Researchers at LinkedIn created a global repository of content that improved data integrity, doubled their capacity to report results to executives, and helped scale their team.
You know that feeling when someone asks you for information that you know is buried in an email somewhere but you can’t figure out where? It’s a common symptom of a chaotic workflow that can drive a person crazy, but for Sarah Sgarlato Pierini, this is when things get interesting. “I've always loved puzzles. If I make a puzzle out of anything that captures my brain,” she said.
Sarah is a Senior Research Program Manager at LinkedIn. Her team is focused on understanding why people come to LinkedIn in the first place, making sure they’re having a high quality experience, and ensuring the company’s research is as inclusive as possible for their diverse subset of customers. “Product is more than just what we build, it's the experiences that our members are having on our platform. If we can nail that, that's something that provides value,” she said.
Organizing this inclusive research has been a bear. Initially they were tracking all of it in Google Sheets. At the onset of any research project the team needs to create an individual project number, in Sheets those numbers were created manually. “Researchers were quite literally making up their own project numbers,” she said.
This tracking system led to a lot of human error and made it hard to find the critical research they spent so much time on. “You might be finding two different studies with the same number and it's possible that they were on the same product, or that it was the same researcher, and it was just hard to parse out which was which,” Sarah said.
She saw an opportunity to start untangling the mess. “We had just started using Airtable for roster management and project tracking. At the time, I really didn't understand it,” she said. That is until one night after work, “I just kind of set out to see what was even possible,” she said.
With Airtable Sarah put her problem solving skills to work. It started with the autonumber field; which enabled her to create a unique, automatically incremented number for each record. This eliminated duplicative numbers and neatly organized each piece of research so that it could easily be tracked down. This was a turning point for scaling the research operations team, “what was meant to be a project tracking system has grown into a research repository,” Sarah said.
They’re now able to track the lifecycle of each research project. Starting with intake, to capturing data, tracking the project to completion, sharing statuses with stakeholders and more. What started out as a way to automatically generate numbers has become a living archive for all the research LinkedIn conducts. Anyone can go into their base and self-serve information through a status form.
The forms ask each team member to identify their project name which then backfills the form with information Sarah already has on each research project. This saves teammates from having to enter data manually. Teammates are prompted to add things like the phase of the work, scoping, what research methods they’re using, if they're doing recruitment or have fielding dates set. Those fielding dates inform a research calendar. Finally an automation takes all of these updates and copies the data back into the project record. That way they can see the entire journey of each project.
It’s led to new visibility into all aspects of their work from the top down. Sarah regularly reports metrics to executives on things like the total project count, or how many research projects have been done around one aspect or space.
“Now we're able to get numbers to leadership in a matter of minutes, which used to take a couple of days.”
Previously she would have to contact everyone that worked on a research project, ask them to do analysis to report those numbers back. They also have automations in place to keep them accountable throughout the process. If they’re falling behind on a deadline or haven’t updated the status field to track their progress in the base an automation is triggered to remind the team to update the project.
“This system helps us live up to the commitments that we make and to our participants that we're recruiting for research.”
Now Sarah compiles two different summaries of their research throughout the year which previously she couldn't do because she couldn’t trust the data. This leads to faster decision making, more time conducting studies, and is directly impacting the growth of her team.
This type of innovation has made her indispensable to LinkedIn. She’s even created a new role around solving puzzles for the broader team. “I hold these workflow hours every week, and I'm booked out at least a month in advance,” she said.
In the midst of solving these workflow puzzles she’s identified a recurring pattern. The problems she’s solving for teams are all different versions of the same thing. “Everyone thinks they're doing things very differently, but they’re not. Teams basically have these pain points throughout their process. I get a kick out of identifying commonalities and identifying those opportunities to align the team,” Sarah said.