Workfront cross-functional design sprint

Workfront User Experience Operating Agreement

Wade Shearer
Jan 8 · 7 min read

The User Experience team at Workfront experienced a lot of growth and change in 2018. We doubled in size. We reorganized into cross-functionally-led portfolios—breaking down silos, providing strategic vision, and further strengthening the synergy between Product Management, Engineering, and UX. We assembled a dedicated team that lead the design and development of a new design system. We added two dedicated researchers. We ran two internship cohorts and hired three new associates.

While exciting, this growth and change has come with many challenges—some we’ve overcome and others we’re still working on. Being a large team, in multiple offices and across three major international time zones, communication is a major challenge. We also embarked on a major user experience overhaul to our entire platform, requiring significant investments in research and collaboration.

To help unify, inspire, and guide us forward, the UX leadership team ended the year by composing an operating agreement. It’s part of a larger initiative to become more focused on outcomes instead of features or technology and to develop a culture of accountability, transparency, feedback, and recognition. It includes of a lot of work by each member of the team to define specific expectations and outcomes for ourselves and each other. I’d like to specifically recognize and express my gratitude to Matt Bryan, Arsen Vardanyan, and Ken Kirkland for their leadership and contributions.

Specifically, our intent is to establish and define:

  1. roles and responsibilities,
  2. expectations of ourselves and colleagues,
  3. how we communicate and work together,
  4. what UX and “design” is,
  5. the position of UX in the product trio,
  6. how we do discovery and validation,
  7. how we support delivery and mitigate risk,
  8. and to back defense into the process.

I’m excited to share this. I hope that it will help your team as well.


Why we exist

Help people do their best work.

The Workfront User Experience team will gain deep insights into the needs and behavior of enterprise customers, identify opportunities for innovation and differentiation, and generate usable and useful experiences as part of the operational system of record, through informed and deliberate research, design, and validation. The single most important thing this team can do is understanding the jobs our customers are trying to do and solving them in creative ways that deliver positive, measurable outcomes that can be scaled and monetized. Operational constraints on this team include: maintaining a consistent experience across a large platform and suite of products, working within a design system, and supporting efficient and timely product delivery.

  • User Experience: Prioritizes impact to customer pain with a skill-set to maximize customer enjoyment.
  • Product Management: Prioritizes market opportunity with a skill-set to maximize ROI.
  • Engineering: Prioritizes delivering product with a skill-set to maximize scalability and performance.

How we work

  • The intended user. Seek to understand the range of users the design will be intended to serve. What are their common tasks and workflows? What success metrics are they measured against? Who do they interact with most and why? What tools do they use?
  • Problems & jobs. Define the problem the design needs to solve. Is this a user job-to-be-done or a business objective? When and where does the user have this problem? What precedes or follows the problem? What are the biggest pain points that exist with the way the problem is currently solved? What jobs need to be facilitated or eliminated as an outcome of the project?
  • What success looks like. How we will determine whether the problem has been solved (qualitative and quantitative measures)? Set baselines and measurable OKRs that cascade to department and company OKRs.
  • The team’s view. Make sure that you and your product team have a shared understanding of your users, the problems you are solving for them, and priority.
  • Measure along the way. Review data and feedback. Was our hypothesis validated or invalidated? What results do we see? What does that mean?
  • What did we learn? How should this new understanding impact the design?
  • Designing workflow or basic hierarchy does not require decisions around color, strokes, spacing or drop-shadows. These details slow down the design process through added production weight and distraction. Poor decision making can result from becoming attached to an aesthetic before the best overall solution is discovered. Working in the lowest fidelity possible for the decisions you are making will save time, increase decision quality and help keep design reviews focused.
  • This doesn’t need to take long and should be done in lower fidelities. Our first idea is usually the obvious solution or how things are currently done. This may not be the best solution. Striving for several viable options forces creative thinking, produces stronger design, and helps build cross functional consensus.
  • The logic and reasons behind design decisions can quickly be forgotten if not captured. Some reasoning may become irrelevant as the project evolves. Capturing assumptions and considerations makes it easier to defend decisions that shouldn’t be compromised and recognize which decisions can be thrown out.
  • Assumptions. A design is only as solid as the assumed knowledge it’s based on. Be aware and transparent about the guesses that provided the context for your design. Make sure that assumptions you base your designs on are accepted cross-functionally and are primarily customer derived.
  • Considerations. Every design comes with cost and implications. Capture and be transparent about possible problems or inefficiencies that could occur should your design be implemented. Communicate why you feel that cost is justified.
  • In order for designs to be accepted, endorsed and implemented, cross functional groups must be involved in the process and conversation of design. Find a channel (Slack is great) that grants the product trio lightweight transparency throughout the product cycle.
  • Become comfortable sharing sketches and related design thinking as it solidifies. This increases alignment between the 3 key groups and eliminates surprises and stressful pass-fail meetings. You know you’ve done this right when consensus is built at the same rate across design, product management, and engineering.
  • Morale, personal growth, and quality are lost when the driving intent of a designer becomes getting a design approved. Each designer has the responsibility to be fully invested in their projects and to acquire enough information to independently invent and communicate impactful, relevant, and beautiful work. We strive to support and motivate self driven design and expect it as the norm.

Our culture

  • Analysis and thoughtfulness are important, but learning comes from action
  • Exploring means that sometimes we’ll be wrong. And that’s okay; that’s how we learn and improve.
  • Communicate decisions early and often, and share why
  • Ensure everyone speaks equally and respect other’s feelings
  • Assume best intent and then seek truth and details directly
  • Request focused feedback
  • Be the end of the grapevine (avoid gossip)

Design principles

To really understand the “jobs to be done,” we need to authentically experience it ourselves by “doing the job.” Though this increases our chance of early success, we are not the user and not always right. We must validate any assumptions we make by doing usability tests, tracking usage metrics, reviewing with experts, and any other resource we have to validate the design as early and ongoing as possible.

Our overall objective is to increase customer satisfaction as a result of our efforts. We listen to customers and industry leaders and validate our solutions by watching Workfront succeed through our customers’ success using our products. Our priority is successful user outcomes, not design. Because we understand the job to be done, we facilitate an experience with no dead end that makes the customer look good.

We are defenders of the rich history of design fundamentals, product design standards, and consistency. We reuse patterns the customer already knows within and without the product. When necessary, justified, and exhaustively researched, we design alternative experiences that increase success and satisfaction. This allows us to provide interactions that are efficient and delightful, and set new industry standards.

We relieve customers from the tasks we can easily automate or suggest in the product. We always questions whether something should be automated or augmented, considering the cognitive load of the customer and the efficiencies that could be gained.

Our customers have thousands of users, millions of content items, and billions of rows of data, and they need to interact with them easily. We will help them come to believe that enterprise software doesn’t have to be hard; instead, delightfully simple. Customers want flexibility and not complexity.


Workfront UX Week, Timpanogos Cave, American Fork Canyon, Utah, Summer 2018

Wade Shearer

Written by

Vice President of User Experience at Workfront, Cofounder of Front www.wadeshearer.com