UX Researcher | Founder of Learn UX Seattle | Dive Bar Karaoke Star
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Impinj

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Enterprise UX Research: Lead and Align

 
 

Changing the way a global RFID industry leader thinks about UX Research by:

  1. building a UX Research program that aligns to core company strategy;

  2. planning, performing, and presenting UX Research; and

  3. championing agency and buy-in for UX Research at an enterprise level.


I - Background
II - Approach
III - Research Methodology
IV - Journey Map
V - Insights
VI - Next Steps
VII - Conclusion


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Background

how it all started…

Impinj is a leading provider of RAIN RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) solutions with a platform that consists of both hardware and software. Their current systems management software layer, ItemSense, was developed without a UX team, so Impinj wanted to assure that UX was considered and built into the next iteration of their ItemSense RFID management software.

Our very small UX team of two (a UX Designer, and me) was to take on the task of performing both generative and evaluative research for this next iteration of software. While I was Research Lead for this project, I helped with UX Design where I could and my Designer helped with Research where she could. We were a very dynamic UX team of two taking on a software overhaul for a global RFID enterprise.

impinj at a glance

  • founded in 2000, went public in 2016, 300+ employees worldwide

  • over 25 billion items connected through RAIN RFID

  • partners in over 60 countries

 
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Approach

Scoping

I came into the company knowing that I’d be doing three things with regards to UX Research and Strategy, I would be:

  1. building a UX Research program that aligns to core company strategy;

  2. planning, performing, and presenting UX Research; and

  3. championing agency and buy-in for UX Research at an enterprise level.

I knew I had to create alignment between the research we wanted to do and the existing product strategy. With that, I started by scoping all my initial projects to foundational align with the existing core ItemSense v2 strategy. The three tenants to v2 of the software as laid out by our President of Product were:

  1. Drive market adoption

  2. Increase revenue growth

  3. Promote profit margins

With these base strategic drivers, I was ready to move forward with discovery and figure out what key questions needed to be answered with UX Research.

Subject Matter Expert interviews

I scheduled rapid 20-minute interviews with in-house users of the ItemSense Suite. This helped me quickly get an idea of who the users were, how they used it, what their pain points are, and a bit into their routine surrounding the software. Most importantly, I was also learning about the software and the holistic Impinj RFID ecosystem surrounding the software.

Stakeholder Kickoff Workshop

I gathered stakeholders across Product, Engineering, and UX to kickoff and discern common thoughts and concerns through an Ideation Workshop.

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The main goal of this session was to 1) introduce the key stakeholders to Design Thinking Ideation and how it applies to our project, and 2) get as many ideas, thoughts, and questions out in the open to find patterns and clusters that would form the basis for my research.

workshop foundational questions

Upon concluding the workshop, I synthesized the data into three foundational questions that would scope our ItemSense v2 discovery research. Our three driving questions were:

How might we make RFID more easily approachable and adoptable?

Who are our partners, why are they using RFID, and what are their needs for ItemSense?

What are some primary use cases for RFID.

Upon presenting the results and verifying these initial discovery questions were properly supplementing what Impinj has already set in motion with ItemSense v2, our UX team moved forward with research around these three questions.

 
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Research Methodology

observing the users

The very first thing I wanted to do was to develop a deep understanding of our users in relation to the software and the bigger Impinj platform. We did this by attending an Impinj Platform training sessions and observing users of varying proficiency interacting with our software. We would take notes and ask clarifying questions where we could.

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After analyzing data from observation, I then scheduled follow-up 60-minute 1:1 interviews with stakeholders and users within the software ecosystem. The purpose behind this first round of interviews was to start piecing a full story of users within this ItemSense ecosystem to tie together the who what when why where how of it all.

System Usability Scale (SUS)

I wanted to get a quantitative baseline regarding attitudes towards the software, so I created a System Usability Scale (SUS) to quickly measure the usability of ItemSense in its current state. The SUS was the perfect method in this situation as I was the only UX Researcher in the company and this would provide me with a very cost- and time-efficient way of getting a usability baseline. The questions in my SUS were:

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I did this for three reasons:

1) I wanted to validate that the current version of the software wasn’t so unusable that we’d need to address it before continuing

2) I wanted to quantify some of the key qualitative data around the current software so it would be easily translatable to those unfamiliar qualitative research methods (e.g. departments using mass-scale quantitative surveys as their principle research method)

3) I wanted to track the SUS of our designs as we iterated on them and use those numbers as another set of data points in the research

The SUS came back with a well-above average score (i.e. passing), so I was confident moving forward with my research plan.

