tomer on LinkedIn Tomer on Twitter Goldman Sachs WeWork It’s OUR Research on Twitter It’s OUR Research on Amazon Validating Product Ideas Through Lean User Research Goldman Sachs Private Wealth Management Marcus by Goldman Sachs UserZoom UserTesting OKRs ResearchOps Democratizing UX (and Polaris) Masters In Human Factors at Bentley Adam Neumann, WeWork CEO Key Experience Indicators: How to decide what to measure? (Medium) Google’s HEART Framework for Measuring UX Face of Finance NYC 2019 User Research London 2019 Follow Dollars to Donuts on Twitter and help other listeners find the podcast by leaving a review on iTunes. Transcript Steve Portigal: Greetings, humans! Thanks for listening to Dollars to Donuts, the podcast where I talk to people who lead user research in their organization. Over the past while I’ve been putting together a household emergency kit. It’s primarily shopping exercise, and I’ve ordered a hand crank and solar powered radio, a replacement for matches, latex gloves, bandages, and air filter masks (which we made use of during a period of dangerously poor air quality recently). The last step was getting some food that will last – cans of soup and stew, crackers, single-serve breakfast cereals. There’s something satisfying about acquiring a bunch of stuff and storing it away, somewhat organized. And that led to a stray thought that I noticed – “Oh, I can’t wait to use all this great stuff!” And then I realized how crazy that sounded. I don’t want to use it! I don’t want there to be some emergency that is bad enough that I’m drinking the emergency water stored in the garage and eating canned stew, also stored in the garage. I mean, yes, we’ll eat or donate the food before it expires and replace it, but it’s a whole set of preparations that I hope I’ll not use, which leaves me with the hope for no shopping gratification, kind of a confusing way to feel. But it did remind of the recent workshop I led with researchers in Sydney, Australia. We looked at a lot of the user research war stories I’ve been collecting, like those published in Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries, and we pulled out lessons and best practices. There was – as there always is – a lot of discussion about safety and preparation. It seemed to me that people who worked in organizations with established safety cultures already had a strong baseline of safety procedures for user research and fieldwork, like texting a contact before and after a session, not going out alone, and so on. Their work cultures were strong on processes, especially for safety, so thinking about this for research was obvious. But not everyone works in that kind of environment, and plenty of researchers work for themselves, without that corporate structure to support them in creating best practices for safety. Anyway it led to a lot of discussion beyond just safety about running through possibilities ahead of time so that when any situation comes up it’s not a surprise and there’s at least a starting point already established about how to respond. I think this is a great idea, but I think we have to acknowledge the limitations – you can’t plan for every possible situation, there are always going to be things that come up that you probably haven’t ever considered. I think that some planning for the unexpected will help you to adapt in the moment to surprises, but that’s different than the false comfort of assuming you have every contingency planned for. I hope I never have to make use of our large cache of sterile latex gloves, but maybe just having acquired them I’m in a slightly better situation for some other unexpected situation? You can help me continue to produce this podcast for you. I run my own small business, and you can hire me! I lead in-depth user research that helps drive product and strategy decisions, that helps drive internal change. I provide guidance to teams while they are learning about their customers, and I deliver training that teaches people how to be better at user research and analysis. You can buy either of my two books – the classic Interviewing Users and Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries, a book of stories from other researchers about the kinds of things that happen when they go out into the field. You can also review this podcast on iTunes and review the books on Amazon. With your support, I can keep doing this podcast for you. All right! Time for my interview with Tomer. Tomer Sharon is the Head of User Research and Metrics at Goldman Sachs. He’s worked at Google and WeWork, and written two books – It’s Our Research, and Validating Product Ideas Through Lean User Research. Thanks for being on the podcast. It’s great to have you here – virtually here in audio space that we’re all sharing. Why don’t you start off – just do a little introduction. Who are you? Where do you work? What are you doing? Tomer Sharon: Okay. Thank you for having me, first. My name is Tomer Sharon. I am currently Head of User Research and Metrics at Goldman Sachs. I do have a second day job. I’m also heading a design group for a product called PWM (Private Wealth Management). Yeah, this is where I’m at in the past – well, almost a year. Steve: Alright. So, what is Goldman Sachs? Tomer: Goldman Sachs is, I would say, an investment bank. Probably one of the more important banks in the world. Big corporate. Definitely not one you would associated with design and research, at least not that type of research. But they are changing and they’re celebrating 150 years this year and they’re moving towards what’s called outside digital transformation and that includes learning more from their audiences and investing a lot more in design. Steve: What’s the relationship between the existence of your role and this larger shift that’s going on? Tomer: I think there’s a strong relationship. They have been realizing that they can’t just be living in their own box and they have to open up and try and understand audiences that they’re engaged with already and new audiences. I’ll give an example. Goldman has a commercial bank that’s called Marcus. It’s been around for a couple of years, but still these are consumers that Goldman is now trying to attract. So, it’s definitely not the kind of typical audience that they’re used to. So, they understand that they need to open up, learn from them, and design for them and with them, and that is a shift that has been happening in the past few years. And my role – I didn’t replace anyone. I’m the first one. – is a part of that shift. Steve: Is there any sort of one point or one incident, or key moment, I guess, which sort of marks that transition in a company like Goldman to say yeah, we’ve been doing it this way, we need to do it this way. Tomer: I think it happened – I don’t know if there was one event, but I think it happened in the past maybe two years. The user experience team there was very small and then suddenly they decided that it’s time to invest more in that. And from zero it went to several dozens, many dozens, within a year. And the more people do their work, show their work, share their work, and their work is very successful, the more teams and leaders talk about that and then it’s like a cycle that feeds itself and then it grows and grows. So, that’s been happening a lot in the past few years. Steve: And do you have a perspective on – this awareness that you’re describing at Goldman seems to align with what I’ve heard and observed in financial services in general. That it’s an industry that maybe wasn’t seen as paying attention to consumers, users, design, and over the past number of years. Tomer: Yeah. I will admit, this is my first financial services job. So, I’m not really familiar with that world other than Goldman. But, so I hear. I don’t really know from first experience. Steve: But I’m inferring – correct me if I’m wrong – I’m inferring that that also is not a conversation that you’re having inside Goldman? Tomer: No. It’s very, I would say, kind of practical and tactical. We’re not talking about the concept of having me and people like me there. We’re just focusing on doing the work that we know how to do, we’ve been doing for many years, and just bringing that insight and understanding of that world to an organization that wasn’t aware of that previously. Steve: That world is the process and tools of learning about people? Tomer: Um, yeah. I would say process, tools, people. They’re used to hiring different people. I saw that in Google at the time. I saw that at WeWork at the time where even formally you don’t have in the – I don’t know HR systems – you don’t have names for roles for what we do, for who we are. I can’t remember the names, but we were engineers or UI engineers, or things like that. Until you get recognized, and I experienced that at Google
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