Building a design team with Alissa Briggs

A transcript of Episode 173 of UX Podcast. James Royal-Lawson and Per Axbom talk to Alissa Briggs about design leadership. How to build, manage and grow a sucessful design team.

Photo taken by Peter Vermaercke

Transcript

[Intro Music]

James Royal-Lawson: You’re listening to UX Podcast, coming to you from Stockholm, Sweden. We are your hosts, James Royal-Lawson.

Per Axbom: And Per Axbom.

James Royal-Lawson: We have listeners in a hundred and seventy-two countries from Spain to Slovakia.

Per Axbom: And today, we are talking to our friend, Alissa Briggs. We first met Alissa over six years ago, but we don’t get to see her very often as she’s based in San Francisco. She’s today Head of Design at the PlanGrid, an Enterprise App for construction workers. Previously, she led design at Brigade and at Intuit, where she was working when we first talked to her in Episode 79.

James Royal-Lawson: Yes, that was a couple of years ago now.

Per Axbom: Yeah.

James Royal-Lawson: But we caught up with Alissa at Euro IA where she gave a talk entitled, “Race to the top buildings, skyscrapers, and design teams that soar” where she used the metaphor of how skyscrapers get built and then applied these lessons to show how you can become a better design leader.

[Music]

“Design Leadership is hard,” that was one of your — I think, one of your closing remarks during your talk. And I think it is. But you seem to have done a pretty good job of gathering together some tools and experience about building design teams. Share to us a little bit of your knowledge and insights into how you go about that in a good way.

Alissa Briggs: Sure. Yes. So, some of the things that I was sharing were really around how you approach thinking about the types of skills that you need on your team, and then, how you go about finding the right people for your team, bringing them onboard.

Also, just thought a lot about how do you put together a strategy for your team. I think a lot of times when we talk about strategy, it sounds like this very high-level thing, it’s very vague, it sounds like a business buzzword, but the reality is having a strategy and a vision of your team is so important because it helps you figure out where do you want to go and then figure out what types of people you need to help you get there.

And then, of course, actually working together with that team to build towards your vision. I think that’s something that I’ve really learned over time is if you’re a leader, that means you had to be leading a team, right? You need to be working with people. You can’t do it alone. So, yes, happy to go into any of those.

James Royal-Lawson: So, creating a vision then? Normally your vision would be outward?

Alissa Briggs: Yes.

James Royal-Lawson: Really business-related?

Alissa Briggs: Yes.

James Royal-Lawson: But in the case, it’s not real — or is it? What is the vision for a design team?

Alissa Briggs: Yeah. You know, that’s a great question. So, I think there’s actually a lot of different visions you might have. One thing that I think is that we often don’t do enough time — spend enough time thinking about is what is the vision for our organization, for our team?

We talk a lot about how do you create the vision for your product and that, I think, is a separate thing. But the vision for your team is really where does everyone on your team want to go together? So, for example, with my team at PlanGrid, we spend a lot of time as a team going out, really understanding where design currently fit in the organization? How is it perceived? And then, we work together. We actually have a vision workshop where we brainstormed as a team where are we at today and where we going to tomorrow.

And so, we actually did a two-hour brainstorm together, got a bunch of post-it notes, threw them on the wall, and really try to imagine three years out what is it going to look like to be on our team? What’s it going to feel like? What are we going to hear customers saying? What are we going to hear people in the organization saying? And that was really cool, because once we were able to articulate what it would look like and feel like to be in our team in three years, that gave us a really clear idea of being able to then go and plan out, “Okay. If we want to get here, where design is really empowered, and working well together with the other functions, and helping drive business success. Then, okay. If we kind of walk back in time, what are the different milestones that we’ll need to hit to actually accomplish that goal?”

James Royal-Lawson: Excellent. I mean, this ties it very much to the kind of coaching techniques?

Per Axbom: That’s what I was thinking. I love that methodology, because that is coaching and in a sense, you separate yourself from the now when you look at who do I want to be in the future? Or when I am in the future, who do I — what decisions do I want to have made coming there? So, I mean, I understand how that works. And I wish I would do that more with the people I work with, actually.

James Royal-Lawson: Then, it’s a shared vision as well?

Per Axbom: Yes.

James Royal-Lawson: The key aspect to it. It’s not just your vision.