Data-driven, Role-based personas

This software was tricky as it had a wide array of users each with their unique needs for. There were specialist roles that had different needs than casual users, so I built personas around the types of roles in the ItemSense ecosystem. I decided to create data-drive, role-based personas from the data I gathered during my various 1:1 interviews and surveys.

In total, I developed five key roles within the greater ItemSense ecosystem.

While these personas provided a good starting point when thinking about the various types of users of our software (and the Impinj RFID ecosystem), there was still an IT Persona that was a mystery to a lot of the SMEs that I interviewed. This Senior IT Professional user was very important as they were the ones who typically managed the system from the client/user end, yet this was a realm I knew nothing about. I decided to try a little mixed-method experimental research with our VP of IT.

co-design with an expert

I had to plan a series of interviews with Senior IT professionals, yet the project did not allow enough time for me to properly educate myself on the RFID IT Professional. I decided to combine research methods that would both allow me to learn about the IT professional from an expert, as well as write an accurate and peer-reviewed script. Here’s how it went:

  1. Typed out every question think of by myself regarding the script for the Senior IT professional interview,

  2. Cut out each individual question into strips and shook them all up in a bag, then

  3. Pulled in our VP of IT to pick out a question and had him sort it by good question, bad question, or don’t understand.

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Our VP of IT was absolutely thrilled to co-design with me! Not only did I learned a lot about the IT user during that time, I also had a fantastic, peer-reviewed interview script from it. I was now ready to continue down this path and start interviews in with Senior IT professionals.

*side note: For all of you UX Researchers reading this I highly recommend you try this. Studies show that anytime you get people actively involved in the process through co-design, they will always be more excited for any subsequent presentation as they feel like they were part of the process.

troubles in the it department

I ran into a major problem at this point as there were some things happening within the company that made it near impossible for me to find my specific IT users. I was looking for Senior IT professionals who had experience in RFID hardware and software, preferably in an enterprise setting.

My workaround for this was to talk to look for a 99% similar user for what I had originally wanted. For this I now looked for Senior IT professionals who had experience who still had relevant hardware and software in an enterprise environment, just without the RFID specialization.

This ended up working very well as I was able find out through the interviews that most IT that manage these types of systems have the same responsibilities, pain-points, and needs. Upon completion of interview and analysis, I came up with the IT Subject Matter Expert (SME) Engagement Persona.

I made this with the intent of the entire company using it, so I made sure there was relevant content for everyone from Developers all the way to Marketing. As an example, the knowledge that this user places so much value on 99.9% infrastructure uptime tells Marketing and Solution Engineers that this is something they can address with regards to ItemSense to pique interest right away, and it can inform UX and Engineering that up-time is going to be a very important issue to track in v2.

JOURNEY MAP

I now had a lot of data. My next step was to take everything I had and create a complete journey map was the serve as a visual and chronological way to represent the culmination of this discovery research.

 
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Journey Map

staring at a blank canvas

When you have a lot of data like this, analysis paralysis can take over. I’ve found the best way to prevent this is to simply just start. I time-boxed myself a few days to fill an entire 9' by 20’ wall with stickies. I made sure to reserve a high-traffic glass-walled conference room so people could pop in and chat.

I wanted to portray a holistic image of ItemSense and how it affects other aspects of the Impinj Platform. By looking at ItemSense zoomed out , I could pin-point key areas of research interest that would have the largest company impact. This pin-pointed approach to research was crucial as the UX team consisted solely of me and another Designer.

the people spoke

Upon completing this, I digitized it, printed out 6-foot plotter prints, then hung a copy on each floor of Impinj. Alongside these prints was a brief description of what it was, along with a container of pens and markers to use for feedback and markup!

The response was overwhelming positive! There was an incredible amount of feedback that I was able to dive into, and the visibility generated a lot of buzz around the company and our UX team was getting more and more recognition and agency within the company.

Now we know

With all this new crowd-source data on top of the existing research data, I was able to synthesize all into both a stand-alone as well as an accompanied presentation of key insights unearthed during this discovery research.

 
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Insights

kEY INSIGHT #1

Customers don’t understand how the technology works and cannot tie RFID to a proper ROI.

