Organizational Design at LinkedIn

Knowledge / Inspiration

Organizational Design at LinkedIn

Continuous Design
UXDX USA 2022

LinkedIn has both centralized and embedded research teams, but it wasn’t always that way. Over the last 10 years, the team grew from 2 to 50 researchers. With that growth, LinkedIn UXR used organizational design to respond to strategic needs of both the Product & Engineering org and the UXR team, at several different inflection points.
Today, Kassie leads a centralized, horizontal UXR Practice team and Marieke joined last year and leads an embedded research team on one of LinkedIn’s business units. Marieke and Kassie will share their perspectives on why LinkedIn UXR chose a hybrid embedded and centralized org design, what’s working and not, what impact looks like in each, and how they see the structure of the organization evolving over time.

Marieke
Hi, everyone. My name is Marieke. Thanks for joining us today. This is going to be a little bit different from other talks this week. Rather than give you a presentation, Cassie and I are just going to have a conversation. There are so many ways to structure a research team to respond to the strategic needs of both the RD and the UX research team. We didn't feel like telling you what to do but rather shared a sort of conversation about where we ended up and why. Cassie and I are both research leaders at LinkedIn. Cassie leads a centralised horizontal UX research practice team, and I lead an embedded research team or one of our business units. And we're going to share a little bit about how we got here, how we work together, some of the benefits of the setup, and also some of the challenges or opportunities, of course. And if you're like me, you love hearing how UX research teams are organised and how they came to be. Cassie, you've been on the research team at LinkedIn for almost seven years, LinkedIn for even longer. I'd love to know what it was like when you joined and how it's grown since.


**Kassie **
Yeah, thanks, Marieke. So when I joined LinkedIn, actually, it was nine years ago that I actually started as a market researcher on the team. And we sat really close with the user research team, literally physically sat with them. There were three market researchers and user researchers for all of LinkedIn at that time. I felt such kindred spirits. When you're a researcher, you just gravitate and find out about other researchers. That's just what we do. And really complementary skill sets and methods and but mostly a really shared perspective on how we can create meaningful insights.


So create actionability for our product partners, right? That's the name of the game. So when there was an opportunity, as the user research team started to grow, I was really fortunate that there opened up an opportunity to join the team as a manager. And I moved across to the product organisation, managing eight enterprises to separate eight, sorry, eight separate enterprise product areas with three people. And if you do the maths on that, you'll understand that's not possible. And at that time, I was, again, fortunate that, like most of LinkedIn, we kind of went through this hyper-growth moment. So we didn't stay there for very long. But part of the game has always been in the building. Building a team is that scale and leveraging the idea of scale and leverage. It's a constant repeat. In my mind, what does it take at that time? It was to go from a zero to a one, from not much of anything to a lean something, if you will. So now we're a team of 50. Fast forward, we now have a team of about 50, which is incredible to me. And I worked, as you mentioned, for about five and a half, six years on specific product areas, and, but always as part of that role is the need to continue to scale and leverage. And so I've always had a side gig, kind of working on other things that are in service to the whole team, not just my particular product area. And that's really instilled in me the need to create more thoughtfulness around what it takes to create more sophisticated processing tools, support that growing team, continue to invest in our culture and our team and our, their development and what have you. So I think about it, I have the opportunity now to kind of move into a role where I sit horizontally, and I get to have that as my full-time job, not just one of my side jobs, which I'm really excited about taking on. Marieke, it's funny, we've known each other a long time, but you just joined LinkedIn about a year ago, which is incredible in and of itself. I would love to think about, given your background, why did you come to LinkedIn?


Marieke
Yeah, I joined because of the problem space that I get to solve at LinkedIn. And maybe not surprisingly, given this talk, specifically this team structure. Today, we have a centralised partnership model. So yes, we're a central UX research team. UX research has always been structured at LinkedIn within the design org, but we have three teams aligned with different business units. And then a horizontal practice team. I have a dedicated design and product partner. We get to go deep into our product space. I lead our talent solutions and research teams, so think about the work side of LinkedIn, getting a job learning on the job, but also hiring, and that has changed so much in the last two years. It's a really, really interesting space to do research and to think about how our products can help people find the right next job for them. And so I love that area. I was excited to kind of get to dig into that product space. But I was specifically looking for a role like this where I could have that autonomy to build my research team and work with my research team to leverage them to do awesome work, but have the thought leadership and partnership from other research leaders to really think about what that means for our function and do not have to do it alone. This structure is novel; I have not come across it in my job search in my career. I'd love to hear more about how the practice team came to be and what you hope to accomplish with it.


