Table XI

Uniting an organization’s philosophy on designing and building software

After being promoted into the director role at Table XI's, after less than 6 months in the organization, one of the biggest tasks I took on was providing the organization with a vision for how design would work within the organization. To share the vision with the organization I created a presentation titled "How we'll work together to make great products."

Year 2016
  • Creator
  • Presentor
  • Implementor
Type Presentation
Affecting organizational change

Making meaningful and lasting change to the organizational decision-making process

Table XI, founded in 2002, existed for more than a decade before it integrated a design team into the organization. In that time, the organization had developed a style of organizational-decision making wasn't geared for design.

In order for design to be successful at Table XI, I would need to create lasting change. Many change-makers may choose to focus on changing how organizations make decisions.

While this can feel important, it's actually one of the least important things to change. After all, there are many organizations that make the right decision but get there through different means. Instead, I choose to focus on changing the definition of good from defined by the client, to defined by the client's user.

This direction served as the underlying principle for my work.

Integrating design

Changing the conversation on the perception of design

Altering perception isn’t an over-night task, it requires a lot of listening and a healthy dose of patience.

During my candid conversations with designers, developers and project managers, I learned that many felt this problem was displayed in the decision-making process for project project planning. Simply put, the perception was that design was one of the first things to be cut and sometimes not included in projects because leadership didn't value it.

In my discussions with leaders across the organization, I found a completely difference perspective. It became clear in my conversations that design was largely valued (albeit to varying degrees). In fact the organization viewed it's investments in the design (including the acquisition of a design studio) as a sign to the rest of the company that it truly valued design. My perception of the problem was that years of suffering the problems of the previous design group had left a bad taste in many mouths.

It was clear that there was a big difference of perception between the two groups. However I was still unclear on how I could effectively bridge the gap between the groups.

Finding inspiration

In order to find potential solutions to the issues surrounding design, I looked outside of the organization for potential solutions. I spent weeks meeting with design leaders in other organizations, watching online lectures, reading books on organizational design, and attending conferences.

I found my inspiration in a talk delivered by Jared Spool that framed organizational design maturity under the context individual skill development titled "Beyond the UX Tipping Point". The most important notion from his talk was that the perception of value is often related to knowledge. The less that stakeholders understand about a process, especially as it relates to the value of activities, the more often it will appear that they do not value the process.

Creating a path forward

Our path forward was clear, for design to be perceived as "valued" I'd need to reframe the problem as education problem in the context of growth as a organization.

This knowledge translated into a section of the deck that I produced to address the 1 year goal of the UX Design group, "have a predictable, impactful design practice."

Mapping our journey

To help the management and design groups visualize the problem, I first establish where we were as an organization in the spectrum of design maturity. This example maps Jared Spool’s Organizational Maturity Model against the Conscious Competence Ladder, a simple but effective tool for explaining skill acquisition.

Explaining the steps along the journey

A map not only explains where you are but also helps you determine how to get to your destination. The map I presented was a good start, but I needed to also provide enough context for people to buy-in to where we were as an organization and enough depth to help them envision the path forward.

Click to enlarge

We are here

In a series of slides, I added depth to each step along the journey by providing short bullet points that provided a brief snapshot of the experience of being at that stage. To help viewers envision the step accurately, I also provided a list of recongizable and comparable tech consulting firms at each stage of maturity.

Moving up the maturity ladder

To ensure we could easily navigate our path forward, I distilled our opportunities into 3 easy to explain principles.

(The future vision of how design would work in the organization would be shared in a later section of the presentation.)

Building momentum

I often prefer to try new things with a select group of individuals before presenting them to teams. Doing so provides an opportunity to build positive momentum and ease concerns that trying new things often creates.

Before presenting the deck, I facilitated a few test runs of Google Design Sprints and ensured that several key people from outside of the design group participated. This provided the opportunity for others to gain a deeper understanding of our work as UX practitioners and built trust in the room.

Envisioning the future

Defining an organizationally aligned design approach

To move towards an organizationally compatible future-vision, I first needed to re-examine long-held principles of user‑experience design.

UX design is currently dominated by user-centered design (UCD), a set of design principles that rely on deep immersion in the users world to make design decisions. And for good reason, putting the user at the center of product decisions ensures that the your product solves real problems for people.

UCD isn't well suited for all environments. Many development teams have adopted Agile principles and methodologies as their standard approach to building software. However, many UCD design teams have difficulty blending Agile and UCD approaches together.

Full implementation of UCD requires designers to immerse themselves in the users world. This process leads to insights that can then be turned into action. In many instances, this comes in the form of user immersion, followed by exploratory design, creating a prototype, and then testing it with users. This process typically unfolds over the course of months, not the days that Agile requires.

We needed something more quicker and more flexible, without sacrificing learning from users.

Another big issue surrounding UCD is that the process can create imbalanced priorities, designers may focus exclusively on the user’s needs without appreciation for the business context. This lack of common understanding can make it difficult to work with business partners.

One of the things that makes Table XI a truly unique consulting firm is that an entrepreneurial spirit is at it's core. Before diving into the specifics of projects, Table XI's leaders spend a lot of time getting to know the client's business first and often act as business advisors. Not demonstrating appreciation for the business context in this environment would only lead to more division.

We needed to ensure that designers prioritized the business and it's customers equally.

Evidence-Based Design

Evidence-Based Design (EBD) was the perfect fit for our organization. Born out of the Lean Startup and Agile movements, it's an philosophy that focuses on using the best evidence currently available to make decisions and testing the results.

Dual-Track Scrum

More importantly, we could easily integrate EBD principles into our Agile methodologies by adopting Dual-Track Scrum.

Dual-Track Scrum would enable our design team to gather evidence, design a prototype, and test it with users in a single iteration.

Providing implementation samples

To help the readers better visualize how new projects could work at the organization. I created a series of examples that illustrated how to process could be applied to greenfield projects, existing projects with major additions or redesigns, and existing projects with minor additions.

It was particularly important to show how developers and our internal stakeholders (CP, client principals) would remain involved in the process. UX is a team sport, without empowering non-designers to participate in the process in a meaningful way we could not create lasting change.

The Complete Presentation

I presented the completed deck first to my team and then to the management group. The presentation was met with enthusiasm for the future.

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