Alissa Briggs: That’s right. That’s right. I think that’s one of the mistakes I see a lot of early leaders and managers make is that they feel so much pressure to just go write some amazing, glorious vision statement by themselves. And I think it’s just like product design. If we were to go off in our little ivory tower and design something without ever talking to customers, without ever working with anyone else, getting critique or feedback, that would just not be a great design, right? The way we do design is we go out, we talk with people, we do the research, we collaborate, that’s what gets us to a great design.

So, I think we can apply the same principle to when we’re building a vision for our team and actually do that in a very collaborative fashion, bring research into that process, if — of course, in this case, it’s more internal organizational research. But I think when we do that, that is — that is so much more powerful, because not only do — just come up with a better — a better vision, one that’s more clear and that more people understand, but it’s also one that people feel committed to and bought into, which is super important if you want to be executing on this vision with your team.

James Royal-Lawson: They’ve invested their thought, time, energy into creating it. So, you would then have something that you can anchor over steps of the process, too.

Alissa Briggs: Yes.

Per Axbom: And one of my questions was going to be, so how do you know what competencies you’re looking for when you look into recruiting more people into your team. But you, sort of, answered that now, because then, if you do the vision, it’s becoming more clear to you what types of people you want to get into your team to get to that vision, I guess.

Alissa Briggs: Yes. Exactly. I mean, at PlanGrid, part of our vision was actually — there — well, there three pillars to it. One, is really focusing on bringing customer-driven innovation into our company, which was something that wasn’t really happening before. The next was to really make all the workflows in our product very, very frictionless. And the third is to have really consistent high-quality craftsmanship throughout the product.

So, if you look at each of those pillars of our strategy and our vision, which you’ll see is that you need different types of skills to accomplish each of those. So, for example, with that first one, the customer-driver innovation, having user-research and the ability to tell stories in a really compelling way, it’s so critical. And when I first joined PlanGrid, we actually didn’t have a user research function, so it was very, very clear to me when I was going through and looking at our strategy with the team and evaluating the skills that we had on the team, that we were going to need to bring someone who had that expertise. And the, of course, it was really good, because I had the done the upfront work with the team of selling everyone at the company on our vision for the design team. And so, it was much easier for me to go to my manager and then have a conversation with him about, “Hey, if you also agree with us that this is where we should go as a team, we’re going to need to open up a user-research precision.” And that’s exactly what happened.

Per Axbom: Oh, wow.

James Royal-Lawson: So, then, how did you go about mapping the skills and finding the gaps?

Alissa Briggs: Yes. So, one thing that we created, which I think is really useful, is what we call our job ladders. And so, we’ve basically done is written out all the capabilities that someone on our team might have. So, that would be things that are craft-focused like visual design, or UX design, or research, information architecture. And then, we also look at things that are more influence-related like storytelling, business acumen, technical acumen. And what we did is we actually mapped those skills and capabilities to levels of seniority.

So, for example, if you are a more junior level visual designer, you would potentially just be applying a visual design system, whereas if you’re more senior in that skill, you would be perhaps creating that visual system. So, once we had made these job ladders, I was able to go and sit down with every person on the team and have a conversation with them about which of these capabilities you are very strong in and which of these were more opportunity areas and places where they could grow.

And, of course, that’s great as a management and coaching tool, because you can then continue to have conversations about, “Hey, let’s say you’ve got opportunities to grow in your copywriting skills. Okay. Well, let’s enter you to a class or get you a mentor or someone like that to help you with your copywriting, right?” So, that’s one half of it, it is just great for personal development. And then, on the other side of things, once I went through with everyone on the team and mapped out their skills and where they were, it helped me to see where are the gaps on the team. Where are the gaps and then put together a plan, and say — well, first of all, if there’s a gap on the team, is that okay? Is it important to have that skill on our team to accomplish our vision? And if so, let’s figure out, do we provide more coaching for people in the team? Do we bring in someone externally, who has the skill onto the team? We can really start to get very strategic about how we want to build the team over time.

James Royal-Lawson: And also, what it will do, you’ll be able to recruit better, because if you’re saying, “Okay. This person is going to develop two runs up the ladder in one year or whatever.” Then, you can see how the gap is going to be filled and then another, maybe, gap would appear. So, if you bring someone in who is — fits into the wrong square, I supposed you could say, then that’s not going to work in your team.

