Vital requirements for the future success of phase change media are high data transfer rates, i.e. fast processes to read, write and erase bits of information. The understanding and optimization of fast transformations is a considerable challenge since the processes only occur on a submicrometer length scale in actual bits. Hence both high temporal and spatial resolution is needed to unravel the essential details of the phase transformation. We employ a combination of fast optical measurements with microscopic analyses using atomic force microscopy (AFM) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM). The AFM measurements exploit the fact that the phase transformation from amorphous to crystalline is accompanied by a 6% volume reduction. This enables a measurement of the vertical and lateral speed of the phase transformation. Several examples will be presented showing the information gained by this combination of techniques.