The goal of this interview series is to inspire and help people to transition their career into a new or next experimentation related role. In this edition Melanie Kyrklund shares her journey.
Melanie describes herself as a veteran experimenter who is still learning every day, even after 15 years in this field. She’s half British, half Swedish Finn, was raised in Italy (Rome) and has been calling Amsterdam home for a long time.
What is your current experimentation role and what do you do?
I work as Global Head of Experimentation at Specsavers, a very successful 40 year old retail business in the field of optical & audiology care. It is a household name in the UK and has established itself in 11 more countries over the years. I joined 4 years ago and was initially focused on increasing the number of tests being run through improved strategy, process and tooling and building a team.
Interestingly, we are at a point where it’s hard to scale further via our current model of having a central experimentation function responsible for most of the testing. We see both cost-saving and performance benefits in shifting to a Centre of Excellence model. This means we will be embarking on an exciting journey towards enabling experimentation expertise and autonomy within teams. By the end of 2025 we are aiming for 80% of tests to be conducted by product and regional teams, instead of through my team.
In terms of what I do – I’m not involved with experiments nowadays but more with the enablement of experimentation within other teams and building the requisite data, process and tech governance to scale reliably. Over the next few years I expect more organisations to move in this direction and for these types of roles to come up. Organisations are increasingly seeing the value of experimentation and are working to integrate the methodology into marketing and product operations. Experimenters who are in the detail of running tests could look at Centre of Excellence roles as a new challenge.
How did you enter the experimentation space? What was your first experimentation related role?
My first experimentation job was a freelance gig at UPC, a European broadband and digital TV provider. I had been interviewing for an ecommerce role there which I didn’t get. Through that process I had made connections which opened up this opportunity for me further down the line. Interestingly, a role I landed at Staples a few years later also came up when interviewing for an ecommerce role – so interviews have proved to be great ways for me to “get my foot in the door.”
How did you start to learn experimentation?
The industry was in a nascent phase and I didn’t have any training, colleagues or mentors to rely on. My consultant at Adobe Target provided some guidance at the time and Conversion Rate Experts and CXL were running blogs. However, it truly was a case of being thrown in at the deep end and learning by doing.
I’m not just talking about learning the experimentation process which is a large undertaking in itself. In every organisation you step into you have to learn about the business, customer and commercial needs. Then, how to map an optimisation strategy to address these needs in a scalable way and ladder up to relevant company goals and KPIs. From a technical perspective, understanding the platform and technology stack you are working on is crucial. Finally, knowing how to forge solid stakeholder relationships, navigate politics and communicate effectively is key. This complex landscape I feel is the key challenge of working client vs agency-side. It takes tenacity to get things done. The good news is it gets less overwhelming with experience.
In my next role at Booking.com I had the privilege of working at a leading company in the experimentation space. I learnt the value of a consistent culture and process and the pace at which they got things done was mind-blowing! However, though stepping into a mature organisation or having an experienced mentor constitutes a great shortcut in your learning experience and takes away some of the “pain”, I feel the best learning comes from living through the challenges and thought processes that give rise to solutions yourself. For example, it would have been far more fascinating and insightful to be part of Booking.com’s early conversations and journey towards creating an experimentation culture rather than being slotted into it. I do feel lucky to be embarking on this journey at Specsavers now, it’s going to be an interesting learning curve for me and my team (and the business as a whole).
How do you apply experimentation in your personal life? (what are you tinkering with or always optimizing?)
I’m mostly tinkering with lifestyle and nutrition to optimise my physical and mental well-being.
What are you currently doing to keep up with the ever-changing industry?
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information out there these days – particularly on social media. It is important to actively seek to bring focus and depth to your thinking to counteract this. A couple of ways I do this is by:
- Running a monthly learning hour with my team – we pick a topic in advance (for example sequential testing or LLMs), research it and discuss it in the session with a particular focus on how we could apply it in our work. This helps us make sense of topics we come across on Linkedin, at conferences or through conversations with our network and figure out how they could influence the way we do things.
- Reading books – I enjoy picking books on adjacent topics as I find these can spark new ideas. For example I am currently reading “How big things get done” which looks at the success factors behind large projects. In reading this I am drawing parallels between the experimentation process and successful large project delivery.
What recommendations would you give to someone who is looking to join the experimentation industry and get their first full-time position?
The experiment process is well-documented nowadays and there is training available to help you get to grips with the theory of what we do and some of the hard skills. In addition to demonstrating basic CRO knowledge, focus on the following in the interview:
- Skills and experience in adjacent areas (e.g marketing, data, research, academia) where you can show more depth of knowledge. I’d be curious to hear of any interesting insights you’ve extracted from these activities.
- Experimentation is solution-oriented, think of ways in which you have solved business or customer problems in the past through your own initiative.
- Communication skills: Some of the best communicators I know rely on great preparation. They have spent time articulating and organising their thoughts. Another way of working on communication skills is to actively observe good speakers in your day to day life or online, and write down what makes them effective. Practise what they do.
Which developments in experimentation excite you? How do you see the field changing in the next 5 to 10 years?
How we do experimentation will certainly change, as AI will impact parts of our process. In the shorter term, I am predicting the most change within insights generation as a result of LLM’s ability to synthesise themes from both text and data. Looking at the types of experiments we will run – I expect copy testing to increase exponentially, particularly in the exploitation phase of products, due to LLMs.
However, if I look 10 years ahead and at how digital products may change and become more dynamic and automated based on artificial intelligence, I foresee our experimentation efforts will shift more to early stage product development and innovation management – not the ongoing exploitation of features. That is where bright and creative human minds can always deliver value. So maybe we should start thinking about growing into those types of roles 😉
Which other experimenters would you love to read an interview by?
Kirsten McLellan (Optimisation Director at Dentsu)
Thank you Melanie for sharing your journey and insights with the community.