The Highs And Lows Of Building A 30-Person Lean UX Team In 1 Year


The Highs And Lows Of Building A 30-Person Lean UX Team In 1 Year

Enabling the Team
  • Institutionalising experience design & accelerating the UX maturity model
  • Hiring strategy - a phased approach to hiring (and no bean bags)
  • Scaling up versus staying Agile: Running ‘squads’ like lean start-ups
  • Outcomes – deliver on the promise of UX inch by inch in this new Verizon world
  • Roadmaps, Lean and Kanban boards – cycle time, KPIs, Heart, ROI & metrics for UX
  • The golden ratio – how many experience designers does it take to change a company?
Donal O'Mahony

Donal O'Mahony, Head of UX & Product Design,Verizon Connect

So I'm going to give you a whistle-stop tour of my past year to year and a half in Fleetmatics. Let me go back. So it's now the highs and lows of building a 30-person, lean UX team in one year. I'm still going to cover the Lean transformation that some of you are aware of, that we've gone through, CI-CD, but it's now the subtext. I thought that Bryan's talk this morning from Skyscanner was amazing and if you could imagine we're going through a similar process, that's the subtext. But I'm really going to focus on the people, and also what's called the UX maturity model that I've been tracking against in this company. But first, I refer to Fleetmatics when I joined as brilliant and understated, so bear with me, this isn't a product plug or anything like that. Not many people know about this company. The history started in Templeogue, and it's now completely global in those three windows over that off-license. The Americans in Verizon love the fact that we started over a pub, or it's a shop basically. It's near a pub, but that's where it started in 2004. And there were some genius ideas in there, and some genius people in there.

It took off rapidly, very rapidly. And it was actually one of the biggest flotations on the stock market, from an Irish company perspective in the tech world, and actually the biggest in the past 17 years, still to be beaten. Which was $100 million dollars in 2012. Now, this guy is pretty important, so that's Peter Mitchell, he's my boss. It's very nice as the head of UX reporting to the founder or co-founder. And why he's important in this talk, he's here as well, he'll be speaking at the CTO lunch. He's a champion of user experience, and he's incredibly user-centered and user-centric in his approach. Even though he's on the engineering side. He's also CTO Fleetmatics, but he's become the CTO within our Verizon group now of the entire umbrella group. And that's really important, and that will be the theme I'm talking about, which is champions and people.

Our products are very, very focused on connected vehicles, which are quite hot right now. And ultimately, we're driving towards the space that will be self-driving cars. But for now, we're looking at mobile workers, route planning, how do I get there? what's the best route? what should I do first? and how's my vehicle? where's my vehicle? If you're from the dispatch manager perspective. Locally, we have customers like An Post for example. That's how the redesign is going into. I'm not really going to show a ton of our design. Again, I want it to be about the people, not the process and even the output. But it's, getting there corner by corner, we are transforming the product and we're moving from ultimately a very waterfall delivery. Which is classic in startups. Not all startups are lean and we're moving now into a lean transformation.

So, hands up who's familiar with UX maturity models. Okay, so maybe about 10%. I recently did a master's in UX and I focused on this initially and then had to abandon it because I was actually living it. But I then focused on the actual teams themselves, but the UX maturity model is well covered and it's this. You're starting from scratch, generally in an engineering led organization. And it is step one or phase one, which is unrecognized, it's not important. And it's really good news that wasn't the case of the company that I walked into but I have worked in companies where that is the case. And again, I've really liked the themes, that I've heard so far, about the fact that it's not last year where we need to get along, we need to work, our designers need to work with engineers, and it's actually now becoming one team.

So this is important, this bit. When I read this in research, Nielsen Norman estimates that it takes 20 years to move from stage two, and there are eight stages, up to stage seven. And then another 20 years to move, on average, from seven to eight. Okay? I don't have that time. So my whole job has been to accelerate this process.

Stage three, UX is very important and formalized programs emerge. That apart from hiring has been a large part of my job. And not just my job, I'll go into building the team in a minute. Happy to talk to any of you afterwards or have questions afterwards about how to build the team as well. But I don't come up with those programs and processes it's actually the team that does and we do it with. It's not the UX process, it has to be the CI-CD process or the Kanban process. It has to be cross-functional. So we're very much there, and the investment is there.

