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Field Reports

How Microsoft Fosters a Continuous Learning Culture

Microsoft's Video, Learning, and Marketplace team uses learning sessions to increase stakeholder engagement, drive team alignment, and foster innovation.

Words by Ben Wiedmaier, Visuals by Austin Smoldt-Sáenz

Are you tired of hosting traditional research share-outs? Looking for a creative way to engage your stakeholders throughout your research process? Struggling to find a way to keep your insights fresh and relevant throughout the year?

Try hosting a team learning session. Using dscout helped this Microsoft team increase their impact by fostering a culture of continuous learning, collaboration, and innovation.

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"This project allowed me to learn with my stakeholders. It's not about me as the researcher learning everything and then sharing it with others. Instead, we learn together and have better conversations as a team.

I've really seen this project elevate the types of conversations we're able to have as a team because everyone has this baseline knowledge from listening to people share their experiences. For me, that's so powerful."

Therese Kennelly Okraku
Senior UX Researcher, Microsoft

The opportunity

The team wanted to learn how emerging video content creators get started, build community, and evolve their creative processes over time. They decided to use dscout to conduct foundational research into the creator space, because they wanted to broaden the way their team thought about creators and their video creation process.

Using dscout allowed them to follow creators’ journeys, capture rich ethnographic data (videos, drawings, photos, and text), and document each step in their end-to-end video creation process.

The team hoped that by sharing the stories of the people behind the videos, they could help their stakeholders develop innovative human-centered solutions to the problems early creators faced—and make video creation more accessible for everyone.

"Our team tries to think strategically about video experiences, the end-to-end journey from thinking, 'I have an idea and I want to create a video!' to actually recording the video, editing clips, sharing it with the world, and finally engaging with people around those videos. No matter what we're exploring, we try to keep a holistic view of the process.

That's why this research with dscout has been so helpful. It gets the team broadening their aperture to think about what the end-to-end journey and experience looks like for a creator, from idea to reality."

Therese Kennelly Okraku
Senior UX Researcher, Microsoft
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The approach

✔ Recruitment

The team wanted to find people who were early on in their creator journey. Creators who might still be exploring different tools, organizing their creative process, and deciding which video recording, editing, and posting experiences they prefer.

Their screener allowed them to find a diverse group of creators who were still actively learning how to create engaging content, grow their community, and try new tools.

Potential participants recorded a video of themselves via dscout explaining the types of content they create, their unique approach towards creating engaging videos, and why they were interested in sharing their journey.

The team was able to use these videos in combination with the demographic data dscout provides to ensure their sample reflected the diversity of the population their team is building for, in terms of race, gender, geographic location, age, and communication style.

This video question also helped them identify creators who had a distinct perspective, were engaging to watch, and seemed genuinely excited to share their knowledge.

"We find that the video part of the screening process is very, very helpful to make sure we are selecting people who both closely match our recruitment needs and are strong communicators. That video question really helps us ensure that the participants that we're getting are high quality."

Erin Arcuri, Principal UX Research Manager, Microsoft

These videos served as the foundation for making the team's research share-outs, workshops, and deliverables more engaging, actionable, and human-centered. They helped to establish a strong relationship between stakeholders and the participants, which added momentum to their study's findings and increased their impact.

Therese organized a “Meet a Creator” introductory learning session where stakeholders could watch the videos and then select a creator they wanted to follow throughout the research process. These introduction videos helped the team establish a strong connection with the creators, build compassion, and understand the challenges that come with recording, editing, and posting videos. The bond the videos created also encouraged stakeholders to come back week after week to check in on how their creator was doing.

Some teammates felt so connected to the creators they followed that they would bring up their experiences or perspectives unprompted in other meetings they attended. This people-centric focus from the very beginning of the project has continued to have a massive impact on how Microsoft designs video experiences for both video viewers and creators.

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✔ Fielding

The team chose to conduct the study using dscout Diary for its flexibility in activities, longitudinal format, and the ability to program open-end, closed-end, photo, drawing, and video questions together.

Because the team was interested in seeing the whole creative process from idea generation to posting on social media, they used different parts of the Diary mission to capture milestones along the way: finding inspiration, recording videos, editing clips, posting content, learning tips, and predicting future trends. This way, they could focus their questions—and the participants—on one step of the process at a time.

The mobile format of the study offered the team a more natural, less-intrusive, look into the processes and spaces of these creators than in-home ethnographic approaches. It gave creators the autonomy to define and share important moments without interruptions or bias.

Seeing creators’ simple setups (mostly just phones) without lots of technical gear caused the product team to re-think their initial assumptions and focus on simplifying end-to-end mobile scenarios.

"It's a lot less intrusive, less time-consuming, and more economical than traditional ethnography. For all of those reasons, traditional ethnographic research is often out of our reach as a small team with a tight budget—but dscout removed a lot of those barriers."

Erin Arcuri
Principal UX Research Manager, Microsoft
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✔ Analysis and sharing

Given the strategic importance of this work across their organization, Therese planned a comprehensive, activation-ready research share-out strategy composed of weekly learning sessions.

She wanted to design an intentional space for the team to come together each week to learn directly from the people they were building for with the goal of inspiring community-driven product innovation.