 
It’s not magic...they think it’s going to be total magic...[the customer wants] real-time locating system for their whole company and all their different locations and it will hardly cost them anything.
— RFID Solutions Architect

Translating this insight specifically to ItemSense v2: the software needs to be as much of a robust and functional companion to our uses are it should be a teacher and mentor of the technology. The key cognitive psych principle at play here is using the software to help the user build and understand their own mastery, so they feel the joyful sense of achievement and personal pride which they will tie back to the Impinj software and to a greater degree, the Impinj brand.


kEY INSIGHT #2

Our Partners are excited about being the sole source of contact for support.

 
We’re the first level line of support...if a customer buys an Impinj product from me, when something goes wrong, they come to me. We want to be able to handle all that as much as we can for ourselves.
— Founder and CEO of Agriculture RFID Business

Translating this insight specifically to ItemSense v2: the software needs to have an extremely robust knowledge base/self-help system tied to it. Up-time is crucial to the success of the software and the various systems it manages, so we should empower our users to quickly and easily solve issues themselves. Alongside the time-saving aspect of building a robust knowledge base within the software, this also adds to helping our users quickly build their mastery and understanding of their software and RFID environment.


kEY INSIGHT #3

Inventory and asset management is the most dominant use-case in our Partner eco-system.

 
Every [RFID] project we’ve done has been a barcode conversion.
— RFID Solutions Engineer

Translating this insight specifically to ItemSense v2: there are many different verticals that Impinj operates in (e.g. medical, retail, inventory, logistics) so knowing what the dominant use case is, and the root of the most dominant use case helps us zero in on future research with regards to prioritizing function and feature testing to support needs from Product, Engineering, and Marketing.


key insight #4

There is a desire for overall facility visualization with system-health data incorporated.

 
Facility overview on a map...green, yellow, red....just mouse over a red to see what the problem was...that would be useful.
— Founder and CEO of RFID Tool Locker Company

Translating this insight specifically to ItemSense v2: facility visualization was the most-requested thing from v2 that came out of all of the research. This pointed our UX team to start brainstorming around facility visualization as a priority for further prototyping and testing.


kEY INSIGHT #5

Cost, not technology limitations, is still the biggest barrier our Partners face.

 
What usually kills a RFID project is cost, because they have unreal expectations of what a 50-cent tag can do.
— RFID Solution Architect

Translating this insight specifically to ItemSense v2: while this may seem obvious, this knowledge helps our customer service and sales reps have a more educated, informed conversation with our Partners and users. This also helped inform the internal conversations happening outside of UX with regards to pricing structure for the new iteration of software.


We went on to present, socialize, and disseminate our research findings throughout the company through various avenues.

I created and managed a UX Research database in our intranet, we as a team did in-house presentation as well as video presentations for the company, and we opened ourselves up to answer any questions anybody had about our research and UX in general. We called this our UX Tour.

Upon completing our presentation and collecting feedback, I took further action on these key insights by organizing a series of more specific, pointed interviews based on our insights. I wanted to narrow in on these findings to a point where we could start discussions and actions around an impactful features and functions that we could prototype for ItemSense v2.

 
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Next Steps

We now had a solid foundation of research to use as a basis for more narrowed, impactful UX initiatives. What follows are some of the UX narratives that were born from our foundational discovery research.

Prototyping and testing

The Designer and I worked concurrently on developing an evidence-driven prototype for our ‘dashboard’ facility visualization screens. I did more focused research on how we currently show status in ItemSense while she gathered examples of how other enterprise software manage facility visualization. Together we performed heuristic evaluations of both our current software as well as other enterprise software in context of dashboards and information visualization and layout.

We eventually created a set of screens which we tested with some of our interviewees from previous rounds of testing as well as new participants.

on-going usability testing

Impinj was hiring a lot of new personnel that would ultimately be using our new software. I took each new hire as an opportunity to get a fresh, unique perspective on our current software and had each of them run through a 1:1 interview with me as well as a moderated and recorded usability session with our current software.

I did this because I knew that while they were experts of RFID and I wanted to see how that expertise translated into their attitudes and behaviors towards our RFID management software that they had never used before.

On-going interviews

As our team learned more, we seemingly knew less, so we had to ask more. Makes perfect sense, right?

As I dug deeper into the foundation research, I started to find pockets of missing information. To complete the story, I conducted rapid, guerilla-esque 1:1 in-person interviews to quickly fill in the blanks.

E-mail surveys

As our little UX team grew more and more in stature and recognition, we were getting a lot of requests from other departments for UX support. Most of the requests for UX Research came in the form of helping create surveys for email campaigns.