Alissa Briggs: That’s right. I…

James Royal-Lawson: And it might work — but it might work in five months or it might, you know, might have worked five months ago. So, you got a much better perspective on how that flow of people can work with your team.

Alissa Briggs: Absolutely. This is — this is something that’s actually really near and close my heart is making sure that we are creating the space for everyone to grow on the team. So, one thing that I’m actually really proud of is that there’s several people on the team who, over just the past year and a half I’ve been working there, have really stepped up and continue to grow in their careers. In fact, one of the designers on my team has grown from being an individual contributor into a design lead role over time. And I’m working with each person on the team to figure out where and how did they want to grow in their careers. So, that’s been really great, because we can also — we can look, as you’re saying, two years down the road and say, okay. Who and where are my growing people? So, that over time, we’re building a team that has a real variety, not just of skill sets, but also seniority and ownership and different scopes of work as well.

James Royal-Lawson: I suppose you — you’ve also have created — it sounds like it’s a very open way of working with the skills and career progression. But I guess, you also end up in a situation where you can let people know or you can come to an agreement together that now is a good time for you to actually leave the nest, go somewhere else. Because you are so valuable, you know, you’ve come to this point and you’re not going to fit in our team anymore, because we can’t have six people who are senior, I don’t know, graphic designers. But if you’ve — if you had a feeling of openness and being part of a good team during that period, then maybe that’s not that hard a — it’s actually a good thing, it’s a positive thing that it’s time for someone to move on.

Alissa Briggs: Yes. Absolutely. I think that’s such a great point and one of the things that I try to do all the time is just to have ongoing conversations with people about their careers in general. And I try not to restrict it just to PlanGrid or just the company that I’m at, but I actually feel very invested in the careers of everyone I’ve managed or mentored in the past. And it doesn’t really matter to me, actually, if they stay at my company or if they go somewhere else, because at the end of the day, I, you know, I love to just have everyone doing something they’re passionate about, where they’re learning and growing. And hopefully, we can create a space for that at PlanGrid, but if that’s not the case, you know, I’m absolutely happy to work with people on finding opportunities that will be right fit for them to continue to learn and grow.

James Royal-Lawson: Yes.

Per Axbom: Yes.

James Royal-Lawson: It’s human. I mean, you don’t — jobs for life, it’s one of those — it doesn’t really exist and it’s not always a good thing. So, having that opportunity, I think, is really healthy.

Per Axbom: Okay. Listening to this now, I mean, this sounds like magic. It sounds — it sounds wonderful for what you’re describing. You have this vision and everything works, and people come and leave and they progress and they go and learn new stuff. What are the — what are — what are you not telling us? What’s challenging? Because I know you can’t predict the future. Life is life. Things happen. So, when do things go wrong?

James Royal-Lawson: And you did say design leadership is hard.

Per Axbom: Yes.

James Royal-Lawson: You’re not looking as if it’s hard at the moment.

Alissa Briggs: [Laughter] Yes, design leadership is really, really hard. So, one of the things I’ve actually learned a lot from working with the construction industry is that stuff happens. And it happens all the time and you never know when it’s going to come. And one of the things that’s actually been quite interesting about working in construction is that when things go wrong on a construction site, they go really wrong, right?

So, what they do in construction is they actually put a lot of systems and plans in place, so that when things do inevitably go wrong, they can respond to it in a really effective way. So, a couple of things that they do is they try to have really clear contingency plans. So, if this — you know, if this is — everything’s going well, we’re going to do this, but if this and this happens, here’s some fallback plans for us. They also make sure that they have people on the jobsite, whose full time job is to walk around and make sure everything’s going okay. So, I think there’s a lot of relevant things for us just working within more technology and design. With the first, the contingency planning, I do this all the time.

It was so funny actually when I was coming out here for this trip, I actually put together a plan with my team, where it was — I was basically saying who’s going to take care of what? And, you know, people are volunteering to help out with different things. And at the bottom, I had actually written out this contingency plan of what if this happened? Or what if that happened? Things like, you know, what if while Alissa’s out we find a candidate we really want to make an offer to but she’s not here and she can’t approve it, right? So, we were talking through some of the plans there and what might happen.

