Is Your Design Team Ready For Radical Change?


Is Your Design Team Ready For Radical Change?

Enabling the Team

We can't predict the future, but we can build a team that is resilient, ready to take risks and pivots when things get tough. In this talk, Aditi will share her personal stories on how she has prepared her design teams for change, both internal and external and she will provide practical tips that you can incorporate within your own teams.

Aditi Kulkarni

Aditi Kulkarni, UX Manager, Money & Channels,Shopify

Hi everyone. I'm Aditi. I'm a UX Manager at Shopify where we make commerce better for everyone everywhere. Margins at the center of everything that we build. So, today I'm going to talk about, is your design team ready for radical change? In the past one year, I went through a lot of change, both personally and professionally, and it made me think a lot about what change means and how we can best react or not react to it. So, what I'll cover in the next 20 minutes is my personal challenges and learnings from facing radical change signs that your team is not ready for radical change and do's, and don'ts to prepare your team for change. So, what is radical change? A lot of us face this last year with COVID, there was a lot of uncertainty and we were all forced to switch to remote work without warning. So, that's a great example of radical change, but it can also, be a few other things. It could be huge market changes overnight, internal reorgs, restructurings, and layoffs, changing your function or role completely huge pivots, which are common in startup land. And So, is your design team ready to face such kinds of radical change? The short answer is it depends. I felt like a lot dependent on me as a leader and coach. And So, was I ready for radical change? The answer to that is also, it depends. I hate to be one of those senior designers or senior engineers who say it depends to every question, but that's what ends up happening when you're working in the area of humans and technology. People make everything super complex. However, let me try and answer this question with a story. Okay. What triggered me was how hard it was for me to face radical change. My company switched to digital by default, and that was a huge challenge for me. No more office. And I love the office so much that this is a digital painting I made of my old startup office, Retro Candy in Singapore, block 71. We all tell stories about ourselves to ourselves. And I told myself the story, I worked in so many orgs. I worked in startups, in design studios and ad agencies. I can handle it. I worked in small teams and big teams. I worked in companies where I was the only woman manager. I worked on teams where I was the only woman in 40 people. I can deal with it. I was resilient. I was tough. I've lived in so many countries. I did high school in Tanzania. I grew up in India, which is so diverse. I studied in UK, live for six months in San Francisco, and now I live in Singapore. I mean, can anything shake me anymore? I was So, confident that I was a resilient chameleon and I prided myself on being able to adjust to any situation. I find it funny now that the thing that truly shook me was work from home, especially work from home during COVID. I was not ready for that type of radical change and to be fair, most of us weren't. It's been one year since all of this began my difficulty facing this change really triggered me and made me think. So, here are some of my learnings and depths from the last one year on how to deal with crazy change. I hope some of this will be helpful for you and your teams as well. First, assess the kind of problem or situation you're in and what helped me understand what exactly radical change type of situation was, was a sign of Cynefin framework. So, this framework has been criticized for being too difficult to understand. So, bear with me here. I'm also, going to mispronounce the word Cynefin during this talk. Sorry about that. The framework says that there are four kinds of situations or problems. First is a simple one, where there is a very clear right answer. And the action to take is to follow a step-by-step process to solve it. Then there's a complicated situation in this type of problem situation. There are multiple right answers. The action in this situation is to get more information or get an expert who has that extra information. A great example is a car engine being fixed by a mechanic. The third type of problem or situation is a complex one. So, this is where humans are involved. So, there's too many unpredictable elements interacting with each other. In these kinds of situations, the framework says that the best action to take is small experimental steps, measure the results and look for patterns. Software development is a great example of a complex problem. And finally, what I consider radical change is the chaotic situation. In this situation, you're just like, Oh, my God, what is going on? And it's a huge mess. There's no clear connection between cause and effect. According to the framework, the best action in chaotic is to first establish order in this chaos. So, four types of situations, right? Simple problems. Action by following a set protocol, complicated problems. Action by getting more information or get the expert who has the information. Complex is action with experiments. Measure the results and move towards a situation solution. And chaotic is the best action to take here is to study the board first. This really clicked for me and helped me understand why chaotic or radical type changes are so hard. My major learning from this is to be aware of my defaults. We all have a default action. We take when faced with a problem or solution. Some of us default to research and deep thinking, which is best only in the complicated type of problem or a car engine type scenario. Some of us default to an experimental approach, which is best only in that software development type of scenario. So, what is your default? What I realized is that my default is experimental during a crisis. I should be steadying the boat in a storm. I should not be experimenting with different solutions to solve the problem. First, establish order, reassure the team and then experiment and look for solutions. This was my major learning from the framework. So, assess the situation type before taking action steady the boat during chaos and avoid your defaults during radical change. And yes, change is hard. This is why we tend to fall back on our defaults as leaders, but forcing yourself to assess and then react can make a world of a difference for you and your