Committed, UX is critical and executives are actively involved. So this is really where a lot of companies are floating at the moment. It doesn't say all executives, and that's why the next stages are really important.

UX is one of the core tenants of the organization's strategy. Really, really engaged at every level. And then the one that takes after that 20 years to get to, I hope it certainly doesn't for us. I don't have the time, none of us do. Let's face it, software is changing so quickly and acceleration so quickly. I think those years are going to come down dramatically. But this is the holy grail. It does help if your founder, or the key leader is very, very design-focused as well.

So I was in a couple of months. Great as you heard, post HMH and building a team and they're very focused on UX for six years. I had heard about Fleetmatics, I'd seen it been covered in the news during the recession and its expansion, and then this happened. I was on holiday skipping off the ferry, hadn't been able to check my phone. I missed many calls from Peter. In other jobs, that would be a really bad sign, but in this job, it was a really good sign. So I couldn't wait to find out what it was, and it was that. Another person on my team, we talked to one another immediately and hugely excited about the potential. But it did affect my plans. There's a huge amount of money behind this; so from $100 million on the stock market, now you're starting to talk about billions. And look at who we are as an Irish company, look who we're up against. So that was a really exciting moment. And I found out very quickly because I asked some very, very direct questions, that design was very important and design is a differentiator. And a design-led organization was very important to Verizon as well. And recently, obviously, the new standing for Peter is a huge benefit to us as well. And now we're starting to hear about a design-centric organization within the group we're in. And look at the group we're in. So it's AOL, it's Yahoo, Drone companies, Huffington post, it's everything. This is end to end, it's the data from start to finish, from vehicles, people, and content. It's a fantastic story, I don't have time to go into it.

At the same time, all this was happening. Now my hiring target is within reach. A large majority of the team, actually I think all the team are here, just want to give a wave, they're somewhere. So they are a fantastic bunch of people, most of them sitting together. And again, this shows the level of investment that's in many, many organizations now in the area of UX. I had a lot more hair before I started trying to do this. Brian said earlier that you can't hire fast and get quality at the same time, but I beg to differ.

But you can't do it without this, and** **I'm saying you can't do it without me, but you certainly are in trouble if you're trying to do this when you have one junior, middleweight designer and that's it. Many companies are based on that. They’ve been told what to do, by the CTO, the CMO.

So you start with that; for me, my strategy then was to put in the foundation, the intelligence, and the UX foundations. And not that classic putting lipstick on a pig. To put on the UI for us to be a visual bureau for engineering. They were all tasked with winning the trust of engineers. And I'll come back to that later again. We weren't forcing a process. We weren't doing PR, we weren't doing posters. Because that just annoys people, posters will come but there has to be connections in the canteen, in the pub, in meetings and win your trust.

You have to have the UX foundation, then the product you saw earlier they’re broken into a loose group of products and you need product leadership from a UX perspective as well. So they need to be leads / managers. It's really a management role that you're doing this for, it's very important.

After that, then you get some seriously senior people, and again, such as principals as we call them. We're talking an average of 15-20 years' experience each. And that's good, takes a lot of pressure off me so I can go home and be happy with the kids and not kick the dog if I had one. And then researchers, so instead of subjective or knee-jerk reactions, we have to base this on testing. And really interesting to be following, she's not there. But Cheryl wherever she is on the psychological background, as well because the researchers are hired with a background in psychoanalysis or psychology, civil engineering; not quite the same theme but this is something that's in its infancy in Ireland and I think we need to face up to it. I think as an industry we need to start to invest in user testing, research, research questions and meaty stuff like that.

Also aspect of content localization for a global company, Ireland is representing the rest of the world at times with American mothership. The best way to do that is actually to practice what you preach and have the global aspects of your team and content strategy itself which I'm building out.

A design system manager, I could do a whole talk on angular or the fact that we needed engineering to make the decision on our framework, not UX. That's been six months to a year-long process. We've got there, now to the point where that's scaling up. Warts and all, not rapidly; because it's a huge thing to change. We're moving from a monolith as our VP of engineering calls it. We have moved from that into a lean delivery. But you really need now as the next wave, for the next phase, design system pattern library as it used to be called, but a living design system.