And then, as I was writing this out, I started noticing at the bottom of my plan, I have written things like, “What if everyone on the team quits?” Or “What if there’s a natural disaster in the office?” and I was starting to write this stuff out and my team was like, “It’s okay. We — we are going to be alright. That’s not going to happen.” So, I think I am definitely a contingency planner. Typically, it’s just in the back of my head, but sometimes when I write it down, I realize how much I am thinking about the hundred different things we could do in case something goes awry.

Per Axbom: That’s fantastic. I think, you know, that’s something we should be spending a lot more time on.

James Royal-Lawson: Absolutely.

Per Axbom: I’d go to a workshop like that. Definitely.

James Royal-Lawson: I mean, the exercise I do in a workshop is — well, when you do this, story mapping. And if you’ve put all the steps in the — in the journey and you’ve said this is all the things that you would do under that step. I get people to — and consider what happens when it goes wrong? So, like, this is — because we map out — we map out these according to how we expect them to go forward. So, they’re succeeding at every step along the way. But that isn’t how life is. That isn’t how it works. So, when I’m — when I’m teaching about analytics and how you can — what you can measure to influence your designs with analytics — Then, it’s important to know how you measure when things have gone wrong.

Alissa Briggs: Yes.

James Royal-Lawson: And you are coming to contingency plans and preparing yourself for those moments, where it’s not as you designed it originally or not as you planned originally, not the…

Per Axbom: And I kind of — I also think people — that’s how people get hurt by your designs.

James Royal-Lawson: Yes.

Per Axbom: So, you have to figure out how do I solve that?

James Royal-Lawson: Yes.

Alissa Briggs: Yes. I think that’s a great point and something you mentioned there, which I think is also really important and is taking the time to notice when things are going wrong or about to go wrong.

So, for example, you know, if you’re on the construction site and the storm is rolling in, you need to do something about that. Let’s say you just poured concrete, well, now you got to cover the concrete or something like that, right?

So, you always kind of need to have one eye on the horizon and be prepared in case something needs to happen. So, one thing I actually work really hard on at PlanGrid is sensing the prevailing winds. And a part of that is me actually meeting with people, and listening, and learning, and seeing what’s happening, and so we can predict if something is changing within organization. I don’t want to be caught off guard. So, I actually work quite hard to not have to go to my contingency plan, right.

And part of that is it can’t just be my work, right? I can’t have my eyes everywhere all it wants. So, I actually work with the team. I actually — I’m always just trying to create a safe space for the team to flag things that are not working for them, problems that they’re having. I think it’s really important to not bury that stuff, but rather make sure it’s bubbling up that everyone’s aware of it, so that, again, you just aren’t caught off guard.

James Royal-Lawson: Yeah. And that’s the external part of design leadership. With what you’ve talked a lot about the internal bit, building the team, caring for the team, and then sensing prevailing winds is part of that job out towards the organization, which is equally as important.

Per Axbom: Yes.

Alissa Briggs: Yes. And part of that, too, is within the team, right? I mean, one thing that I think is very important is making sure you know how your team is doing, morale-wise, do they feel like they’re growing? Do they feel like they’re learning? Yes. I think that’s one thing I’m often asking people. I just want to make sure we don’t — you know, if someone isn’t feeling energized, isn’t feeling good about their work, then we do something about it versus them feeling like they can’t talk about it or like they have to, you know, kind of, just deal with it on their own. So, I think it’s really important to do both externally and then internally.

Per Axbom: So, what are — what are some of the things you do to deal with conflicts or deal with people not feeling good?

Alissa Briggs: Oh, yes. Within my team?

Per Axbom: Yeah.

Alissa Briggs: So, one of the things that — I actually spend a lot of time thinking and worrying about perhaps and trying to optimize for is making sure every time we are putting people on projects, that I’m really thinking about what are the things this person is good at and where do they want to grow. And then, also what is the business need? And I’m, kind of, always looking for this perfect venn diagram overlap of putting people on projects where they can be successful but that are also going to stretch and help them learn something new and grow. And then, also, of course, deliver successfully for the business.

So, I think that’s one thing I found and is very helpful for getting ahead of people feeling disenfranchised or bored, is actually just making sure they’re constantly in this place of learning, and growing, and getting better every day. I think that’s, at least for the folks I brought on to my team, that’s usually huge energizers for people. And one of the reasons they come and work with us, so that they can continue learning and growing. So, that’s something that I’m always looking to do.