Kassie
Yeah, so as I mentioned, it's having done a lot of things on the side, as you build a team and, but always feeling like, oh, that, that that could be a whole thing, like, but you're going to just do part of the thing. And that feeling of, I don't know, giving it short shrift, and just being actually frustrated, I'll be honest, frustrated by that. And going this deserves more attention and focus. When I, when we were a team of 10, or 12, that was like, not even a thought, not even a whisper. It's very reactive, and at the moment, what's the tool we need? What's the process that we need? Who are the people that we need, and you just kind of go and do it? But looking ahead and going, okay, that doesn't work. So well, when you're a team of 50, potentially a team of 70 to 100. In the next, say, two to five years. That's incredible to me, and thinking about how we change the game?


So I started doing this within my own product team and started looking at different ways to organise ourselves to create, again, just leverage and skill, leverage and scale every single day. And how could we change our workstyle and our organisation models? Think about differentiated types of work within the team for the researchers on the team. And I pitched this idea when we kind of went through some organisational change anyway. It felt like a really timely moment to go. Well, we're going to do this thing or change. Hey, here's a crazy idea. And I'm really grateful that our design leadership saw the vision that I proposed, like, let's, let's pull some stuff together. That is what the best-in-class world-class research team needs to have foundationally. So how can we focus on late-stage research programs? I know. We'll talk about in a minute, kind of the role of the embedded team. But I had already started to see many embedded teams. We want research to be positioned as strategic partners working out in front. And yet the business demands and the expectation is that we're still shipping quality products. And so, how do we kind of do a little bit of both? How can we unblock the embedded teams to make that possible, make the deep strategic work possible? As part of our growing practice, we've always had threads of inclusive research, but actually centralising a tenant around inclusive research, what does it mean to centre historically marginalised people in our research, making sure we're being thoughtful about vulnerable populations and how they're treated within a research experience, and how they're represented within our insights to our partners, that was really, really important to us. And so thinking about that more holistically, then, again, kind of sitting somewhere in a specific business line just didn't make sense. And then finally, if you think about just the team and talent, was that opportunity to think about what is the learning and development that we need? We've hired because we've been really intentional about hiring really diverse backgrounds, talent experience, skill sets, which is my favourite thing about this team is, we're a beautiful patchwork quilt. , But it means that we also don't all come with the same foundational necessary skills and experience training.


And so you know, thinking really holistically as you are building a team, I have apprentices all the way to Senior Principal Talent. What's the training that we need to provide? So that's what I've been doing and trying what I'm trying to do with the practice. We call it the practice team, creating this community of practice around research? And what are all those foundational pieces that need to be in place to, again, support a thriving, growing team? When I've talked to others about this? It's really interesting. I often get a question about isn't that research operations. And so my own point of view is I am a big fan of research operations. It's been interesting to see the evolution and rise of research operations as its own unique discipline in the last five to eight years, probably absolutely crucial partners to and dependent on them for our success.


There's still this real need for research expertise, around the problem space around methods and tools like scoping of response, a solution even within our team to a problem. And so one of the things we've worked really hard on is aligning very closely. We collaborate really closely with our research operations partners, but taking a pretty firm position on Where does research leads and ops supports versus projects or initiatives where it's really an operationally-focused project and we're informing, consulting, advising and supporting, and I think that's been working pretty well. That was definitely learning for sure early on was just kind of creating those clear roles and responsibilities. I will say one of the things is that it's wonderful that you and I are here today because we work together a lot already. And one of the reasons I have loved to do this is I'm a huge fan of our own team and want to enable drivers of growth and success for your team. And I'm curious now that you've worked been working with my team for a period of time, reflecting on, my hypothesis, my hope had been that this operating model would unlock opportunities for a team like yours, allow you some space in your team space to do things that maybe you wouldn't have been able to do otherwise. And I'm curious, is that? Does that sound true? Or is that true? Or maybe an example of when it is? Or if it's not, first, I'll take that feedback. But I'd love to hear.


Marieke
Yeah, it's, it's funny, and you ask it that way. Because I have described my new job to friends as being magical, like, we're always being asked so much as a Research Leader. And you talked about that being the impetus for your team, right? We have to be people leaders, we have to be these strategic partners, to our product partners, there's so much to think about and do, and then there's like process improvements. So there's so much to think about. That's hard to do at all. And it's hard to be good at all of it. And so what I was hoping for, coming in that I mentioned is just the like partnership of like, Oh, I just won't have to do it, I'll do it all. But I don't have to do it all alone. I didn't realise how much it would really be. I like to identify problems or opportunity areas that then your team can take and sort of build the foundation for or sort of really help drive. And that frees up so much space, not just for me but also for the researchers on my team. A recent example, one of the managers from your team joined a planning meeting with my leadership team. We were kind of talking about what we want to do in the next quarter, of course, like what projects we want to take on, and realise that we get a lot of feedback from the designers and product managers we work with directly. But I realised that I'm missing a signal on who we do not hear from. And it was one of these great moments where the manager from your team, Kevin, was like, Oh, we're actually planning to dig into that, like we're doing our own internal research study to find out what the needs were missing, especially in design to start with. And it was so great like I can now just leverage the insights and findings from that and build on that for like, what my team is unique and has its own unique needs. But I can build on that. And really, where I'd benefit is that your team has researchers on the team who know how to tackle those problems.