Team Manager. You might have seen the ads out for the past year. Really as soon as I got in, I saw they need a team manager and somehow, we haven't even got our team yet. But I used to have the role myself and I really wanted to get that person in. I don't know what's that doing in there. Anyway, we now need real front-end specialists.
Don't you hate this? This is what many engineers, products, even UX-ers believe UX is. We're a good-looking team we're not that good-looking. But we certainly don't have floating post-its, I don't know where they get them. But that's the fantasy, and it's undermining our industry, all of our industry. The software as well. You have these designers in the corner.

This is the reality. The reality is that we're all new to this, you're new if the engineers attended this instead of their silos off in the other stage. But you're new to working with us as well. I would say a shout-out to everyone who is out of their depth, just admit it. And also, to new designers in the industry, please stop getting promotions every three months in UX. It's really, really bad. I can't look at any more CVs where someone's a head of whatever, in research, UX after two or three years of a career. You need to stop doing that or else we'll be getting nosebleeds. You'll be getting really, really worried and you need patience. I had a lot of impatience earlier in my career as well and I've been taught or mentored with the school of hard knocks previously and with some great mentoring in the current company, this stuff takes time. We have a mantra, which is "we're in a hurry." But we also have another one which is "it's a game of inches." Okay, so both of those things can be balanced out.

I was fascinated as well, to hear this woman mention, forming, storming, norming, and performing. And I'm going to be honest, I've only formed the team technically, to the high 20's for now. But that's only happened last week. Five people started in the past fortnight. I'm going to pause for breath. But we're really to be honest between storming and norming, my process is better than yours, the last place I worked in did this way better. The last place I worked in, I pretended we did this better, but actually I'm realizing now I can't do this. Including myself, we all have to be honest in finding what's right for the organization and the people you're in.

I did want to focus on lean transformation. We did the talk, myself and John Malamphy at Google I/O about Lean transformation, Kanban, CI-CD. But you know what, I think that's last year. I think that's something we're in now. We're a year to two years into that transformation that Peter has led, and John as well. I'm part of that now, but I won't go into detail on that. If you don't know what lean UX is if you don't know what CI-CD is and then focus on DevOps earlier and iterating, then you're in trouble. Either you're not interested or you're probably working in the wrong organization. Controversial. But we're a squad-based model. It's loosely aligned to the Spotify model. And again, to reinforce what's been said earlier, it's about autonomy. It's amazing that we kicked off today about autonomy. So you get your North Star, your vision from your product leadership, UX leadership, your engineering leadership but really it's down to the squad. You can see there within the squads, then you have UX, product owners. A greater number of engineers obviously, there's a lot to do in that area, but we're balancing out in QA. And that squad for us would be a map focus squad or a data focus squad, or it could be any area of specialization. Similar to Spotify with the transport bar, with the playlist. They become experts, they become a gang, they become terrifying and their conviction, and their knowledge which is good.

More fantasy, I've never been at a meeting like this. And it's hard, it's really tough. You hear that you're going into a squad, but you see ads from other companies that they've got beanbags and hoverboards. It's like why do I have to go and sit with this guy? You know. That's why I'm here, I love the IT crowd. My wife asked me where I work and I said the IT crowd! It's amazing. And that is the reality but again, please those who are in education or those who are learning please realize you have to work as a designer now with engineers. They're brilliant, they're geniuses. They're creative themselves, and that's why we love the IT crowd.

That's the reality. So there's no sad face about this, this is the reality. In that photo, Kelly here on the left in red is the only designer in any of these photos. They’re product leaders, BA, but primarily they're engineers. The ideas that come in from these co-creation workshops from these design sprints. You don't need me up here talking about design sprints. You know, you probably haven't read the book, but you've looked at the webpage about it. And you're trying to do it but this is the messy reality of doing it, it's fun, and they're engaged. We just need them to go and listen to the customer more. And that's all our jobs as UX designers is, that you have to get an engineering and you have to get Product to go and visit these people, the customers, the users.

This is another workshop again, a little more sanitized, a little bit more corporate, but this is not fake. This is a workshop now, but with customer support, with sales. And it's international, people travel around the world for this. There's an experience in the map background or journey that these people worked on because they've lived in their areas. They're experts and they're also co-creating.

So, a little bit of a pun, concept cars, and connected vehicles. A real breakthrough we had was to invest a bit of time, quite a bit of time in a concept car. That concept car set out our vision for the next six months to a year. It was a superb opportunity to show a vision again to excite the team, but I would caution against doing it regularly because really what is in here if it played, is that every one of these corners of the products has to turn into a Kanban card. Has to turn into your kind of weeks, not months or years.