team. Change is harder when it's chaotic. You can understand the reason behind it change is harder when it's sudden and unpredictable. Like the weather changes hard though. When you want the one making the decision, it's outside your locus of control. For example, in dollar company, changes are much easier when you report to the CEO. This is what I experienced in startups, where I was always the head of design reporting to the CEO in bigger companies. You may not have any idea why internal company changes that happening, or even when it's much harder. When you are further down the line and changes are explained to you after the fact. So, now for some practical tips to prepare your design team for radical change. Number one is a wide extreme efficiency. A highly efficient system is so brutal that when you have a pandemic, it starts breaking down. A great example is our global food supply chain, which was super disrupted during COVID. If you're a design team ops team engineering team are in an extremely efficient shipping cycle that ships every week, like a well-oiled factory and every single use case has a detailed process. Then you may actually be a fragile team that breaks during radical change resilient systems. Don't have the characteristics of brutal efficiency. Balance seniors and juniors on your team. So, senior designers can be jaded and junior designers are facing that first chaotic, radical change and can help the team through it. Having a diverse team helps the team be more resilient to change. For example, introverts react so much better to work from home than extroverts. Having a balance of introverts and extroverts helps the team be
resilient to a radical change, like work from home. Pay attention and stay alert to your company and market situation, help the team visualize change scenarios. For example, if another team in the company or another product is going through some crazy changes, discuss it with your team and discuss how would they react to it? Allow accept and acknowledge negative feelings during radical change hold space for that, a retro is a great way to let the team vent regularly and avoid corporate bullshit. So, for example, Jameela Jamil has a really nice podcast. One of the episodes was on positive manifestations and how they feel if you don't really believe it. So, our brains are super clever. And if you tell yourself in the mirror, I love my body again and again, but you don't really love your body. You're not going to suddenly start loving your body just by seeing it. Instead, you should focus on real positives to make yourself feel better, like telling yourself. I love how kind I am. It's way healthier and has a much more positive impact. Focus on real things, which are good and nice instead of spending something that's not so nice, to be nice. People will see through that. This, you seem really obvious, but I have seen so many leaders make this mistake again and again. Too many changes happening at once, take a vacation or a duvet day. A duvet day it just a day where you just don't feel like showing up to work, so you don't. Another great idea is to do a team vacation. The entire team takes one week off at the same time. These are more things that I've seen leaders do for their teams at Shopify, which is so cool. This makes sure that there's no catch-up game once they are back and they can take a real break without any stress. And now, for some signs that your team is not ready for radical change. Number one is too many specialists. The specialist ratio should be one is to five or lesser if possible, do any people who can only do one thing will make it harder to pivot. Keep a lean team. So, you're more resilient to change. No one is doing exploratory research. That is a red flag doing only the evaluative research like usability testing is great, but you're just looking at your current product and situation. Always make sure you're constantly looking at new unknown areas with exploratory research. So, you're ready when the world turns upside down. People who have a fixed mindset are not ready for crazy change. And I want to be nonjudgmental when I say this because a person can have growth mindset about one topic, but a fixed mindset about another, for example. I have a fixed mindset about math. I'm convinced that I suck at it. And So, even if I'm getting better and improving at it, I don't believe that I'm actually getting better. However, I do have a growth mindset about art and design. I know, and I believe that the more I practice, the better I get. You can also, have a fixed mindset. Like I am a great designer. This can be dangerous because someone who is actually an excellent designer with zero failures will completely break down on that first failure or radical change. So, culture team and find out who needs to move to a more growth mindset. A few more red flags are, for example, that managers and leaders they can make a big difference to whether your team does survive a big radical change intact, a non-diverse team of any kind, for example, all guys or all one race will be unable to see crisis coming sometimes. People who have worked on the same project for more than two years will be extremely resistant to change. So, prepare people to work on different things. So, to quickly summarize, prepare your team for radical change by avoiding extreme efficiency, build a resilient and flexible team, balanced seniors and juniors’ diversity is resilient. And prepared through visualization during the radical change hold space for negative feelings with retros. For example, avoid corporate bullshit focus on real positives, whenever you can. Don't spin negatives to positives. And take breaks. And earlier my one big learning was to assess the situation before acting in a crisis, doing jump to solutions. First steady the boat in the storm before trying to make things better, be self-aware of your defaults. And don't fall into your defaults as a leader. And a quick recap of the Cynefin framework. So, for simple problems, the action is to follow a set of protocols, a process. For complicated problems, get more information, or get the expert who has the information. And for complex problems, experiment, measure results, and move towards a solution. For chaotic steady the boat first, this really clicked for me and helped me understand why chaotic or radical type changes are so hard. That's it from me. Thank you for listening. And I hope some of these learnings and tips were helpful for you. DM me to continue the conversation, or if you're interested in UX roles at Shopify, and don't forget to check out our Shopify UX blog. Thank you.