James Royal-Lawson: You’ve talked a lot about, building visions with the team, kind of, working with the team, and, kind of, that very inclusive way of working with the team. That’s all very well and good when you’re starting from scratch with your design team. But when you bring in that, kind of, seventh person into an existing vision, an existing team, existing projects — How would — how would you onboard new members?

Alissa Briggs: That’s a great question. So, we actually have a whole onboarding process, very clearly detailed out. I’ve actually…

James Royal-Lawson: That’d be a contingency plan of course.

Alissa Briggs: [Laughter] Yes. Yes.

James Royal-Lawson: What happens when we get someone new?

Alissa Briggs: Actually, I wrote a blog post about this recently. One of the things that we do when we are bringing people onboard is we actually work with them to create what we call a new higher blueprint. And so, with this, it’s a document that we work with this person, where we say for their first three months, what are their expectations? And they really own that plan, but I will — I’ll help with them out with building it out. And usually, what we try to put in there is really taking that first month to just dive in and really understand PlanGrid.

And so, we actually have an onboarding training that I think is fantastic. It’s a one-week program everyone in the company goes through it. And that’s where people really dive in and learn about the customers and the product. And the design team actually teaches the training, which gets everyone onboard with understanding what design is at PlanGrid. But in addition to that, with my designers, we’ll have them do is actually go out and talk with customers. So, we’ll actually have them go out to a jobsite, sit there on user-research sessions, get on the phone, sit with customer support, and really try to understand our customers. Because, again, a lot of the people working at PlanGrid don’t have a construction background and it’s a very complicated field. So, getting them out there and building that customer empathy is really, really critical.

And the other thing that I’ll do is I’ll have them do a heuristic evaluation. So, just go through and put together their point of view on what’s working well, what’s not working well with PlanGrid. That’s really helpful for us, because we like having fresh eyes on the product and seeing what are we missing. And then, it’s also great for them, because six months in, when they no longer have fresh eyes, they can look back at their original notes and see, “Oh, how has my perception changed over time?”

James Royal-Lawson: I really like that idea.

Per Axbom: Yes.

James Royal-Lawson: They come and do… your own critique of the thing you’re going to be working with, but not — I think one of — one challenge as being someone who’s maybe already part of a project, is that being defensive when someone — when someone says, “I mean, why are you doing that? Why do you put that thing there?” Or — and you’ve got, like, you know, three years of knowledge of the — maybe even political journey of why that’s been like it is. Not necessarily, kind of, user based decision. And you kind of fall into that defence — I mean, well, it has to be like that, because of blah, blah, blah. So, maybe that technique that you’re describing is a — is a way of surfacing those kind of stories.

Alissa Briggs: Yes. Yes. I think one thing I’ll just point out with that is when this — when each person is filling out their heuristic evaluation, we make sure we do not frame this as, “You’re a consultant coming in and providing recommendations to the team about what they should do.” The idea is really they — it’s very informal. It’s just for that person to, kind of, capture their thoughts and share it out. Typically, just with the design team or if they want to after they’ve met their engineering partners, they can share it with them as well. But we really don’t want to position that just as someone coming in and poo-pooing on everyone else’s design, right? It’s more about us getting a fresh perspective.

The other thing that I really encourage people to do is to spend that first month really getting to know people. I think relationships are important. No matter where you work, they are also very just important at our company. It’s a very collaborative culture. So, quickly building that relationship is very critical. So, I’ll encourage people to just take people on their out for coffee, get lunch with them, and otherwise just build that interpersonal relationship, which is going to set them up for success later.

Per Axbom: I think you’ve just described the blueprint for what successful design leadership is in, like, 20 minutes. I’m — my mind is, kind of, blown.

James Royal-Lawson: Wow. Yes. Yes. But I’ve still got more questions! Because now, I’m, kind of, working backwards through this process a little bit now. Because you talked about the hiring process a bit and there was, if I remember it — how you interview people. I remember thinking that was interesting, because you — I’ll see if I get this right now, you interview candidates twice with — like, more — formal interviews. Then, there was like a third thing, which was on-site. Do you bring in candidates and made it through the first…

Alissa Briggs: Yes.

James Royal-Lawson: …two stages to…

Alissa Briggs: Yes.

