An interview with Yammer’s Director of UX, Cindy Alvarez


Yammer’s Secret Weapon: Human Data

Back in February during ModevUX, we heard from dozens of experts on why it’s so important to incorporate user feedback throughout the design process. Looking towards MVP Conf, we are doing it again, but this time looking at the big picture, product management and development.

Upcoming MVP Conf speaker Cindy Alvarez, Yammer’s Director of UX, recently spoke with us about her background, what brought her to the organization, and how to turn human data into a new product. Not just users or customers, but everyone. Creating narratives and stories from human data, Yammer has a research team focused on advancing their communication platform.

What you need to know: Yammer is a leading enterprise social network for businesses to get work done smarter and faster, and was acquired by Microsoft in 2012 for $1.2 billion. It falls along the lines of Slack, Asana, and other collaboration platforms.

According to Alvarez, Yammer was always a heavily analytics focused company; however, they didn’t have the same customer centric standpoint. Prior to joining, she was working with startups and doing some research on organizations on Quora. After answering a question about Yammer, they reached out, they made an offer she couldn’t refuse, and shortly after they developed their research team. So what changed? For as much data as they had, it didn’t show what should come next. For that, they needed to validate metrics by speaking with customers and people.

From Human Data to Narratives

It’s 2015, you already know that data is important and to find it, you need to speak to your users and potential users. However, if you are still directly asking someone what they like and don’t like, you’re going to miss out on some very key elements of user interviews. Billy likes green, Suzy likes Orange, will that change your product design? Perhaps, but if you ask about a person’s day, how they interact with technology, and identify a common problem, that is where the user data gold can be found.

“The things we like are irrational, it has little to do with what we like.”

So what kind of questions do you ask? According to Alvarez, if you only have two questions to ask it should be:

Tell me how you are doing X today. Not even a question.

How do you tackle your work day today, or collaborate with a team.

The latter is associated with the type of conversations they have with people, so it will be different for your product.

The goal of these interviews are to hear about all of the potential opportunity areas. For Yammer, that can be anything from understanding the conversations people have online, offline, and everything in between. Themes and potential problems don’t always become apparent right away, but are often part of a long game.

It Starts With a Guess

Before interviewing people, start with a hypothesis or educated guess. Then use the interview results to validate whether or not the guess is accurate. If the first interview goes well, ask for follow up interview, and invite them to see the prototype concepts. Alvarez suggests doing things in tandem. Some with prototypes, some without, others with competitive services or products. Further, competitive intel is often the cheapest way to get insight.

From Personas to Profiles

During the interview process, people will give a lot of details when it comes to problems. According to Alvarez, more often than not, they will have some sort of weird hack to try to solve it.

“Rather than guessing, you are now filling in the blanks.”

Whether it’s identifying if the person downloaded an app, doing something new, or paying money to fix the problem will be a key component in how you face their problem with your product. Combine that with a persona, and you can move past assumptions and into psychological profiles of who would be willing to pay for your solution. Take that data and interview it against 20-30 different people, and you should be able to validate your hypothesis.

What Comes Next For Cindy

So how does Cindy make use of all of the data and research they conduct? They will be redirecting how the product works, driven through customer development. According to Alvarez, it’s not just about the users of today, but anyone in the workplace. This means interviews with teachers, and anyone not in front of computer. How they work differently from those not regularly connected. For example, they usually have bursts of information instead of a stream. Further, tool adoption is not done in isolation. It’s based on what co-workers use.

“We are very social creatures. If your co-workers abandon Powerpoint for Keynote, you probably will too. There is a lot of digging into why. Most people don’t say specifically that they don’t like a product or why.”

Attending MVP Conf

MVP Conf is the first conference of it’s kind, focusing on the future of products. From mobile apps and wearable technology, to the hardware that builds the walls around you, MVP will feature speakers and experts from various aspects of product teams, from a diverse set of industries.

See Speakers and Program


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