I mentioned briefly that there's a huge benefit also to researchers. One of the programs that your team has set up we call rapid labs. It's really a program set up for other companies to do this, too, right away for designers to do prototype testing. The way we've set it up is that they are actually partnered with a researcher, and it's a researcher from your team who supports designers. When they have sort of quit, they want maybe quick feedback, they have a lot of ideas, and they want to increase their confidence in which direction to go, what pieces are working and not working. This is still research. I expect researchers on my team to be able to do what they still have to do. Sometimes it's not that we never use concepts or prototypes in our research. But that frees up so much space, not having to do all of it, not having to say no to all of those situations like we really unblocked design, and are able to go and go much deeper on some foundational questions. And what's interesting, and I only recently started really vocalising sort of crystallising, is that this really changes the role of the researchers to be much more of a strategist than just a researcher. And that's exciting. This is what researchers want. You still need to be able to use and leverage a lot of different methods, but that ability to have that like the time and space to go deep and be that partner and know that your design team is still going to be supported and that there are other methods and ways to get them the answers and insights that they need.


Kassie
That's a really lovely example. And in fact, just this morning, you and I were chatting a little bit about stakeholder education materials. Right before this call, we were talking about stakeholder education materials, and one of the things I really thought about was if I could do this, well, if our team can do this, well, how there's this amazing complementary model in my mind that becomes on this like infinity loop or figure eight, where it's like your team is where again, working way out in front, you have the deep You have to have a lot of context product contexts, audience context, stakeholder context to work in an embedded team, right? And really to let your team folk you and your team focus on that, what it means to lead insights for leading right. And so to the extent that we can unblock folks so that that's your focus. That's what you're worried about. That's what you're thinking about, and know that you have support. We're not going to be able to cover all of it, but we can help pick up things that are still important to our partners and our stakeholders into our experiences. But the tools, methods, and techniques we might use have more flexibility. For instance, they could be more agile because they're scoped down in terms of not being ambiguous and broad and wide-ranging. But we can create that nice, like, infinite loop idea of, we're not leaving people out, we're not leaving any gaps, our teams feel supported, our partner teams feel supported, our own team so much wants to provide insights and support for our partners. So everybody feels uncomfortable leaving things not done. Right. And so, how can we create that ongoing system support? Across, but also create some cohesion? Right? So there's, there is some common way that we think about how we're going to wrap up Labs is a program is an example of, I don't we have three different major product pillars right now, in the future, I can imagine five 710, we don't need unique responses for rapid labs to every scenario, we can create common approach tools, hiring programs to support, what have you, it's a really great example.


Marieke
Yeah, it makes me feel really nice. It makes me really excited about our future and how we can change the way research is done together. I'm curious what you're focused on when it comes to the growth and development of the UX research team this coming year? Yeah, I


Kassie
Have along. I have a long list. One of the things that are really cool about stepping into research leadership, which I had not anticipated, is this like, just like the design, just like product development is this continuous improvement cycle opportunity. And so there's always ways that we can think about it differently, do something better. But one of the ones that have been, pretty well, pressure tested for us is the last several years of all working from home, in the pandemic. And, really, we had a lot of in-person research. We have research labs that are physical buildings. And most of our teams were centralised around the research hubs, the red that we have. And so we've really moved, we've gotten very bullish on supporting remote and hybrid work, as leaders in the field around,, this discourse, like that's important to our team as well. And I don't. I will say that, like, I think, I think a lot about how we do research best? And I think a lot of research teams are talking about the spin in a hybrid environment. How do we work together, asynchronously to maximise? The time constraints and what have you. And where can we offload certain things to be asynchronous versus spending time together? We're a very team in-person culture.