So to deliver on that, when the squads are broken out, you have to have a ratio. You have a ratio that says as we call it in my bullet points for this talk is that this golden ratio of how many user experience designers does it take to change the company. There is this debate about how many should you have based on the industry standards. For us, the sweet spot at the moment is my team is approaching 30 to balance out for us to be a ratio of 1-10. Do we go as far as intercom? Do we go as far as Which the rumour is they're talking about one to two. Let's see what way it goes. But I do know there is a lot to build and generally engineers build that. We have to be very respectful of the fact that, that's the cross-functional team that we're talking about here. But we certainly need to get down from the high 10s. Thanks a million.

Okay, so we have a focus as well on not just KPIs. KPIs are obviously hugely important as a team. We're focused on KPIs in the UX team but as a company, we are as well. So our engineering leadership, our product leadership are tracking to the same KPIs. NPS, and previously mentioned even eNPS or internal NPS. But we also have data science in the company. We have data scientists in the company and they're engaged in these success metrics. All that measurement is not the UX team trying to make a case against someone else or on behalf of the customer, it's doing it together. So our KPIs are all about outcomes. And again, that's the lean methodology, not about the delivery business. The project manager telling you that we're going to deliver it on this date, but we're asking and probably should be asking what are we delivering? what customer value are we delivering? Models I recommend the heart framework, Google Ventures I brought in the heart framework. And it's a very simple way, you pick out two or three of these letters, happiness, adoption, task success, and you measure against those as a team. As a cross-functional squad, you pick your metrics.

So tasks success for our routine products would be optimized without any failure in that period, and we're tracking in the right direction. Emotional trendline from Usabilla for example, and we’re tracking in the right direction. If Peter was still here that's completely doctored at the end so I think one of our new designers got excited when I said it was. So, it's doctored, but we are very, very open and honest about what's going well and what's not, and facing up to it. So I really think that the core and the future for user experience or whatever we end up being called. I think you're ending the day with controversial talk about you know, the Gold Rush is over, UX is dead. It's just going to get retitled. Design thinking, all the stuff it's going to get retitled so nobody panic. But there's certainly a Goldrush going on. We will die if we don't as an industry, as a user experience in track against outcomes, metrics, and KPIs.

So rounding this out, thanks to Kelly for this link, on my team. I was ranting about something and she gave me a great quote which is that "change happens one person at a time." When I came in, it was all about my connection in the interview with Peter and his leaders. And again, for every one of my team, I tell them to look, I am very process-driven, but it's actually about your personal relationships, your conversations on the corridor, and in your meetings. To reinforce that it is 100% people and not process. I nearly went mad studying methodology, when I went back to academia. All I did was change my entire focus on my master's thesis to be actually about cross-functional team dysfunction. And warts and all we have it. We have it but we're owning up to it, we're trying to solve it, and we're working on it. But if we just hammered home lean, lean, lean, transformation, transformation, it's just not going to work. So it's the people that have to deliver it. And to reinforce what Bryan said this morning again, it's meetings, its ownership, its autonomy.

And that takes me back to my last slide. I hope I'm ahead of time, you've got a bit of the time back where you have questions. Again, I'm going, to be honest, I'm probably a little bit too honest. Wow, look at the spelling mistake, anyone spotted it?

Anyway, so we are here. In some respects, we're not. We're a little lower based on individuals because it's people. Are they at the meeting when I'm talking with their arms folded? Do they think we're the arts and crafts department? You know, are there people leaning forward and going, wow! That's exactly the same frustrations we have. And it's actually because it's the frustrations of the customer and the user. So the good news is we have tracked from one and a half years and not solely down to me; from two-ish in Fleetmatics, a Verizon company, up to four and a bit. And that is meant to take 20 years and I can credit people like Peter and others, but I have to credit as well, the Verizon leadership because they get it. That's why the company was acquired, and they're investing more in it.

So I'm convinced that it's not going to take 20, 21, 22 years then to get to six. But I do appreciate that going from five to six is going to be a huge struggle, and that comes down to the personalities of actual executive leadership in the company. And then the most recent hire in the engineering department who may or may not think that we're the arts and crafts department. So, thank you very much, that's me done, best of luck.