While it all boiled down to me doing my job, it meant more to me in that I got to see others who had never heard of UX Research before take an interest in what I did. These were the first moments I truly realized UX Research was getting agency within Impinj and that people were starting to shift their mindsets towards UX. I would help by reviewing survey questions, coaching on writing survey questions, and explaining best practices and ux principles for survey campaigns.

This part of the job meant the most to me as my greatest passion in life is teaching and mentoring, and I got to do more and more of that as UX Research became better understood.

ItemSense North Stars

As an initiative to create more cohesion and alignment within UX, Product, and Engineering, I led an initiative to create a set of concise North Star Principles for ItemSense v2. The North Star Principles went through several iterations of feedback, and eventually we landed on the following as North Star Principles for ItemSense v2:

Impinj Journey Map v2

When I had time between research projects, I dove back into refining the massive journey map and incorporating the crowd-sourced feedback into a v2 of the map. Upon completion, I first held 1:1 feedback sessions with key stakeholders, then I re-vamped what I did with the first journey map and hung it up on each floor of our building with the same invitation for anyone who walked by to take a look a leave feedback.

The major changes from this version of the journey map and the first version were:

  • clearer visual representation of key roles and their involvement throughout the journey

  • more depth and transparency into the key questions that our UX team was working on

  • enhanced user flows to include multiple pathways

expanded persona-mapping

As more and more data poured in with regards to how we and our partners engage with our users, I started to see an opportunity to add a layer of depth to the personas as well as the journey maps by effectively zooming into a particular step in the journey map and visually showing how each role engages in context with each other.

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In this particular example, I am showing the various ways the already-known personas engage in context to both each other as well as during the very beginning step of the journey. In a holistic, company-wide context, this added layer of depth was meant to inform and help break down silos between departments. In more direct, software- and ux-related implications, this added layer helped us with another level of zoom and clarity in making decisions moving forward.

 
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Conclusion

This was a big UX Research project with a lot of moving parts, but in the end all of this comes down to leading and aligning.

leading

Our UX team of two had the monumental task of creating scalable enterprise software that would accommodate many types of highly-specialized users of varying proficiency. We led development and execution of UX initiative, we created and maintained a company-wide intranet UX Research and Design database; we championed UX for the company that was in their UX infancy; we found creative ways to manage our limited resources to get our work done; and most importantly, we mentored UX just as much as we did UX.

We were their first exposure to the concepts and practices of UX. While pioneering UX at had a lot of challenges, our greatest success was getting solid agency for UX at Impinj and leading the way for UX to be in conversations when talking about software. That’s a fantastic start for the first ever UX team of two working to win hearts and minds of a global enterprise.

aligning

All of my UX Research initiatives were carried out with careful consideration to alignment with existing product strategies. This was done through continually externalizing our work to key stakeholders in order to get feedback early and often, as well as creating a lot of working open-communication relationships through both cross-team and cross-departmental collaboration.

While the overarching goal for all of UX Research was to build better software, the purposeful alignment of UX Research initiatives with overall company strategy assured that our solid foundation of research would be beneficial to departments outside of UX, Product, and Development. By doing research that would also benefit others outside UX, we were able get smoother buy-in for our projects as well as have more informed inter-departmental conversations.

closing thoughts

In the end, I’m extremely proud of the work I did while I was at Impinj. I was able to teach and mentor UX Research just as much as I was able to learn about the nuances of leading UX Research in an enterprise setting. I grew both personally and professionally as both a teacher and mentor as well as a UX Research Lead.

Both the Designer and I have moved on from since this project, but our little UX team hustled every day to create a culture of UX at a global RFID industry leader by:

  1. building a UX Research and Strategy program that aligns to core company strategy;

  2. planning, performing, and presenting UX initiatives across departments; and

  3. championing agency and buy-in for UX across enterprise to instill a purposeful user-driven mindset at Impinj.

Ultimately, we changed the way people think about UX at Impinj, and that’s a great legacy to leave behind.


Leo’s diligence, curiosity, and enthusiasm for people and UX process was an inspiration. He was always ready to dive in and contribute to the team. His uncanny ability to build relationships across departments and other disciplines was invaluable, especially in a growing enterprise environment. His tenure with Impinj improved product strategy alignment and his research insights were leveraged to level-up usability across the platform. Grateful for his dedication to quality and his positive attitude, even in the face of a pivot (or three)!
— Dana Nobel, UX Design Lead at Impinj with me (currently Experience Designer at Projekt 202)