James Royal-Lawson: …be part of the organization half day or something. Or…

Alissa Briggs: Not like that, but typically what we’ll do is we have — first, I’ll try and talk with a candidate, I’ll do a phone-screening or perhaps grab a coffee with them in there — if they’re in the area and just get to know them. I always like to hear a little bit about how did people get into the world of design. I think that reveals a lot about them and what their passion is. And then, I’ll also talk with people just about where did they want to go in their career, because I would hate to bring someone onto the team and for us not to be able to support their growth. So, I really try to focus on them and what are their goals. And look if there would be potentially be a match there.

And then, if that goes well, then we’ll have them do a smaller portfolio screen with just one or two members of the team, kind of, walk through a project, explain a little bit about your process, how you make decisions, so on and so forth. And if that goes well, then we’ll have them on for a half day on site interview.

And what we’ve done with our interview is — as I was mentioning before, we’re very thoughtful about what types of skills and capabilities we’re looking for each position that we open. So, we really carefully tailor that day to evaluate for those skills. And that could be through a mix of having this person present their portfolio, having them do some one on one or two on one interviews, where we’re asking for specific questions around a certain type of capability. And it also could include more of a hands on design exercise where they’re actually going forward and tackling a problem collaboratively with a couple of people on the design team.

Per Axbom: Are there any questions that stump you?

[Laughter]

James Royal-Lawson: I’ve been trying!

Alissa Briggs: Throw a couple more at me.

James Royal-Lawson: Well I suppose one is — like when you will be my manager?

Alissa Briggs: You just got to move on to San Francisco, all right?

James Royal-Lawson: So, there we go. Even had an answer for that.

Alissa Briggs: [Laughter]

Per Axbom: Yes. Exactly. Thank you so much for doing this with us, Alissa.

Alissa Briggs: Thank you, guys.

[Music]

James Royal-Lawson: Design leadership is hard. Alissa said at the end of her talk and we said at the start of the interview. But she really, really didn’t make it sound very hard.

Per Axbom: No, you’re right. She made it sound like it’s something you just go into it and this is how you do it. So, check this list and you’re off. But at the same time, I mean, if you listen between the lines, you realize that she has come to all these conclusions because it is hard, but she’s been working on them for a while. I mean, the ease with — which she answers all these questions tells us something about how much thought she’s put into all these different aspects of design leadership.

James Royal-Lawson: Absolutely. I mean, I must confess, I was trying really quite hard to trip her up with some of the questions I posed. I mean, I was thinking, “Okay. You know, this question, she can’t possibly have found a way of dealing with this organization, you know, mess.” And every single time I posed a question to her, she had a really good answer.

Per Axbom: Yes.

James Royal-Lawson: I mean, it wasn’t like she was just repeating verbatim the talk she done the previous day. A lot of the stuff we covered wasn’t from her talk.

Per Axbom: I think also, when — I’m thinking about this as actually looking at design leadership through the lens of UX, you’re actually using the UX process to think about how you would design a team or actually manage a team. And you’re thinking about your employees or your co-workers as people and not as resources. You’re thinking about them as people who develop over time and people who have goals and those goals may or may not fit with the future organization, and so — if you’re recruiting for new positions, they may start by thinking, “Is there anyone on my team who would — could actually develop or advance into that position? Or are they moving out because they have other goals?” And you’re open to all of those options and I really love how she approached that. It’s just people are people and you just have to make them feel at home here.

James Royal-Lawson: Yes. At the same — at the same time though, you — the design team doesn’t work in isolation. It’s all very well and good having vision statements and, you know, onboarding plans, and job ladders, and all these wonderful things in your design team. That doesn’t work if you’ve got a dysfunctional organization surrounding you. So…

Per Axbom: That’s very true. Yes.

James Royal-Lawson: So, in PlanGrid’s case, it seems like not only has Alissa formed a really good design team and has multiple processes in place to make sure that the design team develops and survives. Her organization is with them.

Per Axbom: Yes.

James Royal-Lawson: That’s what she mentioned in the beginning of the interview, about — because they’ve already — they’ve already formulated a vision and they’ve communicated the vision and spread it around the organization. The organization has bought into it. So, they’re in a — they’re in a shared world, shared environment, so it’s easier to get buy in for resources or designs, maybe, even.

Per Axbom: Right. And they’ve obviously placed a lot of trust in the way the design team works.