Therese hoped that by giving stakeholders time and space to see, hear, and reflect on the data together, it would surface some novel insights she might not have noticed during her own analysis, foster cross-team idea pollination, and increase stakeholder buy-in.

"I think that's what really sets this research apart and why we were excited about it. Typically, when you share a research report, everybody is excited during the meeting. But as soon as we leave the room the findings can lose momentum. This approach kept up the stakeholder engagement and momentum for a full month."

Erin Arcuri
Principal UX Research Manager, Microsoft

During each 30-minute learning session, stakeholders (product managers, engineers, designers, innovation leads, data scientists, marketers, etc) from across different product teams were invited to come together to actively participate in collaborative learning by:

  • Watching a bite-sized (1-2 minute) video
  • Reading participant quotes collected from the mission
  • Writing down their notes in a collaborative deck
  • Participating in a team discussion to share their learnings and brainstorm ideas

Each session was intentionally designed to facilitate both individual and group learning. Stakeholders spent five to 10 minutes reviewing and processing the data on their own before the group came back together to discuss their collective learnings for 10-15 minutes.

Then, Therese presented high-level research insights from across the creators during the last 5-10 minutes. This structure created a nice balance of giving stakeholders a chance to dive deep into the experience of one creator, while also providing awareness of larger trends across the group.

The team also provided asynchronous learning opportunities to encourage everyone on their globally distributed team to participate by watching the videos and sharing their learnings at a time that worked best for them.

"This project showed us what is actually going on behind the scenes when a creator records a video. I think a lot of our stakeholders were surprised by the fact that so many people just had their phone and maybe a tripod or a mic. Often when we see videos, we think, 'Oh, they must be using all this advanced gear. They must have a special setup.' But the behind-the-scenes data really put everything into perspective for our team."

Therese Kennelly Okraku
Senior UX Researcher, Microsoft

In addition to building community empathy across the org, stakeholders had a chance to see the inner workings of a mixed-methods user experience research study and felt like they were getting a behind the scenes tour, which inspired more questions and partnerships.

Learning details like how the team found participants, as well as the structure of the project, combined to increase stakeholder trust and buy-in. This expanded the team’s impact and helped them get involved in more strategic forward looking projects across the organization.

The learning sessions caught on and became popular across the org. Many responded well to having space to actively learn together and adopt a growth mindset. It quickly became the meeting highlight of the week and help the team foster a continuous learning culture.

"I remember one week I forgot to record the meeting and folks were asking, 'Where's the recording?' Stakeholders didn't want to miss out on what others were seeing. It was one of the first times I've had stakeholders experiencing FOMO."

Therese Kennelly Okraku
Senior UX Researcher, Microsoft

This light-weight research approach that centered collaborative learning kept the project and insights feeling fresh and relevant. Research insights quickly and easily rolled into shaping subsequent projects and regularly showed up in everyday team decision making processes.

Stakeholders shared their takeaways with other teams, which further broadened the impact. The shorter time commitment, ongoing engagement of stakeholders with the rich detail of open-ends and video, and timeliness of the research created a confluence of factors for a very sticky and impactful program of work.

"It can be hard for stakeholders to trust the insights. They might ask, ‘Well, is this the right person? Who is this person?’ But if you followed their whole journey, you're pretty invested. Our stakeholders say things like, ‘Yeah, this is a real person who I've connected with and I trust what they have to say.’ You don't have to build that rapport, it's already there."

Therese Kennelly Okraku
Senior UX Researcher, Microsoft
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The impact

The regular, collaborative share-outs not only helped the team align on areas of opportunity, it also drove actionable empathy for the folks using the products within and beyond the Video, Learning, and Marketplace organization.

When stakeholders and collaborators have user insights top of mind, that knowledge can translate into more human-centered innovation, design moments, or technical strategy sessions.

The team also works hard to ensure that their research is not extractive—they don't want to merely collect data and end their relationship with scouts. Instead, this project (and others like it) create a pool of high-quality, engaged, vetted, potential participants for future studies.

In this way, the team's practice is iterative, adaptive, and rolling. The insights and learnings build from project to project.

"There's a history between participant and research in dscout that is rare with other tools. I love being able to follow up with folks while they're sharing their experiences. The ability to have certain scouts back in new projects creates a continuity—we see how they're evolving their own use of our products, which helps us create those lasting, sticky moments of use."

Erin Arcuri
Principal UX Research Manager, Microsoft

The team hopes to continue to use dscout to learn from video creators and viewers of all ages and backgrounds in order to create video experiences that are more equitable and inclusive for everyone.

Microsoft’s research team is continuing to mine the data from this research to build journey maps, identify jobs to be done, and outline video content principles to guide their innovation strategy and inform their product roadmap.

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The team

Erin Arcuri is a Principal UX Research Manager and Dr. Therese Kennelly Okraku is a Senior UX Researcher for Microsoft's Video, Learning, and Marketplace organization within the Web Experience Team. They uncover and share research insights to support video and learning products used in consumer, education, and enterprise scenarios.

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Ben is the product evangelist at dscout, where he spreads the “good news” of contextual research, helps customers understand how to get the most from dscout, and impersonates everyone in the office. He has a doctorate in communication studies from Arizona State University, studying “nonverbal courtship signals”, a.k.a. flirting. No, he doesn’t have dating advice for you.

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