How Do We Want to Work Together?

to-be scenario map

Since starting my career as a web-then-product designer, I’ve worked on teams of different shapes and sizes at various companies. And, if you’re a designer like me, it probably sounds all too familiar that my experience with these teams has varied from not-so-functional to pretty-good-high-fives-all-around.

But recently, I had a great experience with our product team on a new project, and I think it’s due in part (a big part) to one thing we did early on.

When we came together on this new project, we had a 4 day workshop on site in Austin. The design, development, and offering management teams all got together in a room and hashed out what problems we were solving, what we were going to deliver, and what the schedule was. It’s typical for projects to start this way at IBM Design; we run through design thinking exercises with the whole team and get everyone aligned about our goals and outcomes.

But on the last day, in the last hour, we did an exercise that I had never done before. I think we all felt a little tired by this point, but in spite of that we rallied together to talk about something else important: how we all wanted to work together.

Some of us had been on this product team for a while, but a lot of people were new to the team (but not IBM). So we took this opportunity to talk openly about what happens at our different stages in the product development lifecycle and document them in an as-is scenario map. Because we had people from all sides of the team, we divided the map vertically by stage (envision, plan, make, release/reflect) and horizontally by department (development, design, offering management).

We discussed our pain points and where we had struggled in the past. It was an honest conversation that reminded everyone we’re all people striving toward the same goal.

With those pain points in mind, we then created a to-be scenario map of how we would work together. A big pain point across the board was related to communication, so we made sure to bring folks into the conversation earlier at all stages of the to-be map. We addressed how to deliver hand-offs at various stages, and even how we wanted to celebrate at the end. Everything was documented in sticky notes on the wall and at the end we talked through it all from each team’s perspective. And then I took a photo of it.

Early on, I think most of us kept this to-be scenario in mind. We were conscious to include representatives from each team in all our important conversations. We made sure to constantly check changes against schedules and deadlines. We spent time showing each other how to use the tools that our teams found valuable, whether it be more design or development-related. We kept this to-be scenario in mind until it became second nature.

As we were getting close to our release, about six months after we got together for that workshop, I was reminded of this to-be scenario map. So I dug out the picture and sent it around to everyone on the team. I felt a bit of nostalgia looking at it, because it felt like so long ago, but I also felt pride. Pride because we had made everything in that to-be scenario map come true. We had been mindful of how we wanted to work together and it showed.

The best thing we did with our team when first getting to know each other was apply design thinking to our process. I cannot stress how much of a game changer this was for us. This was the highest functioning team I’ve ever been a part of, and I’m damn proud of what we accomplished together.