James Royal-Lawson: I mean, it’s like just — we talked about the UX aspect to this again that Alissa has actually — she’s, kind of, mapped out all the flows, hasn’t she? She’s…

Per Axbom: Yes. Like the journey maps.

James Royal-Lawson: Exactly. She did journey maps for — well, in the team. The individual — the career maps. And she — we talked about contingency plans, which you can say it properly now and you didn’t say it then. Most of it is like the new hire blueprint that…

Per Axbom: Yes.

James Royal-Lawson: And she’s like say, what do you need? What’s the journey you need to take in your first month, three months as part of the design team? These are the touch points, these are important milestones, this is — this is what we need to happen then. This is what we do if you don’t do that.

Per Axbom: Yes. I really love the idea of the contin — contingency — now I can’t say it again.

James Royal-Lawson: Oh, you’re going to get applaud from me for that…

Per Axbom: Oh, my God. Contingency plan. I’ll, kind of, call it risk assessment now.

[Laughter]

James Royal-Lawson: It’s not risk assessment!

Per Axbom: Because that’s how I see it, because she’s thinking about all these things that could potentially go wrong and she jokes about it. But it is hugely important to actually consider what could go wrong? Who could get hurt? What could be considered harmful? And if you’ve thought about that beforehand, you’re so much better equipped to handle all of the different types of oncoming situations. They might not happen the way you imagine them, but at least you’ve imagined something. So, she’s way ahead of everyone else when she’s thinking like that.

James Royal-Lawson: Yeah. So, not just thinking about those aspects when you’re designing a product or a website, but thinking about it during your — well, the development of your working team.

Per Axbom: And she’s joking about natural disasters, but obviously, natural disasters happen. And more and more often it seems.

James Royal-Lawson: Well, when you’re working with construction, I supposed there is — well it is more — it’s more likely to happen that there will be an industrial incident. Things do go wrong. I mean, there’s a huge amount of health and safety aspects of building and that’s one of the big sells in the sector nowadays is making sure you are safe, and working safe, and creating a safe environment for the — for the constructors.

Per Axbom: Yes.

James Royal-Lawson: So that does force into a culture of understanding what you need to do if things go wrong. And recognizing and understanding when it’s gone right as well. That’s important, too.

Per Axbom: Exactly. So, it’s a risk assessment, but it’s also — I’m now relating also to inclusive design, because she’s thinking about how the different people who are working there, actually with different competencies that they have, but also what different futures they have, how she’s approaching what they want on a personal level as well as on a professional level. It’s just fantastic the way that design team seems to work. And it’s — it really seems to be actually a blueprint for how many design teams should work.

James Royal-Lawson: I think if — you’ve all got to click in the show-notes to the presentation. Because in the presentation, there’s at least one slide is the grid — the skills grid for the…

Per Axbom: Oh, yes.

James Royal-Lawson: I think, it’s the craft skills in the presentation. I think — and if you’re working with — building a design team, needs to look at the — and work out your own. It’s absolutely a fantastic way of just mapping out, who do we have? What skills do we need? And what levels do we have? And do we not have? So, the ability of being able to recruit for the future, so you know that you’re going to have a gap in three months, so you start planning to hire for it now or see who in your team is going to develop in that time into that role. I — I’ve never been part of a team which has that kind of, you know, self-understanding.

Per Axbom: Yes. You obviously want to work in her team.

James Royal-Lawson: I do. I’d jump for the chance. I just need to get the family to agree to go to San Francisco.

Per Axbom: So, what you, dear listener, want to do now is actually visit uxpodcast.com because that’s where you will find the show notes, and the links, and the presentation that James just mentioned. The link to the blog post Alissa mentioned as well. And if you’ve enjoyed this episode, then let a colleague or a friend know and encourage them to listen, too. Remember to keep moving.

James Royal-Lawson: See you on the other side.

[Music]

James Royal-Lawson: Knock, knock.

Per Axbom: Who’s there?

James Royal-Lawson: Et.

Per Axbom: Et who?

James Royal-Lawson: Et tu, Brute? Then fall, Caesar.


This is a transcript of a conversation between James Royal-Lawson, Per Axbom and Alissa Briggs recorded for UX Podcast at EuroIA in September 2017 and published as Episode 173 of UX Podcast in December 2017.

To hear more episodes visit uxpodcast.com or search for UX Podcast in your favourite podcast client.