47 minutes | May 22, 2019

19. Leisa Reichelt of Atlassian (Part 1)

This episode of Dollars to Donuts features part 1 of my two-part conversation with Leisa Reichelt of Atlassian. We talk about educating the organization to do user research better, the limitations of horizontal products, and the tension between “good” and “bad” research. If you’re working on a product that has got some more foundational issues that need to be addressed, but the vast majority of the work is happening at that very detailed feature level, how are you going to ever going to stop kind of circling the drain? You get stuck in this kind of local maxima. How are you ever going to take that big substantial step to really move your product forward if it’s nobody’s job, nobody’s priority, to do that? – Leisa Reichelt Show Links Fundamentals of Interviewing Users (SF) The Art of Noticing, by Rob Walker The Art of Noticing newsletter Objectified Did you see that? Tapping into your super-noticing power Leisa on LinkedIn Leisa on Twitter Atlassian Jira Confluence Trello Quantifying Qualitative Research – Mind the Product Gerry McGovern’s Top Tasks What is Jobs to be Done (JTBD)? Build Measure Learn Follow Dollars to Donuts on Twitter and help other people discover the podcast by leaving a review on iTunes. Transcript Steve Portigal: Howdy, and here we are with another episode of Dollars to Donuts, the podcast where I talk to the people who are leading user research in their organization. I just taught a public workshop in New York City about user research, organized by Rosenfeld Media. But don’t despair – this workshop, Fundamentals of Interviewing Users is also happening September 13th in San Francisco. I’ll put the link in the show notes. Send your team! Recommend this workshop to your friends! If you aren’t in San Francisco, or you can’t make it September 13th, you can hire me to come into your organization and lead a training workshop. Recently I’ve taught classes for companies in New York City, and coming up will be San Diego, as well as the Midwest, and Texas. I’d love to talk with you about coming into your company and teaching people about research. As always, a reminder that supporting me in my business is a way to support this podcast and ensure that I can keep making new episodes. If you have feedback about the podcast, I’d love to hear from you at DONUTS AT PORTIGAL DOT COM or on Twitter at Dollars To Donuts, that’s d o l l R s T O D o n u t s. I was pretty excited this week to receive a new book in the mail. It’s called The Art of Noticing, by Rob Walker, whose name you may recognize from his books, or New York Times columns, or his appearance in Gary Hustwit’s documentary “Objectified.” I’ve only just started the book but I am eager to read it, which is not something I say that often about a book of non-fiction. The book is structured around 131 different exercises to practice noticing. Each page has really great pull-quotes and the exercises seem to come from a bunch of interesting sources like people who focus on creativity or art or storytelling. Rob also publishes a great newsletter with lots of additional tips and examples around noticing, and I’ve even sent him a few references that he’s included. I’ll put all this info in the notes for this episode. This topic takes me back to a workshop I ran a few years ago at one of the first user research conferences I ever attended, called About, With and For. The workshop is about noticing and II wonder if it’s time to revisit that workshop, and I can look to Rob’s book as a new resource. Well, let’s get to the episode. I had a fascinating and in-depth conversation with Leisa Reichelt. She is the Head of Research and Insights at Atlassian in Sydney Australia. Our interview went on for a long time and I’m going to break it up into two parts. So, let’s get to part one here. Thank you very much for being here. Leisa Reichelt: Thank you for inviting me. Steve: Let’s start with maybe some background introduction. Who are you? What do you do? Maybe a little bit of how we got here – by we, I mean you. Leisa: I am the Head of Research and Insights at Atlassian. Probably best known for creating software such as Jira and Confluence. Basically, tools that people use to make software. And then we also have Trello in our stable as well. So, there are a bunch of tools that are used by people who don’t make software as well. A whole bunch of stuff. Steve: It seems like Jira and Confluence, if you’re any kind of software developer, those are just words you’re using, and terms from within those tools. It’s just part of the vocabulary. Leisa: Yeah. Steve: But if you’re outside, you maybe have never heard those words before? Leisa: Exactly. Atlassian is quite a famous company in Australia because it’s kind of big and successful. But I think if you did a poll across Australia to find