So making sure we're accounting for that connectivity. But ensuring we have other formats to tap into for folks, I think, is really important. And then the other one that I've observed for my team, specifically, this is the risk of when you have a bunch of stuff that doesn't have a home in, in building a team is that it potentially all comes to me. So you're like, Hey, can your team just like pick this up? Can you just take on this one more thing? And it's one more thing. Risk? And so, one of the things I know I've talked to you about as a leadership team is really setting clear priorities, strategic priorities about again, foundationally, what enables what's going to most enable the team to all move forward? Where are those common points? Because I don't, I mean, we all have limited resources and capacity, including my team. And so getting really crisp on that, for each other and ourselves. My team also has a hard time because we all want to be helpful. But making sure we're not overstretching ourselves because it's, it's just not done, or it's not done well otherwise. So I think a lot about that. I love when we get the opportunity to reflect on where we've been. But I'm also curious about what we're learning, why we've made certain choices and thinking about what comes next. So I think you and I are really great at reflecting and then a possibility. And I would love to get your thoughts, especially as somebody who's got a fresh perspective on research on LinkedIn. What are you seeing as next steps or opportunity spaces for us as a team?


Marieke
Yeah. It is always fun to think about where we could go. I'm really passionate about informing the end-to-end product development process, including future innovation, and just evaluation and making sure that what we execute and deliver is great. You can have latched on to the goal of your team is to make sure that we can do all of that across it. I think it's the sort of extra and additional thing there is making sure that we're triangulating insights from multiple sources so that we're leveraging not just UX research but partnering really closely with data science and market research. And we have a customer experience team and product operations. And we have all these incredible insights functions at LinkedIn today. They're all supporting different business areas. But what ends up happening is that all these insights fall on product management to make sense of when it comes to them. What do we do about that in the product? And one of the future scenarios that I'm excited about is what can we do to make that easier on a product to make it easier to then make a decision and see, especially when sometimes these signals they like, something that contradicts it's just hard to make sense? Like you're not comparing apples to apples? So what can we do to work with these other insights and functions? And answer questions together, and present a recommendation together. I think there's so much untapped potential there.


Kassie
I love that. I know, we have so much, we have so much heart for all that possibility. And what's to come? I realised I'd be honest. I missed a question. So I want to make sure I give homage to the fact of, I think some of the other possibilities I've heard you share with me, also for the team, and one of them it's a challenge and an opportunity, but is around, some of the constraints that we've seen during the pandemic, I think I mean, that is like in terms of our process and our methods and our tools of how we do research. But maybe reflecting on what you see as an opportunity. We're often in that place as leaders on the team where we're playing. The way I think about it is like building a plane while we're flying it. And we're in flight, we're always in flight. And there is this piece of change management, both from the physical tools and ways that we might do something, but also the thinking for the team, and how we bring back some of the energy that we'd love to see in, in part of our culture. And I was curious, as you think about other opportunities for the team if you have thoughts on that.


Marieke
Yeah. And it's just been really hard to be novel and think creatively in the pandemic. And one of the things I've noticed, it helped me to start a new job. But that's not the right solution for everyone. And even that it's like, it's hard to learn new ways of thinking and new ways of doing, and one of the coping mechanisms is to figure out a way to make work work for you today. And so we've gotten really comfortable with our setup and our way of working, and the methods that we use. And I would love to infuse a bit more of that, like experimentation on mindset, not just in how we build a product, but in how we do research. And there's the stuff that makes research fun. But like how do we, how can we be a little bit more nimble? And this is hard because I just shared how incredible it is that researchers get to be more strategic and go deep. But then what do you like? Can we change what you do in your downtime as a researcher? And like, what do we do? How do you still sort of be there for your partners? And I think that's another opportunity where I think our teams can partner really closely together to figure out, like, what is that right? Balance your workload balance in your calendar? If you think about a year, like how many big projects do you take on, what do you do when you're waiting for recruitment to come in? Like, there's just so there's, there's so many lols, and I feel like we've gotten, there's an opportunity there to be creative in what we do.


Kassie
I love that, plus one. And I think that's why. I so enjoy our partnership because we love to bounce ideas off each other. And I think you and I have the opportunity to also see some of the common patterns that are happening across teams. It's not just my team or your team. You can kind of triangulate that even amongst ourselves, and spur innovation. And, maybe just to wrap up some of the cultural things that I know you and I have gotten to partner on, including this talk today on things that we do within our research community to, Yeah, bring that essence and spirit of experimentation, fun innovation, these are all part of our culture. And so, I'm so grateful to get the opportunity to partner with you, Marieke. I could talk to you all day about this topic and about org design, which I know we nerd out on tremendously, and what it takes to run a world-class research team, and I'm so grateful that you and I are on this journey together and supporting one another in that mission. So thank you. I would love to just wrap up the time and express gratitude to the UX dx organisers and community for having Rica and me today. Thank you. We would love to hear what others are trying, what you're experiencing, what's helping, what's really meaningfully moving your practice forward. I think it's such a great opportunity for us to share as a community that's the intent which we're bringing forward some of our insights and challenges as well, and both Marika and I are, of course, on LinkedIn, and we would love to hear from you and keep the conversation going so thank you. Thanks

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