out who knew what Atlassian actually does, the brand awareness is high. The knowledge of what the company does is pretty low, unless you’re a software developer or a sort of project manager of software teams in which case you probably have heard of or used or have an opinion about Jira and probably Confluence as well. Steve: And then Trello is used by people that aren’t necessarily software makers. Leisa: Correct. A bunch of people do use it for making software as well, but it’s also used for people running – like in businesses, running non-technical projects and then a huge number of people just use it kind of personally – planning holidays, or weddings. I plan my kids weekends of Trello sometimes and I know I’m not alone. So, yeah it’s a real – it’s a very what we call a horizontal product. Steve: A horizontal product can go into a lot of different industries. Leisa: Exactly, exactly. I’m very skeptical about that term, by the way. Steve: Horizontal? Yeah. Leisa: Or the fact that it won’t necessarily be a good thing, but that’s another topic probably. Steve: So, I can’t follow-up on that? Leisa: Well, yeah, you can. Well, the problem with horizontal products, I think, is that they only do a certain amount for everybody and then people reach a point where they really want to be able to do more. And if your product is too horizontal then they will graduate to other products. And that gives you interesting business model challenges, I think. So, you have to be continually kind of seeking new people who only want to use your product up to a certain point in order to maintain your marketplace really. Steve: When I think about my own small business and just any research I’ve done in small and just under medium sized businesses where everything is in Excel, sort of historically, where Excel is the – there may be a product, Cloud-based or otherwise, to do a thing. That someone has built kind of a custom Excel tool to do it. So, is Excel a horizontal product that way? Leisa: I think so, yeah. In fact, I was talking to someone about this yesterday. I think that for a lot of people the first protocol for everything is a spreadsheet. They try to do everything that they can possibly do in a spreadsheet. And then there are some people who are like the, “ooh, new shiny tool. Let’s always try to find an application for a new shiny tool.” I think actually the vast majority of people take the first tool that they knew that had some kind of flexibility in it. So, if you can’t do it in Word or Excel – people will compromise a lot to be able to do things in tools that they have great familiarity with. Steve: Yeah. But from the maker point of view you’re saying that a risk in the horizontalness, the lack of specificity, creates kind of a marketplace for the maker of the tool? Leisa: Can do. I think for it to be successful you just have to be at such a huge scale to be able to always meet the needs of enough people. But I think things like Excel and Word and Trello, for example, they’ll always do some things for some people. Like just ‘cuz you moved to a more kind of sophisticated tool doesn’t mean that you completely abandon the old tool. You probably still use it for a bunch of things. Steve: So, your title is Head of Research and Insights? Leisa: Correct. Steve: So, what’s the difference between research and insights? Leisa: Yeah, good question. I didn’t make up my own title. I kind of inherited it. If I remember correctly, the way that it came about was that when I came into my role it was a new combination of people in the team in that we were bringing together the people who had been doing design research in the organization and the voice of the customer team who were effectively running the MPS. And I think because we were putting the two of them together it sounded weird to say research and voice of the customer. So, they went with research and insights instead. And, honestly, I haven’t spent any time really thinking about whether that was a good title or not. I’ve got other problems on my mind that are probably more pressing, so I’ve just kind of left it. If you want to get into it, I think research is the act of going out and gathering the data and pulling it altogether to make sense and insights. So, hopefully the sense that you get from it and we do try to do both of those things in my team, so I think it’s a reasonably accurate description. Steve: How long have you been in this role? Leisa: It’s about 18 months now. Steve: If you look back on 18 months what are the notable things? For the experience of people inside the organization what has changed ins? Leisa: Quite a few things. The shape and make up of the team has changed quite a lot. We’re bigger and differently composed to what we were previously. When I first came in it was literally made up o
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